Shannon Allen’s “ah-ha” moment came in a place many busy working parents can relate to: her kid-packed minivan. About eight years ago, she was on her way to the supermarket to pick up groceries to make dinner for the family when Walker, her young son then-recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, said his blood sugar was going low.
“I had to get him food immediately,” Shannon said. She knew she wouldn’t have time to stop at the supermarket and go home to make dinner as planned. So she drove on in search of something already prepared.
“And I drove,” she said. “I drove past burgers and burgers and more burgers. I drove past tacos. I drove past fried chicken and French fries. What I never drove by was a healthy choice to feed my children quickly. Everything was processed.”
Eventually she drove home and wrote down a plan. She called her husband, Ray, the 10-time NBA all-star who has played most recently for the Miami Heat (and officially retired in November 2016). She said to Ray, “I know what I have to do.”
Her dream that day? To open a healthy fast food alternative in every spot one might expect to find a fast food burger joint. Eight years later, Shannon Allen is the proud owner and operator of Grown, a Miami-born “organic fast food” establishment that brings a healthful alternative to the fast food industry.
Allen had a background in nutrition and healthful eating before her son was diagnosed with T1. For years, she took her job of being Ray’s supporter to heart, studying his fitness reports along with him and learning the best foods to help him compete at a world-class level. “I made his pre-game meal for 20 years,” she said of Ray, the world three-point record holder. “I knew there was a direct connection between what he puts in his tank and how he succeeds.”
Quick, healthful, organic choices
When Grown opened in South Miami earlier this year, the line wrapped around the corner, with waits as long as 15 hours. They continue to open busy and stay that way through the breakfast, lunch, and dinner crowd, serving all-organic, freshly made “fast food” such as salmon, chicken tenders encrusted in Panko, smoothies, and more.
“This is absolutely filling a void with people,” Allen said. She knew that families like hers, with special dietary needs, would appreciate the restaurant, so she assumed that was her market. “But I was wrong. It’s all of us. We all have been needing this. The demand proves it.”
Since opening in Miami, Grown also opened up shop at Hard Rock Stadium, home to the Miami Dolphins, both at their club level and at the 50-yard line. “It’s pretty great,” she said of serving the sports crowd. “They go in there thinking hot dog or burger and then they see us and say, ‘whoa, I can get a gluten-free portabella wrap.’”
They’re also catering to large groups, including the Chicago Cubs, who depended on Grown to feed them all three meals each day they were in town to play the Marlins.
But what matters most of all to Allen, who is working on expanding the brand and still has that dream of being wherever fast food is needed, are the regular folks; the minivan moms of this world.
“What really makes me happy is freeing up people who are overworked, overwhelmed and overscheduled,” Allen said, “They can come into Grown and say ‘pick what you want,’ or grab a great dinner for their family and bring it home and put it on their plates and enjoy it without guilt or worry.”
“My mom never had that luxury,” Allen said. “She worked 90 hours a week and had to miss dinner with us in order to make a healthy dinner for us.” Grown, Allen believes, is going to help people get their family time back: “Dinner should be a time to unplug and just talk and enjoy.”
Moira McCarthy is an acclaimed writer, author and public speaker who has shared her story – and lessons – on raising a child living with type 1 diabetes. Her six books include The Everything Parent’s Guide to Children with Juvenile Diabetes and Raising Teens with Diabetes: A Survival Guide for Parents. McCarthy is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor and interviewees, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
© 2016 The DX: The Diabetes Experience