How to Succeed as a Granola Guru

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(Photo: Leela Cyd and Marge Granola)

Megan Gordon makes some of the most addictive granola you can buy. It’s filled with seeds, nuts, natural sweeteners and flavors, and it makes an ordinary bowl of yogurt absolutely shine. Baked fresh each week in Seattle, her shop Marge Granola and muesli are a testament both to Gordon’s creativity and to her determination—because it’s not that easy to turn humble oats into a cult favorite at farmers markets and specialty markets. 

We caught up with Gordon—who started her career working in schools and now runs Marge, develops recipes and is the author of Whole Grain Mornings—to learn more about the story behind her company and her delicious boxes of granola. 

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(Photo: Marge Granola)

Can you describe a typical day running Marge?
Oh I wish I could! In truth, the unpredictability of each day is probably my least favorite part of my job. Typically, we are in production 3-4 days a week with the granola. I have a wonderful baker who is now in charge of the production and I tend to focus much more on vendor management, making sure all shipments go out successfully, tending to the books, and new recipe development. 

Your company actually started as a pie business, yes?
I did start Marge Bakery in California as more of a pie business in 2010. I made all kinds of American-style desserts like homemade Oreos, pop tarts, cookies, and pies.

How did you become interested in whole grains—and granola?
I was a vegetarian during my 20’s and was always looking for creative ways to eat more than beans and rice for dinner. I started shopping more in the bulk section at our grocery store and began experimenting with whole grains. While I’ve always loved baking decadent sweets for other people, I’m really drawn to healthier baking and cooking at home so this became a big focus and was the inspiration for the granola line.

Related story on Yahoo Makers: DIY Granola Bites Are the Perfect Healthy Snack

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(Photo: Marge Granola)

What sets your granola apart from store-bought versions?
First, we’re baked fresh each and every week, so when you order a box online it was literally baked a few days before (or often even the same day!). Also, we don’t use refined sugar in the baking of any of the cereals; I was tired of super, super sweet granolas and knew that there had to be a better way to do it. Last, our flavors are really loaded with nuts and seeds. I think a lot of the store-bought stuff can tend to be pretty boring and oaty (at best) but ours has a lot of big personality.

Your dad started Restoration Hardware. How did he influence your career path as you transitioned from working in a school to baking?
The older I get, the more I realize what an influence he was. I think the biggest way he influenced me was in watching his unwavering pursuit of the projects he was interested in and his spirit and insistence that they’d just somehow work out—even when they were scary or perhaps not financially reasonable at the time. He goes after what he wants, and doesn’t spend a lot of time convincing himself of a reason why it won’t work. He makes it work.

As I transition into different roles at Marge today and see the company grow, I realize that my Dad’s sense of determination and simply looking forward has rubbed off on me. Seeing his success from the sidelines encouraged me that small business do, indeed, start very very small and can grow slowly (or not so slowly) with someone confident at the reigns. He’s also been a great mentor when it comes to lease agreements and other situations that have arisen where I’ve felt completely in over my head.

Related story on Yahoo Makers: Chocolate Lovers Need to Know This

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(Photo: Marge Granola)

How much is your husband Sam involved in the business and how does that impact your marriage?
Sam is my emotional rock when it comes to the business. He helps problem solve when something goes wrong, makes and manages all of our spreadsheets, tracks our sales data, and does all of our graphic design—from the website to packaging. He also loves working the farmers markets, and does two of them a month for us right now. As far as impacting the marriage, we have to be really clear about our expectations or we probably won’t be able to work this closely and have a healthy marriage. I communicate with him what needs doing, we set up a work order for it just as if I was a normal client, and he is very clear and realistic about when he can fit it in with other client projects.

What advice would you give to people aspiring to start a food business?
The best thing you can do is ask for help and do your research. I took a slightly scrappier road and asked as many people who had similar interests and businesses as I did for advice, help and tips on what worked for them. I would literally write or call and ask them how they went about shipping a pie across the country or if they knew of a good heat sealer for cellophane bags or where they had their boxes manufactured. People are often very generous with information.

I’d say, too:  Find your community. It’s going to feel pretty lonely at times in the beginning, so getting to know other entrepreneurs and business owners who you can talk to about your experiences and daily life will help a great deal.

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(Photo: Marge Granola)

Is there anything you wish you had known before starting Marge?
I always say that it’s really good I didn’t know all the things I didn’t know or I honestly probably wouldn’t have started Marge. It all seemed so romantic to me in the beginning, which was good. That’s the dreamy, fun part and that’s how it’s supposed to feel! Starting a business is overwhelming enough in the beginning that if you knew all of the challenges and questions ahead, no one would ever do it.

What’s your favorite part about what you do?
The flexibility. This, of course, is a pro and a con, but I love that I can just go out to lunch with a friend that’s visiting from out of town if I want. Or go out of town for the weekend, or home for the holidays. With more traditional jobs, this was always such a huge source of anxiety for me. The downside, of course, is that when you go out to that long, leisurely lunch you’re often up until 10 p.m. working to make up for it. But I really do love being my own boss and not having a lot of stress surrounding my daily schedule.

Can you share anything about new products or plans you have in the works?
I’d love to work on a granola bar for the summer! I’m also a big porridge fan, and would love to create a really delicious porridge for next holiday/winter.

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