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The Primal Grind

Posted by Robyn Urback / Posted on April 5, 2011

The Primal GrindThe Primal Grind doesn't offer the typical pinky-out, recline-and-sip experience of many cafes in Toronto. In fact, it's just the opposite. Located inside the Academy of Lions Crossfit gym on Dundas near Ossington, The Primal Grind isn't focused on lavish indulgence, but rather, it's all about fueling your body with the right stuff.

The Primal GrindI walk into the Academy of Lions late one afternoon to Interpol blasting from the stereo, a line of men and women hurling medicine balls against a concrete wall, and Clinton Pontes preparing something hot and dairy-free for a customer at the counter. The Primal Grind isn't really a self-contained café, but instead is more of a stand from which to order drinks and treats, with two circular wooden tables set up nearby.

The Primal GrindYou can venture inside the stand, though, to pick up prepared soups, eggs, frozen meat from Beretta Organic Farms and more. But what they all the items have in common--including the drinks and treats available from the counter--is that they all adhere to the rules of a strict primal diet.

The Primal GrindPontes, who opened the café with his partner, Freya Ravensbergen, one month ago, sits down with me to explain the principles of a primal diet. "Basically," he begins, "it's about eating the foods that our ancestors ate; the food that our bodies have evolved to consume." That means no dairy, no refined sugars, no legumes, and no grains.

"Sure, our body can process a lot of shit," he says. "But that doesn't mean it's good for it."

The Primal GrindPontes and Ravensbergen, who are both from Montreal, decided to open The Primal Grind in The Academy of Lions since they knew the owner (Ravensbergen works there as a trainer) and figured it would be a good fit for the clientele they would be serving. They regularly serve up espressos ($2.25), teas ($2.50) and other drinks without milk or sugar. Instead, you can opt for an almond milk latte ($4.00), coconut milk latte ($5.00), or almond milk spicy chai latte ($4.00), and sweeten your drinks with raw honey. Sister company Primal Indulgence offers the treats, including apricot nut balls ($2.00) and banana cacao muffins ($3.50).

The Primal GrindI sit down with a coconut milk latte and make the mistake of treating it like a normal latte, despite Pontes' warning that it "drinks like a meal." It's smooth and creamy, with a distinct coconut taste, and I begin sipping it down way too quickly. With my cup half empty, I can only pick at the chocolate zucchini spice loaf in front of me ($3), which is quite light and a little crumbly, but I just have no room.

"It's really good for replenishing the body after a hard workout," Pontes says.

Feeling unbelievably full, I take note. Certainly brings new meaning to "survival of the fittest."

The Primal GrindThe Primal Grind is open 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.

Photos by Dennis Marciniak



EricM / April 5, 2011 at 09:13 am
Hmm... are those cookies supposed to look that burnt and unappetizing?
JennyT / April 5, 2011 at 09:15 am
I'm confused... is breast milk not dairy? I think our ancestors may have had it somehow...
Betty / April 5, 2011 at 09:24 am
I'm not so sure our ancestors were pounding back espressos either.
john / April 5, 2011 at 10:03 am
Wow! Thanks for the review. I can't wait to try this place.
john replying to a comment from JennyT / April 5, 2011 at 10:06 am
ps jenny - breast milk is not really considered dairy - which generally refers to cow or goat milk. Breast milk has a different chemical make up and is intended for babies up until a certain age only.

fyi. coconut milk is not considered dairy either. ;)
Zev / April 5, 2011 at 10:17 am
word. I follow a paleo / primal diet and its great that places are popping up to cater to our needs :)
Can't wait to try it either.
Matt / April 5, 2011 at 10:20 am
These people are hilariously misinformed. Our neanderthal ancestors may not have eaten sugars, dairy, legumes and grains, but in the 10,000 or so years since agriculture was invented, the human species has most definitely evolved to eat them. Our ancestors also ate raw meat. Would the raw-food people like to try that as well?

A few years from now, the whole raw-food trend will be seen as another stupid, faddish "health" trend, consigned to the dustbin.
zev / April 5, 2011 at 10:33 am
matt: its funny that its hilarious to you.
One funny thing is that Neanderthals are not our ancestors. Another is that anyone that knows anything about evolution knows that no we have not evolved at all to digest these foods in 10,000 years.
The process is way slower than that. We have developed tons of disease though in that time because of this food that our body can't handle.
Quetzalcoatl / April 5, 2011 at 11:11 am
I've had a chance to stop by here it stands out from other places in the area in that it's cheaper and attached to a gym. Some might be turned off by the latter but they'll find less obvious things to complain about as Matt has.

This isn't the forum to argue the merits of dieting trends, nor does it mean you can't eat there if you subscribe to that. When I was there, the snacks were tasty and filling and the staff friendly and courteous. That's enough to satisfy me, and I don't have to believe in anything abstract to enjoy a tasty latte :)
mark / April 5, 2011 at 11:12 am
Primal diet is a great idea, healthy and sustainable. - have to agree though, espresso is def not on it, neither is tea latte, or any thing called a 'muffin'. It would be nice to see a piece of fruit and a handful of raw nuts offered as a healthy post workout snack.
Matt / April 5, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Ah, you've caught me out. You're right that neanderthals are not our direct ancestors (though theories about inter-breeding are rampant), but what I said holds true for other pre-human and early human groups as well. The notion that we've developed diseases because our bodies "can't handle" modern food is ridiculous--flaky pseudoscience. I would like you to talk to an evolutionary biologist and hear it from someone who really does "know anything at all" about evolurion.

Quetzalcoatl is right that this isn't a biology forum in which to discuss the merits of food trends, but some of us have a hard time reading see silliness.
Amanda replying to a comment from zev / April 5, 2011 at 12:01 pm
...Thank you also know it was through meat that our body was able to process more energy and as such the brains of the human species grew right? ...maybe not though. Not all answers of the past apply to the present.
Tony replying to a comment from zev / April 5, 2011 at 12:03 pm
Wow, such a Champaign socialist approach. *rolls eyes
J replying to a comment from mark / April 5, 2011 at 12:40 pm
Muffins can be made without flour and sugar, for instance I made a pumpkin cake over the weekend for a party that did not contain either of these things. It looked and tasted like regular cake though a little less sweet. It is made with almond butter, pumpkin puree, spices, honey and a little baking soda + baking powder. There are many gluten/sugar free recipes out there.
Personally I think this is a great nutrition plan. It helps to stabilize your glucose levels and avoiding processed crap is always an excellent idea!
b65 / April 5, 2011 at 01:16 pm
Anyone of non-African ancestry carries 1 to 4 per cent of Neanderthal DNA, a recent study revealed.
agentsmith / April 5, 2011 at 02:57 pm
Our "ancestors" may not have eaten dairy, but they sure as shit didn't drink almond or coconut milk either, or coffee for that matter. These guys sure are cherry-picking what does and doesn't fit their "primal" criteria.
dhani / April 5, 2011 at 03:08 pm
this is dhani from academy of lions. lots of heated debate. great to see.
we've put many folks here on primal based nutrition plans. basically, gluten-free, dairy free, and legume free. call this diet whatever you like: paleo, primal, caveman, anti-inflammatory it really doesn't matter. my experience is that the vast majority of my clients are experiencing success with it; leaning out, performing better, sleeping better and eating very well.

the idea behind the primal grind and the primal food shop was to surround people with foods that would help them transition to a better lifestyle. whether the espresso was consumed by cavemen is not the point. anyone how would like to challenge these points is absolutely free to stop by and see the people who are members and talk to them about it.

keep the debate going!!!
zev / April 5, 2011 at 04:11 pm
Hey , I have an idea , why don't we all meet and discuss this at this coffee shop !
By the way I don't know what a champagne socialist is exactly, but I didn't mean to imply that I know everything because I do not , but a lot of what I've read recently about paleolithic nutrition makes a ton of sense and has been proven with recent research. The diet is being used more and more for treating many types of illnesses, increase energy levels, and improve weight loss.
I invite you to check it all out.
Jeremy / April 5, 2011 at 06:01 pm
This place looks interesting.

I'd like to add that I found out about the paleo diet through a friend at work and it seemed interesting enough to try - I didn't need to lose any significant weight, but I wasn't eating that well, wasn't in tip-top shape and was lacking energy at the end of the work day.

So I tried it, and while it might have been part of a whole process, I did end up feeling better, losing a few unwanted pounds and getting into a condition that I would say is the best I've been in for about 10 years (I'm 30). Not to mention, I crave junk food less, my skin looks great, I found I have fewer "down" days, AND I'm lifting more at the gym than I was this time last year.

It may not make total sense, and cavemen may not have had espressos and canned coconut milk, but if you want to count me as an example, this type of diet improved my quality of life, no question about it. Cutting out sugars, dairy and empty carbs really did help me feel better. Key word is HELP.

By the way, I don't do crossfit, and I'll eat sushi or pizza when I feel like it. I'd never classify myself as hardcore-anything. Just wanted to throw out my opinion.
coffee??? / April 5, 2011 at 09:22 pm
Because, of course, coffee is really good for you, right?
Alex replying to a comment from EricM / April 5, 2011 at 09:46 pm
It's made with cacao, they're not burned.
Alex / April 5, 2011 at 09:48 pm
The place sounds interesting, I'll definitely check it out soon - Looks like a really unique space, it'll be interesting to see what kind of customers they attract.
FutureWorld / April 5, 2011 at 10:54 pm
Paleo-primal? Does that mean you chase down wild game and kill it with your bare hands and then cook it, or is fire too futuristic.

Maybe some ancient practices died out because those people died very young in those "good old days". 25 would be a ripe old age for a paleo-primal individual. And you'd be furry as all hell!

And, paleo-primal man would not be sucking back an espresso with coconut, almond, or titty milk. He'd just be learning how to use his new-fangled thumbs and smashing shit with rocks.
dinnerguest replying to a comment from J / April 5, 2011 at 11:06 pm
J., I was at that dinner party and those muffins sucked!
seanm replying to a comment from Amanda / April 5, 2011 at 11:28 pm
To add to this, the ability to cook food may have also led to the development of our intelligence. I recommend everyone check out Catching Fire by Richard Wrangham.http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2009/06/invention-of-cooking-drove-evolution-of-the-human-species-new-book-argues/

All these flavour of the month raw food/primal/whatever it's called this week diets are so loaded with pseudo-science and misinformed information, that it's probably more dangerous than all that "scary" processed food we're eating.
Jeremy replying to a comment from seanm / April 6, 2011 at 07:41 am
Let's break this down from a different level.

Like I mentioned above, I follow a mostly paleo diet. When I first decided to give it a shot, I had to start to look at labels to make sure that nothing was added to the product, which ruled out way more items than I expected. Nonetheless, I cleaned everything up and my diet slowly revolved around fruits, vegetables, lean meats and so forth. Now, whether you're knocking the science of it, or the authenticity of it, what exactly is wrong with that diet? I think a lot of people would find a better state of health if they were to eat like that for a while, and I'm not just talking in the waistline.

There's no pseudo-science to cutting out additives - harmful or otherwise - to your diet. If you think that everything that ends up in the food on Loblaws' shelf today is safe, then I'm probably wasting my breath arguing this.

I learned early that it's an easy diet to knock - most of my friends found it funny to bust out the whole "cavemen didn't have..." lines, but that gets much easier to handle when I started to feel better and look better. And I guess that's my main point.

Excuse me if I sound like that dude from p90x.
Laura / April 6, 2011 at 08:52 am
This place looks great! There are so few places like this in Toronto and I would love to see more.

My boyfriend has severe arthritis of the spine know as ankylosing spondylitis, which is actually relatively common. About two years ago he went on this diet (we call it a starch free diet). He was diagnosed at 20 and was in such debilitating pain for a few years, going through periods where he could barley even walk.

He has been on the diet for a year and a half and has had a HUGE turn around in his disease. He is now a normal active mid 20's. If he eats outside of the diet he generally experiences a flare up of pain, which usually lasts a day or so.

I can't recommend this diet enough. It was not suggested to him through the medical system, who haven't done much but throw drugs at the problem. The process has really been a great lesson on how important nutrition is to our health and how little we know about this fascinating science.

For anyone needing testimonials on how much this diet has helped people with severe health problems go to this forum :)

Gwenyth Love / April 6, 2011 at 04:02 pm
This a great cafe! I have been here a few times and Clinton is a genius with the almond lattes. I too have been following the Paleo/Primal diet for just over a month now and it's already done wonders for me...more so than any other diet I have tried. Considering I was so sick I had to have 2 surgeries in the past year this is saying a lot for me. I haven't felt this healthy since I was a teenager.
korina / April 6, 2011 at 04:05 pm
for those looking for a latte-style coffee without milk, soy milk or rice milk, thank goodness this place exists!!! I haven't seen any other cafes offering coconut milk.

Other than the drink/food, I like to frequent a place with a welcoming and friendly atmosphere and that's what you can expect at Primal Grind.
dhani oks / April 6, 2011 at 08:40 pm
Everyone always throws out the "cavemen only lived to 25 years of age" thing as the deal breaker in the entire discussion. For anyone who might want to dig deeper, just consider that these number are a "MEAN" or average of the entire population. So, when you consider they lived very physically challenging lives, were regularly interacting with animals trying to eat them and didn't have medicine to deal with wounds or infections you can see why some did not last for very long. Add to this high infant mortality rates due to the LACK of hospitals and you get a more complete picture. Ancient peoples who survived these factors did in fact have a life expectancy that was not very different than our own and they certainly did not suffer the metabolic conditions that we are afflicted by presently. Studies of modern hunter-gatherer peoples also reinforces this.

I point this out not to throw more fuel on the fire, but to simply point out that one should not discount the benefits of not eating processed (neolithic) foods because someone with a first year Anthropology course under their belt says that cavemen didn't live very long.

I generally like to base this nutritional and fitness approach on modern - yes modern - science and experience. Again, my clients show very positive results across all markers of health, performance and body composition.

I hate to see anyone simply throw away a good idea because of some kind of stubborn intellectualism.

If you doubt the merits of a "real food" approach to diet I say just give it a shot. The worst thing is that you won't have a bagel for 30 days. Check out some videos from people at the Academy Of Lions who just completed 30 days of eating clean.

Also, if anyone here would like to conduct their own "informal" study of this health and fitness lifestyle, I welcome you to come to the Academy Of Lions to compare your body composition to anyone who has been doing this stuff for 30 days. You can also challenge them to a run, a pull up contest or anything else you like.

The proof they say is in the pudding.

Jeremy replying to a comment from dhani oks / April 7, 2011 at 08:41 am
Nice post, and I agree big time with the "try it and see" advice. It's a diet that is very easy to knock, but I've yet to have anyone say anything bad about it after giving it a shot.

K replying to a comment from coffee??? / April 24, 2011 at 10:01 pm
Coffee is actually good for you in moderation. It's a neuroprotector, stimulates the conversion of stem cells to neurons, promotes the recycling of brain tissue and supports your neuromotor system (the engine behind your muscles). It can also help with training if you drink before you exercise (not after). This is a great link that describes why: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tErVzMVwysA&;NR=1
me / June 24, 2011 at 11:03 am
Overpriced. How about competitive prices to make people come to you? Have you noticed you are the 20th coffee shop in the neighbourhood??
And do you really need to give me a LARGE, TO GO cup, with a sleeve AND a lid for a single espresso? Really?? Don't people know how to rationalize anymore?!! ITS A SHOT!
Last note to people at Dundas and Ossington: be friendly! Talk to your customers! That will make you interesting. Not your tattoos. If you're depressed and don't like people, lock yourself in a room. Don't go into the service industry...
ry / June 29, 2011 at 11:19 am
In response to other arguments:

1) They're on the strip because that is where the gym is located, and their not the 20th gym on the strip (they're the only Crossfit for 5km).

2) There is a lot of good research to support a Paleo diet compared to many other diets. Many people (even who go to the gym) eat like crap, so converting to this diet helps them. You would be hard to argue that this diet is not quite healthy, though there are some contentious issues like saturated fat.

3) I don't support the evolution theory of the diet, which is very weak. Prehistoric man did not suffer from many of today's diseases, but being kept alive by those same medicines dhani talks about and knowing more about health in general has kept us alive for far longer. Living past a natural age means cancer and diabetes are more likely to occur. There is also a massive genetic component.

4) We could argue for hours. In the end this diet helps a lot of people, and whether it is evolutionary or not doesn't really matter (and in reality it likely helps some people for that reason - lactose intolerant - and doesn't for other - myself). Combine it with Crossfit (which like this diet has many good things and a few bad....but it is still the best!) and you'll probably be very healthy....and sore.
ry / June 29, 2011 at 11:19 am
...and of course I meant "they're" on the strip....
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Taliba / January 8, 2013 at 09:53 am
All I know is that when I eat grains besides quinoa, I feel like shit and I get fat.

If there's a place I can eat that means I don't have to cook, then yay.

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