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Fontaine McFadden, owner/head chef of Strong Table, is all heart. She’s not kidding when she talks about how important it is to her that all of her food is made with love, because this is a woman who has been following her heart from the West Coast to the East Coast and back again. After a series of unique job and life experiences, she has finally landed back in San Francisco — where she always sort of knew she would end up — leading a new business that is fueled by her passion for life, her knowledge of entrepreneurship and healthy food, and of course, her love.
From Farm Girl to Florist
But after leaving home to attend college at Wheaton, she eventually landed on Nantucket Island, where her friend asked her to help out at her restaurant. During a run to the local market to buy flowers for the restaurant, she fell in love at first blossom and immediately asked the owner if he would hire her, on the spot. In the course of one summer, she went from doing basic flower care to honing her flower arranging skills and doing some event planning. Her boss was instrumental in mentoring her about what it takes to tend a growing business, and Fontaine continued to work as a florist for the next five years.
Throughout her time on the East Coast, though, Fontaine always knew that she would land back in San Francisco one day, closer to her family and friends. The only scary part? Moving back West was probably going to be permanent. With her florist and event planning experience in hand, it seemed natural to attend culinary school to round out this skill set, and perhaps become a professional event planner. That plan changed, however, once she began her 2.5 year internship at Hands On Gourmet.
Somewhere around Day 2, according to Fontaine, the chef/owners of Hands On Gourmet, Stephen Gibbs and Molly Fuller, asked her to stay on as a full-time staff member. Always eager to learn, she eventually became Director of Operations and was thrilled to not only continue cooking, but also develop her managerial skills in managing staffing and arranging chefs in the San Francisco area to lead events. Molly, a seasoned CrossFitter, was ultimately the influence who got Fontaine to try CrossFit in June 2011. Not surprisingly, Fontaine enjoys that CrossFit is “mentally challenging” and pushes her “to dig deep” — two qualities that are part of all of her life endeavors — and ultimately led her to open her own business.
Founding Strong Table
In what she calls a “grieving” period, the thought of leaving Hands On Gourmet was difficult; Fontaine knew that the logical next step was to become an entrepreneur but felt uncertain about how to get there. In the months preceding her departure, her fellow CrossFitters at LaLanne Fitness — Sarah Hopping and Rob Estrella (now owners of Arena Ready Performance) — talked about and convinced her to try eating Paleo. She went on a strict Paleo diet for a month, loved it (of course), and discovered the challenge of eating out at restaurants… but took comfort in the fact that she actually liked cooking personally. So, armed with a cooler of Paleo food to share when she went to Regionals in 2012, she was a hit with all of her fellow gym members. Fontaine had discovered the happy marriage of her love of food and her ever-increasing understanding of good nutrition as the primary foundation of a healthy life.
Surrounded by a family of future entrepreneurs — Sarah and Rob, Ty Texidor of Destino Retreats, and others — Fontaine built out the basic plan for Strong Table: offer homemade Paleo meals on a daily basis that folks can pick up at their local box. She launched Strong Table in late 2012 and successfully picked up clients in the Bay Area, a hub of new businesses and CrossFit boxes. And then, back in late February, Fontaine had an epiphany: she didn’t want to be just a lunch lady. After all her experiences under nurturing and talented mentors, she knew that cooking alone would not satisfy her. “I don’t want to be locked behind a kitchen all day,” she said. In fact, her much larger goal is to grow a great product and a great business. “I need more than one brain!” she exclaimed.
Per her typical instinctive ways, Fontaine took action and recently hired another chef, Amanda (also formerly of HandsOn Gourmet) to join her team to allow her to expand her skills as an entrepreneur and manager.
All in the Family
And if you were considering signing on with an upcoming Destino Retreats trip, you are likely to catch Fontaine there as the woman behind the Paleo meals promised on each vacation. She has already gone to Scottsdale and most recently returned from Mexico, continuing to channel all her passions — food, family, friends, fitness — into her life’s work.
With a fledgling business in hand, Fontaine’s free time is at a premium, which means that CrossFit has reached an all-time high in its value. Good thing that she continues to enjoy training at Arena Ready, where CrossFit only continues to “sharpen my sense of what I want and to go for it.”
“I do what I want and surround myself with people I want,” says Fontaine. As we wrapped up our interview, she expressed regret that we weren’t sitting at the Strong Table kitchen, where I could sample her food in person. But her warmth and energy, coupled with a genuine, non-cheesy love of life and healthy living, are tangible anyway. I can only imagine what that tastes like in a whole meal of Paleo goodness.