For Michele Thornett of Michele’s Granola, her interest in having her own business came from something simple: her love of baking from scratch.
“I was moving away from pre-packaged foods with ingredients I couldn’t read or understand, and I started playing around with a mixture of ingredients and shopping at farmer’s markets and getting to know the vendors,” said Thornett.
“I really got an education — not only on organic foods, but also on the local-food movement,” she said.
So, more than two years ago, after perfecting a recipe and baking granola for family and friends, she tried her luck at being a farmer’s market vendor. She sold six bags the first day and, before she knew it, was selling 100 bags at four to five markets per week.
“In January of 2008, my boyfriend sold his business and I quit my job, and I started doing it full-time,” she explained.
Michele’s Granola now offers wholesale organic granola — all handmade in small batches — to more than 40 natural food stores, coffee shops and cafés in Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, Pa.
Thornett enjoys getting to know the producers of the ingredients she uses and has a simple philosophy of working with the freshest ingredients in the most environmentally and socially responsible way.
She uses organic rolled oats, organic unsweetened coconut, organic sunflower seeds, almonds, pure cane brown sugar, expeller-pressed canola oil, filtered water and pure vanilla extract. They have three main flavors of granola: Original, Pumpkin Spice and Cherry Chocolate Macadamia, and will be developing others.
For her cherry-chocolate-macadamia nut flavor, she uses macadamia nuts from a farmer she met in Costa Rica who had been trying to find ways to keep his farm. Buying from him allowed Michele’s Granola to not only participate in fair trade but allowed the farmer to thrive.
“By purchasing our nuts directly from Finca Rio Perla, we know that they were produced in an eco-friendly way, and our purchases provide economic opportunity for residents of the village of Rio Perla. This is by far our most decadent, most conscious variety. Indulge and feel good about it,” she said of the macadamia granola.
The people of Michele’s Granola will be coming to Good Earth Market on Saturday, Sept. 6, to let customers sample products and to meet them face to face. The crew will be arriving in their delivery truck, which runs on recycled vegetable oil — another thing to feel good about when buying from Michele’s Granola.
“This was through another local partnership,” explained Thornett of the eco-friendly transportation. “We met a young man who had a mentor and had learned about converting diesel engines to able to run on vegetable oil. And we were trying to make the business work and, especially as a start-up, were becoming increasingly aware of higher cost of ingredients and fuel going up. And we wanted to be able to offer a high-quality product at a good price. We wanted to be able to make it easy for people to afford our products.”
Thornett said the process is fairly simple. They had a heating element added to the gas tank of the truck, and the oil they use is what is thrown out after being drained from fryers at restaurants. They start the truck up and, after it warms up, they hit a switch and then they “go down the road smelling like french fries!” explained Thronett with a laugh. The result is much less carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide going into the air.
She added that it is a small thing that they do, but it helped them grow while being able to watch their core expenses, like fuel, and it is interesting to customers. At Good Earth, they will talk about the truck’s pump and filter system, and demonstrate how fueling is as simple as backing up the restaurant and retrieving the oil.
In being both socially and environmentally conscious, Michele’s Granola hopes to spread the local food movement and share how it just makes sense. As for the future, they plan on not fixing what’s not broken.
“We’re going to keep doing what we are doing — so far, it’s working. We don’t want to grow too fast.”
She added that they do have a great new Web site and will be expanding a bit, but for the most part want to stay within 150 to 200 miles of Baltimore, Md., to be able to keep up the integrity of the offering the freshest, most socially responsible ingredients in their high quality homemade products.
Locally, Michele’s Granola is offered at Good Earth Market, McCabe’s Gourmet Market, Wholesome Habits, Rainbow Earth Natural Foods in Rehoboth Beach and Rise Up Coffee in Salisbury, Md. They have more than 40 other locations in the Delaware, Maryland and Virginia area and have two locations in Philadelphia, as well as online ordering capabilities. For more information, visit www.michelesgranola.com.