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New Wave

Mee Lee hits the beach and joins the Paleo Revolution.

By Emily Savage

Photo by Michelle Ramirez

Mee Eat Paleo’s CEO and executive chef Mee Lee is also a Certified CrossFit Trainer and USA Weightlifting Sports Performance Coach at BeachSide Fitness.

On any given Saturday in downtown Ventura, locals know the best spot in town is the weekly farmers’ market. Among rows and rows of tents overflowing with fresh produce, colorful rainbow carrots and world-class avocados sits a stand that, well, stands out. The Mee Eat Paleo tent has been there since December of last year. The woman behind it is bubbly Mee Lee, the 30-something CEO, executive chef and sole maker of a product she calls MeeNut Butter through her company, Mee Eat Paleo. 

MeeNut Butter is paleo and vegan, non-GMO with no added sugar — and naturally, there are free samples of all the flavors. There’s Quadruple Nut Power packed with different types of nuts like macadamias and walnuts; pure almond MeeNut Butter; and raw, organic cacao and coconut ChoCoco Nut Power; along with the occasional seasonal offering such as Pumpkin Spice MeeNut Butter. 

Lee says she works hard to ensure MeeNut Butter is as healthy and locally sourced as it can be (macadamia nuts being a big exception to the local option), and they’re close to being all-organic and kosher-certified. “I’m really particular about where my ingredients come from,” she says. 

The Korean-born, Ventura-based chef and businesswoman whips up all of her MeeNut Butter with the help of a few friends in a commercial kitchen space she shares with a catering company. “I really never intended to be running a nut butter company!” she tells me from the airy front office of the kitchen.

While it wasn’t her lifelong goal to get here, it seems natural she’s doing it in Ventura, as surfing is one of her passions. She lives near C Street and drops in there occasionally — although she prefers the relative calm of Solimar Beach. 

Lee lives, surfs and sells MeeNut Butter near Downtown, but she actually spends most of her time on the other side of town. She’s in the kitchen space four days a week and coaches at BeachSide CrossFit (just a few storefronts down) three times a week. The Mee Eat Paleo office is located within BeachSide CrossFit. The popular high-intensity fitness program is her other passion. Her face lights up when she talks about how it’s changed her life for the better. 

It’s no coincidence that CrossFit and Lee’s nut butter business are intertwined. 

When she first moved to Ventura, she’d already begun her involvement in the CrossFit community. Then she met the owner of BeachSide CrossFit and he convinced her to start eating Paleo. On the Paleo diet, one avoids legumes, dairy, starches and processed foods, instead focusing on fruits, vegetables, nuts and lean meats. She says before she went Paleo she struggled with a lot of inflammation and pain caused by all the processed foods she was eating. CrossFit taught her about the importance of proper nutrition and fueling one’s body to train and feel stronger overall. “I never would have cleaned up my diet if it weren’t for CrossFit. I ate really poorly and I paid for it,” she says. “You feel terrible!” 

Lee loved peanut butter and had a difficult time giving up that particular legume, so she whipped up a batch of healthier nut butter a few years back. Her CrossFit coach convinced her to start making it for people at the gym. Before long, other CrossFitters came knocking. “I started getting emails and requests from all these people who wanted to buy the nut butter,” Lee says. 

She quickly put together a website and formally starting selling MeeNut Butter in 2011. Beyond the gym, Lee also gathered a few wholesale accounts for Mee Eat Paleo and hit the road selling at CrossFit competitions. A year later she quit her job at a Christian communications company in Camarillo and went MeeNut full time.  

A decade ago, Lee never would have recognized her current CrossFit-and-nut-butter lifestyle. 

Born in Seoul, South Korea, and raised a self-described book nerd in New Jersey, she attended college at Rutgers and moved to the Upper West Side of New York City while working for an investment bank in the commercial mortgage department. 

She caught the surfing bug one summer on the Jersey Shore and began commuting back and forth from Manhattan to Long Beach (near Long Island) to surf every day. “That’s a long train ride, and I had a full-time job in the city,” she says. “I would get on the train at some ungodly hour to meet my friend for a quick surf then get back on the train for work.” 

“I’d literally be salty in a suit going to work,” Lee adds with a laugh. 

This was around 2008. The financial crisis hit and she put everything in storage and moved to Hawaii to spend a year surfing and figuring out what to do next. She island-hopped for that year, but did the most surfing on the North Shore of Oahu. Her next move after Hawaii, a fortuitous trip to Southern California, changed her life trajectory yet again. Her sporty brother lived in Santa Clarita and took her to CrossFit in 2009. 

She fell in love with the fitness program, moved to Ventura (chosen based on a search for the nearest surf spot), began making MeeNut Butter and, yes, the rest is history.

It’s all a far cry from where Lee began, but she says she’s exactly where she should be right now, thanks to her Christian faith. “Although Mee Eat Paleo was never in my plans, I truly believe that everything in life happens for a reason,” she explains “I just want to be faithful to what’s in front of me right now.”

As Lee closes up her shared kitchen space on a warm Ventura night and offers some MeeNut Butter from the office, she reaches out for a hug goodbye and smiles, “Mahalo!”  

Mee Eat Paleo products are available at the Saturday morning farmers’ market in downtown Ventura and online at http://meeeatpaleo.com.

Taking a break from the kitchen and the gym, Lee prepares to catch some waves at Solimar Beach.
Photo by Rudy Loupias.

Good health by the spoonful can be found in every jar of MeeNut Butter, made with almonds, macadamia nuts, walnuts, pecans, flax seeds and other good-for-you, Paleo-friendly ingredients.
Photo by Michelle Ramirez

Lee personally prepares each batch of MeeNut Butter by hand.
Photo by Michelle Ramirez

06-01-2016

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