Food, Yoga and Travel in Brooklyn
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Another one of my favorites from my NY product/gift bag extravaganza was the Brooklyn based Granola Lab. Granola Lab, is granola (duh), handmade in small batches with awesome ingredients. Overall, Granola Lab has a great natural taste. The flavors are simple, with an awesome crunch, and are not overly saturated with sugar or oils. You can actually taste the fruit and the nuts. Shocker!
My first try was the Activation Energy, which is a mix of coffee, hazelnuts and dark chocolate. I’ve never seen granola with coffee in it, so needless to say I was intrigued. I love that she uses Crop to Cup coffee beans and dark chocolate from Green & Black’s. (My favorite for homemade mint chocolate chip ice cream!) It is pretty great with Greek yogurt and I can see, as suggested, that it would be awesome with a chocolate stout. (A lovely kooky thing about the Granola Lab etsy page – a beer is recommended with each flavor. Love it!)
Other flavors available are:
Get Gingersnapping – ginger and molasses
Elemental Formula – pecan and orange
Tamarind Fusion – Tamarind, banana and walnut (looking forward to this coming in my next order!)
You can order Granola Lab through the Etsy site here. A note when ordering – All Granola Lab flavors can be made peanut-free and/or vegan (honey replaced by maple or agave syrup) upon request. (very exciting!)
I was really psyched when Alex from Granola Lab agreed to answer a few questions for me. I’m really interested in start-up businesses and how people cope with managing an artisan food business while in New York. Like everything else in NY, I can imagine that it’s NOT easy. Here are a few words from Alex about her Granola startup and how she ended up roasting oats in Sunset Park.
How did you come up with the name Granola Lab?
I’m sure the name occurred to me initially because I’m a big Radiolab fan, but it wasn’t a conscious homage or anything. (I love Stereolab, too!) I really just liked the idea of experimentation, the idea that a kitchen is a place where, through trial and error, delicious things are perfected. I don’t have a culinary background at all. I was a neuroscience major for three years in college (before a last minute switch to French), and I’ve done both clinical and basic lab work.
When did you first start making granola?
I started making granola about three years ago. A friend of mine kept talking about how good his girlfriend’s granola was. She was making it to sell at her coffee shop. Opening a cafe/coffee house has been a dream of mine for a while, so I started making it in preparation for that ultimate goal. Somehow, granola hijacked my coffee dream! (No, I still harbor that dream, it’s just on hold.)
What is your favorite ingredient to work with?
I love oats, of course! They feel so nice between the fingers. My favorite ingredient is definitely coffee. The smell! I’ve become mostly immune to the scents that waft from the oven — anyone who comes by while I’m baking always says how great it smells — but Activation Energy is an exception. My least favorite ingredients are the ones that I really have to work: the dried bananas that have to be cut into pieces and the hazelnuts that must be halved. Dealing with the chocolate gave me innumerable headaches until I acquired a mini-food processor. Large food processors were useless. Before that, I burned through two of this particular brand of coffee grinder (other brands just didn’t work).
How’s the new kitchen working out for you? (Alex just moved into a new commercial kitchen in Sunset Park.)
I’m very pleased with the new kitchen. It’s on the top floor of a huge warehouse, so there’s great natural light. It’s so much more active than my previous space, full of other small start-up business. It’s inspiring!
What do you think is one of the most challenging things about creating a start up food company in Brooklyn?
Oh man, there are a million challenging things about starting a food biz. At the moment, I’d say it’s having enough time to both keep up with orders and grow the business. There are so many little things that eat up time: sourcing ingredients, ordering stuff, prepping the packaging (I’m currently printing my own labels), emailing, delivering, etc. I’ve been “on the cusp” of changing my labeling for months. I need a partner! That’s the one piece of advice I’d give anyone who wants to start something. It’s a lot easier to share the burden. Another challenge is keeping on top of all the details. If you forget to buy an ingredient, you’re fucked. Well, maybe not, but it can cost you time and time is precious. Organization is key.
And on the other spectrum, what’s the best thing about it?
On the other hand, this thing is MINE. I created Granola Lab from the ground up and its success or failure rests with me. It’s awkward getting compliments, but people say incredibly nice things about my granola all the time. That feels fantastic! Most of them have no idea how hard the whole process is and I have to bite my tongue a little every time someone suggests I get Granola Lab into Whole Foods. They don’t realize what that would mean, from a production standpoint.
Thanks for talking to us Alex – you and your granola have been a treat!