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“Quokka” sounds like a word to be challenged while playing Scrabble — it’s worth 69 points, triple score! — but it just may be the cutest creature in the world: a cat-sized Australian marsupial that seems to smile.
That’s what Kevin Lunn learned when googling in search of a catchy name for the nutrition-planning and meal-delivery business he was cofounding. His business partner Hunter Rusack warmed to the name upon learning that quokkas eat a special diet that adjusts to seasons. “It serves as a good mascot and representation of diet, in its own way,” said Rusack.
Thus christened, Quokka Kitchen started operations in November 2019, and it is currently dropping off 200 to 350 meals per week to Santa Barbara residents.
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The menus are crafted by the company’s third cofounder, Julian Martinez, executive chef at the Foodie Award–winning Barbareño. He’s focused on developing meals about health, wellness, and performance that, as Martinez put it, “taste more like restaurant food.” That means farm-to-table, of course, while eschewing seed oils to cook clean. “We also cook everything really gently,” explained Martinez, “so the antioxidants in the good oils don’t break down.”
You wind up with some delicious meals, like a shrimp al pastor dinner with chile-lime polenta, pineapple-shishito slaw, and avocado-lime dressing that is brilliant and bright, with the grilled shrimp adding umami without much added fat. Other recent meals included roast chicken with farro, pork tenderloin with polenta cake, and a breakfast muesli with Greek yogurt.
Tasty bites are just part of the service, as Quokka aims to serve the right food for each person. Each new customer fills out a questionnaire about his or her activity level, reason for joining, weight loss goals, height, weight, age, and so forth. Those data points help the team develop a nutrition plan, complete with micronutrient targets for each meal.
“People want guidelines,” Rusack said. “Some people before Quokka were eating fast food for lunch every day, so now they have targets and suggestions to aim for. It’s about establishing clean eating habits.”
About half of Quokka customers go one step further, getting fully personalized plans after meeting with nutrition counselors. These chats go beyond caloric intake, as customers ask about supplements or food they can prepare themselves. “Having that sense of accountability that dedicated coaching can provide can be very important,” said Rusack.
“I mainly started using Quokka to help out with my nutrition, since I’m currently training to compete in Spartan Race and various other obstacle course races,” said one customer, Jon Rew. “The meals have helped fuel me to be able to do multiple CrossFit workouts daily. I actually met Hunter and Julian through CrossFit Santa Barbara.”
Rusack and Lunn met in 8th grade at Laguna Blanca, while Lunn ran against Martinez, who attended Cate, in cross-country races. As fate would have it, they all wound up back on the West Coast at the same time with a desire to do something based around nutrition.
Now, Martinez uses some of the extra kitchen space at Barbareño’s sister restaurant Cubaneo for Quokka. While he helped create the menu and oversees the food operation, much of the day-to-day cooking is done by chef Jason Carter, most recently from Wildwood Kitchen and SoulCal (no wonder those grilled shrimp sang).
When they kicked off, many customers picked up their weekly meals, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, Quokka has become a full-on delivery service. “It’s been quite exciting to find ourselves in a position to help community members,” Lunn said. “Especially those at higher risk from coronavirus, like the elderly.”
The team is excited that whole families are signing up. “Everyone’s meals are slightly different, tailored to the individual,” Rusack said. Such family deliveries emphasize the very reason they began Quokka. “There wasn’t nearly enough customization for the individual person,” said Lunn of other nutrition plan services. “But with Quokka, a family of four can enjoy the same meal, but each is slightly tailored to the macronutrients necessary for each individual.”