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Knifehand Nutrition: Veteran-owned meal prep business opens in Auburn
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Knifehand Nutrition: Veteran-owned meal prep business opens in Auburn

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In 2012, Joe Dunaway finished eight years of service with the U.S. Marine Corps. He then returned to Syracuse, where he juggled family with a job in accounting that required him to travel. But something else vied for his time: hunger. Both figuratively and literally.

A competitor by nature, Dunaway tried to squeeze workouts and sports into his schedule. And to stay in optimal shape for those activities, he had to eat healthy and avoid dining out on the road. 

So Dunaway began spending his weekends in his Manlius kitchen making all his food for the week. That got the attention of friends and family, and before long, Dunaway was preparing meals for them, too. By the fall of 2017, when people he didn't know were being referred to him for meals, he knew it was time to start Knifehand Nutrition.

The meal prep business, which opened in Auburn in April, offers frozen, plant-based meals through one-time purchases or subscription. They can be ordered in groups of five, 10 or 15 at knifehandnutrition.shop, and shipped to customers. Dunaway, the CEO, named the business after a Marine gesture, but it does involve actual knives in hands, he joked.

Knifehand used a commercial kitchen at Nelson Farms Country Store in Cazenovia until early this year, when Dunaway prepared to move the business to the DeWitt area. But due to the coronavirus pandemic, he said, his bank funding fell through and he turned to plan B: Auburn.

Dunaway and his staff — which also includes COO and resident chef consultant Sarah Hassler, CMO and branding specialist Chris Johnson, and an incoming production manager — are preparing Knifehand's meals in the kitchen of Pure Market & Eatery on Genesee Street. Owner Luke Houghton is a friend, Dunaway said. The meals are then stored in freezers at a space on nearby Market Street, in front of Eliminator Auto.

The space isn't a storefront, Dunaway noted. Knifehand got its start with direct sales at farmers markets and athletic events throughout central New York, but he decided to move it exclusively online as he planned his move to DeWitt. Though the pandemic thwarted that plan, it has been helpful to Knifehand itself. A business that helps people eat healthy without having to leave their homes is uniquely positioned to succeed right now, and indeed, its first month went well. Knifehand already ships its meals as far as Wisconsin and Kentucky, Dunaway said, and the customer return rate has been "really good."

"It's tough having the success we've had, knowing what's going on," he said. "I have a lot of friends in the dining industry who've had to close."

Knifehand meals come in three types: "train," "recover" and "compete." "Train" meals are heavier in carbohydrates, "recover" meals in protein and "compete" meals in fat. But all are plant-based, which signifies a focus on healthy living that vegan doesn't, Dunaway said. His meals may sound like they have meat — mac and cheese, chili, sloppy joe, bolognese sauce — but they substitute ingredients like jackfruit, tofu, lentils and chili. They're also free of preservatives, and source as many organic and local ingredients as possible, Dunaway added.

"They're all fair game to the general consumer who just wants a healthy meal that tastes great," he said.

Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or david.wilcox@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.

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I edit The Citizen's features section, Lake Life, and weekly entertainment guide, Go. I've also been writing for The Citizen and auburnpub.com since 2006, covering arts and culture, business, food and drink, and more.

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