For Biju Thomas, a love of food and fitness developed simultaneously. In India, where he lived until moving to Lakewood at age ten, his family had a small farm, and cooking together was an integral part of the day. In Colorado, Thomas continued to gravitate toward the culinary world while also picking up a passion for cycling, even competing in the sport in high school. Eventually, he combined his two passions, becoming a chef and cookbook author focused on creating dishes for high-performance athletes and feeding them, too.
In 2014, Thomas launched Biju’s Little Curry Shop, driven by the desire to share the benefits of fresh, healthy food by offering the kind of dishes he’d grown up eating in India in a fast-casual environment, offering a new take on the typically cream-heavy Indian fare popular in the United States.
Eventually, the Little Curry Shop concept expanded with a location in Berkeley, as well as a spot in the Broadway Market and pop-up counters inside several Whole Foods locations.
As his business (and Denver) evolved, so did Thomas’s plans. The Whole Foods partnership ended in 2017 after a six-month test run that was designed to be temporary but gave the concept added brand recognition. In 2019, rising rent and a desire to focus on the location at 4279 Tennyson Street, which offered more space for full-service dining, led to the decision to close the spot at the Broadway Market as well as the original location in RiNo.
As 2020 arrived, things were going well in Berkeley. “In January of last year,” Thomas recalls, “we had just updated and reopened after I’d unwound out of the other leases so we could update the concept and relaunch.”
Plans were in the works to expand again, as well. “We had just signed agreements to open in airports and do some other venues,” he continues. “We had our best month in five years last February. Then on March 17, it was all over.” That’s the date that Governor Jared Polis ordered all restaurants and bars in Colorado closed to indoor dining because of the pandemic. “It was brutal,” Thomas remembers.
Two months later, Thomas officially made the call to close his remaining Little Curry Shop location — but the process of shutting down the business was complicated. “It was just a complete nightmare trying to unravel all the contracts and commitments and vendors,” he says. “That just went on and on and on. And I was doing that with no clear-cut idea of what to do next or what the opportunities were, because nobody was open. Nothing was working.”
Not one to sit back and wait, Thomas teamed up with Reed Rowley and started Mixn-Match, a virtual platform that hosted online events such as cooking classes that were designed to keep people connected even as social distancing was the norm. “We could have kept that going,” he explains, “but after six years of being on my own and being responsible for everything all day long, I was just tired.”
Soon Thomas’s passion for fitness took him in a new direction. Like Thomas, Robin Thurston is a longtime cyclist and proponent of a healthy, outdoor-focused lifestyle. He’s also CEO of Boulder’s Pocket Outdoor Media, renamed Outside after a major acquisition in February that included Outside magazine; the company now encompasses 32 different brands, from OutsideTV to Peloton magazine, Paleo and Warren Miller Entertainment. “Around Thanksgiving, Robin and I were on a bike ride, and we were talking, and he said there might be some opportunities coming,” Thomas recalls.
The two kept talking, and in May, Outside made Thomas an official offer to join the team in a completely new role: senior content producer for nutrition and cooking. “All the recipes I’ve ever done have been really clean, straightforward food,” Thomas says. That, coupled with his background in cooking for athletes, made the job feel like a natural fit.
After accepting the offer, Thomas officially stepped away from Mixn-Match, though he still has a role as an advisor and boardmember; Rowley is now offering more curated, virtual events geared toward larger groups, including corporate clients. Thomas will be on hand for one such appearance this week, a cooking demo for a Bowflex/Nautilus exercise equipment launch in Denver, where he’ll be representing some of Outside’s healthy-living brands.
As part of his job move, Thomas has also relocated from Denver to Boulder after a brief stint in Highlands Ranch last year. “Most of my friends are up here, and if I want to get outside and do something or see someone, everything is five minutes away,” he notes.
With Outside, Thomas is excited to share his interest in healthy eating on a much bigger scale. “My role is to work across the brands in helping to create food content,” he says, “whether that’s working with existing talent and getting them on camera, cooking with them, or getting food ideas out of them.” Thomas will also be creating content himself; he’s already had pieces published in Triathlete magazine, and he recently shot a TV pilot in Montana for OutsideTV.
“It’s not recipes and not cooking tutorials,” he explains, “but how food and food culture come together, and how it ties together with sports, fitness, health and wellness — the outdoor lifestyle.” Also in the works are live television appearances on national shows like Good Morning America, as well as stops at festivals and other events throughout the year where Thomas will promote healthy, clean eating and living. “That’s really my strength,” he says, “doing stuff in front of live groups.”
With new projects rolling out, he’s looking forward to moving on from the Little Curry Shop brand. “You go through a really painful, shitty breakup, you don’t want to keep going back,” he says.
Besides, there’s a lot to keep him busy, as Outside is exploding. “The organization went from fifty employees a year ago to close to six hundred…so there are a lot of things that are still jelling and coming together,” he explains. “We’re looking at how to take what we do in the sports, fitness, action, adventure universe and basically be the Netflix of that world.
“It’s really cool, because I get to do all the things I love doing,” Thomas concludes. “It was a painful year last year, but I’m glad that we survived it and get to do this for now and see what comes out of it. The sky’s the limit.”