This Woman Launched Her Granola Start-Up at 61
I didn’t realize I was taking the first step to being a business owner when I began making Pat’s Granola for my school-age son back in 1992. I simply wanted to make healthy food that tasted good, was nutrient-dense so it would fill him up, and could travel well to after-school and weekend sports activities. My only goal was to make real food with the best ingredients — after all, this was food for my family.
Honestly, I’m not even sure my son liked granola. However, he ate it, and so did his friends, their parents, our neighbors, and my colleagues. The granola went with us everywhere! People started asking if they could buy it for their families.
Personally, I tried countless granolas over the years and none were quite to my liking. As a scratch cook and self-proclaimed "mad food scientist," I thought, “I can make a better granola.” And I did. However, it took a year to perfect the original recipe. We taste-tested more granola than I can even recall — some of it went straight to the trash. Even our Rottweiler (who inhaled everything) wouldn’t touch it! However, I pressed ahead and got the recipe just right.
Year after year, I kept making Pat’s Granola for friends, family and business colleagues — and perfect strangers. I even carried it to the New York Marathon and shared it along the race route as I cheered on friends. People kept asking, “Pat, when ARE you going to make this into a business?” Late nights and early mornings, before and after work, I made granola. Lots of it, especially during the holidays to give as gifts. A seed was being planted about my future business; however, I didn’t do the serious work on turning this food product into a business until 25 years later.
Starting a Business When Most Are Retiring
In 2017, I was accepted into a program sponsored by the Cleveland Foundation called Encore Entrepreneur Initiative, targeted at women over the age of 50 who wanted to start businesses (I was 61 at the time). I followed this up with a Scratchmade Incubator program, offered through the Small Business Development Center at Lorain County Community College, which further detailed the nuts and bolts of starting a business.
All the pieces started to come together: business planning, various structures of incorporation, finances and record keeping, legal, insurance, marketing, distribution channels, in addition to the tricky nuances of starting a food business. My head was spinning week after week as I listened to an overwhelming amount of information about the ups and downs of business startups and all the necessary steps that were required. The facilitation and speakers in both programs were excellent; each offered relevant content, coaching, and a supportive environment for bringing my product to market.
"As a scratch cook and self-proclaimed 'mad food scientist,' I thought, 'I can make a better granola.' And I did."
This opened my eyes to the possibility that this real food I’d been making for over 25 years could in fact be a viable business. It helped in a strange way that my son didn’t believe I was going to go through with starting this business. I couldn’t let him or myself down, and if ever I was going to do this, the time was now. So, at an age when many people are thinking about retirement, I launched a new business in the city of Cleveland.
Was any of this easy? No.
Were there times that I wished I’d never done the work to get started? No.
Did I believe in my product? Yes.
Did I have the support of family and friends? Yes.
This year has brought a set of unique challenges to operating Pat’s Granola. As a small business, it might have been easier to just throw in the towel; instead, I made a deliberate effort to lean in and grow my business. People changed their eating habits during the early stages of the nationwide “stay-in” period, and comfort food was a way for people to soothe their uneasiness. It helped to have a tasty shelf-stable product that became popular as a single-serve item, especially for office workers as they worked from home or adapted to modified work in traditional offices. Essential workers and students also sought out products that gave them energy, were good for them, and could be conveniently carried during long and somewhat unpredictable days. Doing a good turn daily also allowed me to donate granola as a way to stay connected and contribute positively with people in my community who were experiencing job loss or were food-insecure.
Whether in a Pandemic or Not, Be Prepared
Online shopping has been a growth area for the business, and I continue to develop new strategies for subscriptions, gift boxes, and new product offerings. I actually grew my retail list during 2020 and was able to collaborate with other food businesses to promote and sell products online. Website sales have been steady, and I’ve included recipe and meal ideas for individuals and families who are looking for delicious and easy ways to get meals on the table. My "What’s next?" includes a refresh of the company’s digital footprint, increasing brand visibility, scaling product to meet larger distribution channels, and continued dedication to the mission of creating foods that are delicious, good for you, and convenient for health-conscious people who have busy lifestyles.
The Girl Scout motto of "Be Prepared," which I learned as a child, has never been more relevant. Knowing how to do my job well, even in a pandemic, proved invaluable.
CircleAround is partnering with NAWBO (the National Association of Women Business Owners) in a series of posts exploring the following prompt: "What comes next?" Founded in 1975, NAWBO is the unified voice of over 10 million women-owned businesses in the United States.