Steamboat Springs Diane Lekarczyk is a cereal entrepreneur who has launched many businesses, and the latest is retailing small-batch granola using topnotch ingredients.
Granola Gold varieties like Strawberry Park and First Tracks gained a strong following at the Mainstreet Farmers Market this summer, Lekarczyk said.
“This is a product you can market, and it’s doing really well,” Lekarczyk said. “I’ve always had a real passion for making health food for friends and family, and I’ve always had a dream to have my boys (become) first-generation college graduates.”
Lekarczyk (pronounced le-car-zik) is the single mother of three young men with one in college and another in waiting.
Kyle, 25, is gaining work experience at a pizza restaurant in Connecticut. Mitch, 20, is well on his way to getting his electrical engineering degree at the University of Colorado and is helping his mother at the farmers market along with Michael, 17.
She already runs a successful cleaning business with two to five employees and has built a list of 40 clients solely by word of mouth.
In the past, she’s also been the owner or a partner in pizza and Internet businesses, among others. But she has a good feeling about the granola she mixes and bakes several evenings a week at Fixins Kitchen, the rental commercial kitchen at the corner of Oak and 11th streets in downtown Steamboat that is ideally suited to a role as a launching pad for startup businesses.
“I consider this one to be the one I’ve been waiting for,” Lekarczyk said.
Because she has bootstrapped several businesses and sought experienced counseling in the case of her newest business, Lekarczyk’s plan for Granola Gold was well-refined when she landed a $3,000 micro grant through the city of Steamboat Springs this year to help her cover the cost of her initial granola ingredients, attaining the required licenses to make and sell food products and attend marketing classes in Denver.
Randy Rudasics, who runs the Bogue Enterprise Center at Colorado Mountain College's Alpine Campus as well as teaches a class in entrepreneurism, helped Lekarczyk prepare her business plan. He said they talked about the goal of evolving her product this summer through customer feedback gained at the farmers market.
Entrepreneurs need to be adept at forming relationships, Rudasics said, because eventually they will have to engage in sales activity.
“Some things are easy to find, but some things, like customers, are often quite a mystery,” Rudasics said. “Nobody is going to find your revenue stream for you.”
On a Thursday night at Fixins Kitchen, Lekarczyk was using a wooden spoon to mix brown sugar, honey, pecans, fresh blueberries, rolled oats (the source of the oats is top secret) and other ingredients in a magenta plastic tub. It was big enough to yield an 8-pound batch.
She makes six varieties of granola, the most popular being “Rafting the Yampa,” which contains blueberries and freeze-dried pineapple.
Lekarczyk devotes plenty of energy to every batch of granola and purchases high-quality ingredients based on the advice of her late grandmother Helen Owens, who was renowned for her fudge.
“You have to put more of the good stuff in there than everybody else,” Lekarczyk said Grandma Owens told her.
As a result, Granola Gold is relatively expensive; including sales tax, it retails for $8.50 for an 8-ounce bag and $12.75 for a 16-ounce bag. Her customers are undeterred, she said.
“It’s a premium product for sure, and you know what? They don’t mind. They buy three to six bags at a time,” Lekarczyk said.
Successful entrepreneurs tend to have certain personality traits, including a willingness to survive failures and try, try again. Lekarczyk said she likes to be her own boss.
“Patience and courage are two traits that make me a strong entrepreneur," she said.
Rudasics said entrepreneurs like Lekarczyk need persistence and fortitude to fight through the inevitable dark days when they experience self-doubt.
“You have to have a tolerance for ambiguity,” Rudasics said. “It’s a fuzzy world out there when you go out there on your own. You’re going into deep space in terms of what’s going to happen with your life.”
Lekarczyk has a plan for the coming autumn. She says she intends to spend the fall visiting trade shows and continuing to promote her business through other small-town markets.
Watch for a full-retail Granola Gold website, www.granolagold.net, to go live soon.
In addition to the farmers market, which continues at 9 a.m. Saturdays until Sept. 8 on Sixth Street, people can find Granola Gold at the Southside Station convenience store opposite the Holiday Inn of Steamboat on U.S. Highway 40. She also will make a presentation about her granola to managers at the new Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage store scheduled to open in downtown Steamboat.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com