A great granola bar is hard to find. In fact, the more bars that flood the market, the trickier it is to get ones made with real food and nothing more: no protein powder, no preservatives, no filler. We should know - we looked around for a good long while for the best granola bar to sell in our shops. It was a frustrating search until we found...Lenka Bars!
These babies are everything we were dreaming of: wholesome, natural, delicious, and local! Lenka is based in York, PA, about 100 miles west of Philadelphia. We brought Lenka Bars on board this summer, to the delight of our customers and ourselves (seriously, we eat them ALL the time). We carry three amazing flavors: Peanut Butter with Sea Salt, Nuts & Berries, and Berry Omega. Each flavor has just a handful of ingredients, and they are all made with locally sourced honey and organic granola.
The folks over at Lenka are always so nice to work with, and we started becoming more curious about their story. We sat down with Steve Rasovsky, Lenka's Head of Business Development to talk about their journey from home kitchen experimentation to a successful granola bar business.
HubBub: Hi Steve! So, how and when did Lenka Bars begin?
Steve: It started in 2007 with my mom, Lenka, making granola bars in our kitchen. My brother, Phil, and I would come home from school and eat whatever she was trying out that day. Our family has always been in the food business - my parents used to own a sandwich company when we lived in New Hampshire, and they were looking to get back into the industry. At first my mom was experimenting with muffins, which tasted great, but only stayed gooey and fresh for about a day. Lenka wanted something that would stay fresh and delicious for a little longer without using preservatives. One day she thought, "What about granola bars?" and went from there.
HubBub: How did you build the company?
Steve: We're really a family business, built from the ground up. When we first started selling to some local markets and cafes in York, PA the four of us were standing at the kitchen table all together making, packing, and labeling the bars. My brother and I were in charge of sealing the plastic wrappers. In 2008, my parents found a small commercial kitchen in nearby Yoe, PA: an old factory that definitely wasn't ready for food production. My dad and I renovated the whole place. At the time, our family was pretty broke, so we were just doing everything ourselves. It was slow going, but we're proud of it.
HubBub: Now Lenka Bars are available all over the region, right? How did that happen?
Steve: That's right! In eight years, we've gone from a home kitchen operation to small business that's making about 2,000 granola bars per day. In 2009, I started going to college in New York City, and spent a lot of time studying in coffee shops. I decided to approach a few of the owners to see if they'd be interested in carrying Lenka Bars. I sort of turned that into a part-time sales job—going around, pitching our products to cafes and bagel stores all over New York. I ended up starting about 100 accounts in the city. Now our products are available from D.C. through NYC, and we've even opened a few accounts in Seattle. There are just so many coffee shops there! Seattle rain and whatnot.
We had a few lucky breaks along the way, getting in touch with local distributors and developing relationships. The most important part of growing has been word of mouth. It's always a pleasant surprise when we get a phone call from a store owner who heard from a customer that they want to be able to buy a Lenka Bar. Going forward, we want to keep focusing on working with other small, independent business owners. We still work with a few distributors, but more and more we like to communicate directly with business owners, like the way we work with HubBub.
HubBub: Awesome. Were you trained in sales at all?
Steve: Not formally, I learned from trial and error. Lots of error! My family has been in the food business for a few generations now. My parents came here from Czechoslovakia in search of their American dream of starting a business. I was basically raised in the production facility for their former sandwich business, building forts out of bread trays in the back room. As they years went on, I came to understand the business because my parents were really generous in allowing me to help them make decisions.
When I went to college, I thought about majoring in Food Science, but then found my passion in Environmental Studies. I was also fortunate to find the social entrepreneurship community at NYU and became a teaching assistant for several classes. It has been fun taking what I was teaching and learning at NYU and using it to develop Lenka Bar. Going forward, I want to keep exploring how responsible business practices can merge with environmental stewardship and social justice.
HubBub: So...do you eat a lot of Lenka Bars?
Steve: Yes! So many. I've been eating them for years and I'm still not sick of them. Lots of acquaintances know me as the 'granola bar guy.' Sometimes if I'm going to a party or a potluck, I just bring a big box of Lenka Bars. They're a joy to share!
Thanks so much, Steve!
Seriously, if you haven't tried a Lenka Bar, grab one next time you're in. They are the perfect compliment to a coffee or espresso drink, and such a nice healthy mid-morning or afternoon snack!