By ALEXANDRA ROWE / Petaluma Correspondent
Never did the Tate brothers dream that their father’s homemade granola recipe would turn into a rapidly expanding business.
Craig and Chris Tate now run Lifestyle Granolas, manufacturing and selling the recipe they ate as children in Petaluma.
In the late ’70s, their father, Bury Tate, decided he could not only make granola, but make it better than their neighbors. Thirty years later, Craig Tate found himself in Spokane, Wash., working as a cargo pilot with Empire Airlines and enduring the worst winters in nearly 15 years.
For years friends had encouraged him to start a granola company, and with a bounty of time to kill indoors, he had time and energy to pursue it.
“The hardest part was just figuring out where to get started because there’s no book or manual,” he said. “You just have to start calling people and asking questions. Making the product and selling it was the easy part.”
His product became popular at local farmers markets, and when people asked where else they could buy it, he started selling to local grocery stores. Encouraged by the positive response, he shipped discounted granola back home to his stepmother, Sandra Jurek.
A native of Petaluma, she raised the boys in her hometown, sending them to Bernard Eldridge and La Tercera elementary schools. They played little league baseball and every Saturday helped their father make granola.
“When they got older, their father finally gave them the recipe,” Jurek said. “I don’t even have it!”
For the past year she has made selling the granola her full-time job. Her biggest accomplishment so far was landing a deal with Whole Foods Market.
After speaking with the manager at the Petaluma store, she landed a meeting with the corporate buyer, who loved the company so much that he signed on without even tasting the granola, Jurek said. She has heard from other local producers that her luck is unheard of.
Since Lifestyle Granolas began in 2009, one product has multiplied into nine, which Craig Tate said easily could have turned into 50 had he not hit the brakes.
“The most common phrase I hear at the farmers market is, ‘You know what you should do?’ Everyone has an idea of what granola should be, but I had to stop and focus on what I had.”
Tate stuck with that approach while building his business from the inside out. He realizes there is a demand for his product, but to meet this high demand he needs outside investors to help fund such a rapid expansion.
Tate’s younger brother, Christopher, recently moved from San Diego to Washington to help hold up the business side of things. Between the two brothers, Jurek and one part-time employee, they have been able to distribute their product to six states including California, Montana, Oregon, Texas, Washington, and a couple of mom-and-pop stores in the east.
Tate believes their business is very similar to most small granola companies that start with a family recipe and use all natural, simple ingredients. They’re unique in that most fans say their product is not too sweet. Lifestyle Granolas uses only honey and molasses as sweetener, whereas many others use agave nectar or evaporated sugar cane.
The Tates also try to avoid fillers such as puffed rice, peanuts and sunflower seeds, sticking to the things their fans want more of, like high end nuts and papaya.
Another difference — they market their product as a fuel food rather than health food.
“Granola was originally created as a high energy compact food for back packers,” Tate said. “Spokane and the Bay Area are bloated with customers who are conscious eaters and have the means to eat healthier by avoiding processed foods.”
Lifestyle Granola is taking the next step by working with a co-packing company to produce granola on a much larger scale. This will open the door to chain stores throughout the country, Tate said, and possibly lead to producing additional products such as bars or cereal.
For the time being, the brothers are surprised and pleased by their success and stay busy keeping up with the demand.
“The granola we used to make at home with our dad is now on store shelves,” said Chris Tate. “The most rewarding part is for the name to be recognized.”