When Mr Jonathan Yang, 29, decided to open his health food eatery The Daily Cut at One Raffles Place on Sundays, he was surprised by how good business was.
About 100 customers turned up that first Sunday, most of them for post-workout meals.
"I was expecting slow sales on Sundays as it is a complete stretch to expect people in the Central Business District on that day," he says.
The Daily Cut serves protein-centric salads or meat bowls, which diners can customise. They choose a protein such as grilled salmon or steak then add on vegetables or complex carbohydrates such as sweet potato and romaine lettuce.
Mr Yang, who also owns burrito bar Muchachos at Keong Saik Road, says that he serves about 500 customers a day at The Daily Cut, which opened in July last year.
It is testament to the popularity of the Paleolithic or Paleo diet.
There are at least four places which offer meals based on the diet or are Paleo- friendly.
Project Paleo in Phillip Street and Caveman Food in Square 2 in Novena follow the diet closely, while The Daily Cut and salad delivery service Spinacas are Paleo-friendly.
The Paleo diet, also known as the caveman diet, advocates piling up on proteins and avoiding carbohydrates. The diet consists of food that proponents believe cavemen ate during the Paleolithic era more than two million years ago.
Popularised by American scientist Loren Cordain in the noughties, the diet cuts out dairy products, whole grains, legumes, refined sugar and processed food. Instead, Paleo followers go for grass-fed meats, seafood, eggs, vegetables and nuts.
Most of the Paleo-friendly eateries have sprouted in the past seven months, drawing office workers and gymgoers.
As The Daily Cut's Mr Yang says: "Raffles Place is the ground zero of gyms, with up to 13 big-chain and boutique gyms here, so people who frequent this area are 'hyper-educated' on what's good for their bodies."
He invested $300,000 to start the business and broke even within six months. A second outlet will open in March at Galaxis Business Centre in One-North, and it will offer more protein choices.
Business for Project Paleo has been increasing steadily since it started last July. It is located in a coffee shop in Phillip Street and sells 70 meals a day, compared to 20 when it opened. Its co-owner, Mrs Joyce Goi, 30, is hopeful that the diet will catch on as Singaporeans become more well-read.
She says: "The Paleo culture is in its infancy here. Rice and noodles are too entrenched in the food culture."
Mrs Goi, who used to work in the finance industry, invested about $100,000 in her first food venture. She says that Paleo meals are pricey due to the ingredients used. She uses grass-fed beef ribeye and olive oil, for example.
She adds: "I would rather pay a lower rental by opening in a coffee shop so that I can channel the savings into buying ingredients."
One of the earlier players in the Paleo dining scene is Mr Michael Tan, 44, who owns Caveman Food at Square 2 at Novena. He serves about 100 meals a day and has seen a 5 per cent month-on- month increase in his business since it started in September 2013.
He hopes to set up a franchise with a central kitchen and a Paleo restaurant this year.
While nutritionists acknowledge that the Paleo diet emphasises fresh produce, they caution against cutting off food groups, such as whole grains and dairy products, as these are part of a well- balanced diet.
Ms Vanessa McNamara from nutrition consultancy The Travelling Dietitian says: "Cutting carbohydrates can lead to a drop in energy levels, an inadequate intake of some essential vitamins and altered bowel habits due to a lack of dietary fibre."
The Health Promotion Board recommends choosing a diet that can be sustained in the long-term rather than going for those that skew towards particular nutrients.
While it says that a reduced calorie intake can help shed weight, a spokesman adds: "Any food, whether protein or carbohydrate, eaten in excess can be stored in the body as fat, which may lead to weight gain when there is insufficient physical activity level."
None of this is stopping people from queuing for Paleo or Paleo-friendly meals. SundayLife! found that it is not just gymgoers who are opting to eat this way.
A good number of the customers, who are not on the Paleo diet say they want healthier alternatives to fried or processed foods.
Most of those interviewed say they have lost weight and do not suffer from sluggish post-meal food "comas".
Asset management analyst Joyce Tan, 30, who has been on the Paleo diet for 11/2 years, welcomes more Paleo-friendly dining out options.
"It is good not to have to study the menu and ask questions about the ingredients used, and I can feel good eating the food, although it can be rather expensive."
Fund manager Jan De Bruijn, 47, lost 10kg after being on the Paleo diet for seven months. He says: "I chose this diet as I do not need to starve myself, and I feel less sleepy after lunch."
He is 1.88m tall and weighed 91kg before going on the diet.
Recruitment consultant Daphne Quek, 25, says: "I go for Paleo meals, as they makes me feel more full, compared to regular salads."
THE DAILY CUT
What: Owner Jonathan Yang, who works out in a gym four times a week, started The Daily Cut because he could not find the right kind of food after his workouts.
He thought it was inconvenient to tell hawkers to hold the gravy and fries when ordering a chicken chop at Western food stalls, or reduce the rice portion when ordering chicken rice.
At his 42-seat eatery, customers can customise a meat box by choosing proteins such as 230g of citrus-flavoured chicken thigh and 170g of soya sauce sirloin steak, coupled with complex carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes and toppings that include sous vide egg and sweet corn. Prices start at $12.
Where: 1 Raffles Place, One Raffles Place, B1-31
Open: 11am to 9pm on weekday (closed from 3 to 6pm); 11am to 4pm on weekend
Info: Go to www.facebook.com/thedailycut.sg
What: Owner Michael Tan was a hawker for more than three decades, starting when he was 13 years old. He has sold char kway teow, wonton noodles and bak kut teh in hawker centres and food courts, but felt his business was going nowhere.
Then a health-conscious friend told him about the Paleo diet and he realised that there was a demand for Paleo meals, given the growing trend of eating clean.
For four months, he researched the diet and lost 5kg after going on it.
His 200 sq ft takeaway kiosk at Square 2 mall in Novena offers roast chicken in three flavours, including Moroccan (which is cooked with prunes and olives) and Italian (which is marinated with rosemary and thyme).
A set meal starts at $8.90 and comprises a chicken drumstick and two sides, such as baked sweet potato and pumpkin.
Where: 10 Sinaran Road, B1-130, Square 2
Open: 11am to 8pm, Monday to Saturday; 11am to 4pm on Sunday
Info: Call 9690-0822 or go to moderncave.ne
What: After designing homes for 10 years, architect Phyllis Chua turned to designing Paleo-friendly salads and started a salad delivery service.
She could not find protein-rich salads that kept her full, so she decided to open Spinacas in September 2013.
She offers seven types of salads, which feature meats such as pulled pork, which is slow-cooked in a cinnamon stock. Prices start at $9. The salads are prepared in a commercial kitchen in Pearl's Hill Terrace.
Delivery times: 10.30am to noon (lunch) 5.30pm to 7pm (dinner), Monday to Friday, order one day in advance.
Info: Call 9770-7039 or go to www.spinacas.com
What: Former finance professional Joyce Goi was looking to lose the 20kg she gained during her pregnancy in 2012, and her engineer husband, a weight lifter, introduced her to the Paleo diet. She lost all her pregnancy weight, and decided to stick to the diet.
Finding a lack of Paleo dining options near her former workplace in the Central Business District, she decided to quit her job in late 2013 and set up a business.
At her coffee shop stall in Phillip Street near Raffles Place, customers select one protein and two side dishes ($8). Mains include 250g of roast chicken flavoured with oregano and cumin and 250g of dory fillet perfumed with thyme and sage. Sides include blended cauliflower studded with carrots and sauteed vegetables.
Where: 15 Phillip Street, Marina Food House, Stall 3
Open: 8am to 630pm, Monday to Friday. Closed on weekends
Info: Call 8692-8662 or go to www.projectpaleo.sg