Perhaps no food is given a more dramatic makeover via a quick trip through the oven than oats turned to granola. Unadorned, oats are a rather bland grain - of course, a little effort can turn them into oatmeal (of which we are fans). But dang if some fat, sugar and crunchy mix-ins don't just lend oats a certain va va voom that seems impossible when looking at a jar full of the raw stuff. Michele's Granola, based right outside of Baltimore, Maryland, makes some of the finest granola we've had the pleasure of eating. We just love it. We also love that they're an independent company committed to using only the best ingredients and cleanest processes to craft their wonderful products. Try a HubBub granola + yogurt + fruit cup to see for yourself: Michele's Original flavor granola (coconut, sunflower seeds, almonds and vanilla) atop creamy Pequea Valley yogurt with some berries and bananas? Seriously the perfect breakfast or snack.
As we're always curious to learn more about the people making the products that we serve in our shops, we sent owner Michele Tsucalas some questions which she was kind enough answer. Their operation just moved into a new facility the other week so things have been reportedly kind of nuts around there, but the lady in charge still managed to set aside some time for our interview!
HubBub: What makes granola, like, SO much better than regular box cereal? We have our theories on it, but are wondering what your take is, being granola experts and all.
Michele: We prefer to be called “granola specialists” :) Honestly, I’m not 100% sure. This is just how I’ve (almost) always made granola. But here’s my best guess: Our recipe is unique and includes way more nuts and seeds than other packaged cereals. We have a very special, people-centered, small batch, handmade process. And our products are SO fresh. We create our production schedule based on what our customers order each week, so we are truly delivering just-baked, crunchy goodness.
HubBub: What inspires you to create the flavors that Michele's offers?
Michele: My personal flavor preferences and food habits, and our farmers’ market roots, have been the inspiration for all of our flavors. I’ve been a natural foods fanatic since college, and so creating an awesome flax and hemp seed granola (Ginger Hemp) was a must for me! I learned about seasonality and local produce as a farmers’ market vendor, and our Pumpkin Spice variety and new seasonal line emerged from that ethos. Our fall seasonal Apple Quinoa brings together quinoa—a popular “superfood”—and organic local apples from nearby Latimore Valley Farms. Two of my personal favorite treats, oatmeal raisin cookies and lemon poppy seed cake inspired our Cinnamon Raisin and spring seasonal Lemon Pistachio granolas. Actually, my team came up with Lemon Pistachio when I failed at Lemon Poppy Seed granola (it tasted great, but the poppy seeds made it look like we had rolled it in dirt).
HubBub: What were some memorable challenges along your journey, starting as a one-person business to cranking out over 8,000 lbs of granola a week?
Michele: There were many memorable all-night baking sessions, that’s for sure! I’ve learned a lot of hard lessons about raw material and packaging procurement, and how to run a production facility, but most of the education has been around building a team. We make, bake, package, market, sell and distribute our granola in-house. Finding the right mix of people to handle all of those unique aspects of our business, and inspiring a style of team work that reflects our company’s values, has been an awesome experience.
HubBub: Did you ever think about or try to make other things besides granola?
Michele: Long ago a business mentor told me, “Do one thing, and do it better than anyone else.” Loose granola is definitely our wheelhouse and I am happy keeping our focus here. Though to keep things extra interesting in the kitchen, we have dabbled in instant oatmeal and granola bars as well.
HubBub: Tell us some awesome things about Baltimore!
Michele: Baltimore is home to the state’s largest farmers’ market and the country’s largest free arts festival. It is an incredibly creative city and a very supportive community for small business, and its food scene especially is burgeoning. I was warmly welcomed to this city seven years ago (from my native DC), and in that time we have grown immensely and witnessed so many others turn their passions into a job or business locally.
HubBub: Do you drink coffee? If so, what's your go to?
HubBub: What's the best part of your day?
Michele: Every day is a little different, but recently the best part of my day has been walking into our new offices and smelling the sweet aroma of granola baking. Two years ago, to accommodate our growth, we had to move our offices into a separate building from our bakery. Last week, we came back under one roof in a beautiful new facility. Oh how I missed this smell!
Congrats to Michele and her team on their new location. We are amazed at the magic they make with simple ingredients, and are so happy to share their granola (and their story) with you!