Photography by Austen Amacker
Family and old friends have a way of being more honest with us than anybody else, which is why, when Paul Kahan was home five years ago for a wedding, everybody told him he looked awful.
He was down about 40 pounds, and while he just thought he was losing a bit of weight, everyone back in Virginia saw a problem. He had blood work done, and when the doctor called with the results, the message was dire: Go to the hospital right now.
Kahan’s blood sugar was so high he was nearly in a diabetic coma, and he spent the next five days in the hospital.
He was diagnosed with adult-onset juvenile diabetes. While living with it can be tough on anyone, Kahan, now 33, had it especially rough. He’s a yacht chef, whose employers include Las Olas property owner and financier Steve Hudson. All day he has to try the food he’s making, meaning keeping his blood sugar consistent is a constant battle.
“Imagine being on a boat where your job is to cook and eat all day, and you’re constantly injecting insulin and checking your blood sugar,” he says.
Perhaps the toughest thing he discovered was that there were no options when he needed a quick, on-the-go snack, or a quick burst of energy to keep his levels up. He discovered the protein bars he had been eating for years were loaded with sugars.
“Clif bars, I found out, have nearly as much sugar as a Snickers,” he says. He’s right: Many of the marketed-as-healthy protein bars include five or more grams of sugar.
Kahan started experimenting with a simple idea: a small bar that packs nutrients, protein and everything you need to keep going. Not just for diabetics to eat, but for anyone looking for a quick meal without lots of sugar.
After years of trials and samples given to friends, relatives and employers, Kahan narrowed down a few recipes, which include all organic nut butters, grass-fed whey protein and all organic sweeteners.
For flavors, Kahan settled on peanut butter, cranberry-almond and chia chocolate. Then he dipped into his past as a yacht chef, adding flavors he created for homemade ice cream his clients loved—and that he could taste only in moderation—including cookies and cream and birthday cake.
Last year he sent the recipes to a company in California that manufactured and packaged 15,000 one-ounce bars. He calls them NRG Bites.
Among the first retail spots Kahan got them into was the LA Fitness in Fort Lauderdale. They sold out within a week. The second supply he sent over sold out a week later. The bars are now in nine retail spots, and Kahan says he saw the same quick sales, without any kind of marketing.
In mid-August, Kahan got a second 15,000-bar shipment. Using a loan from his family and, for now, working out of his house in Victoria Park, he now has four employees and a goal of blanketing retail spots from convenience stores to supermarkets. He knows his next shipment likely needs to be a million-plus bars, and for that, he’s quickly learning how to scale up.
“I’ve realized the potential here is to turn from a small side project into a major business,” Kahan says.
He says he still loves being a yacht chef, and occasionally still goes out on longtime clients’ boats—but now he’s got a taste of life as an entrepreneur. “Oh I am, oh man, I’m thrilled with it,” he says. “When you have everyone who works with you like, ‘Oh, this is going to be huge,’ it’s really freaking awesome to come to work every day.”