When they were seniors at DU, Maddy D’Amato (BA ’08) and Alex Hasulak (BSBA ’08) called on their fellow students to help them perfect their granola recipe, bringing samples to campus for their classmates to sample and evaluate.
Two years later, the pair’s Love Grown Foods granola is on the shelves at 80 supermarkets in Colorado and Wyoming, with the promise of more stores to come. In November, foodie Web site Chowhound.com named Love Grown’s sweet cranberry pecan flavor No. 1 in a granola taste test that included well-known brands such as Udi’s, Olal and Bear Naked. Love Grown’s cinnamon apple walnut came in at No. 6, also.
It’s been a nutty ride for the couple who met at DU and moved to Aspen — Maddie’s hometown — after graduation. In January they returned to Denver, where they run the business from their home and bake their granola in a nearby commercial kitchen.
“When we first got to Denver, the oven wasn’t working right, so we took two trips to Aspen with our cars full of ingredients,” D’Amato says. “Our first big order for the 80 stores actually was baked in Aspen — we baked for 24 hours straight, which was quite the marathon. We had my parents and my brother bagging for us; it was a 72-hour weekend of us just cranking out product up in Aspen because we needed consistency and we knew those ovens worked.”
The oven issues have since been corrected, and Maddy and Alex now spend many of their nonbaking hours at the regional King Soopers and City Market stores that carry their product, educating consumers on the wonders of naturally sweetened granola made with no chemicals, hydrogenated oils or high fructose corn syrup.
“We love interacting with the customer; we think that that’s the most important thing,” D’Amato says. “Our goal as a company is not just to make food that’s delicious and healthy, but also to tell people why they should be eating these foods and explain to them in person the benefits of flaxseed meal and whole grain oats and why that’s so important in their diets. They’re more likely to understand it and apply it to their lives, which at the end of the day means that we did our job.”
Love Grown Foods’ motto is “it’s not just a company, it’s a lifestyle,” and Alex and Maddy follow through with a “live free” page on their Web site that urges visitors to “get healthy” by running, skiing, hiking or doing yoga, and to “be informed” by reading the newspaper, listening to books on tape and taking classes at a local community college.
“We’re definitely trying to create more of a movement toward healthy lifestyles,” Hasulak says. “When we say ‘live free’ we mean live free in every way in terms of eating healthy, being active, getting outdoors, loving your life, loving your job — just honestly in every way.”
Hasulak and D’Amato have stayed connected with DU as well — they host regular “sticker parties” where their college friends come over to put stickers on bags while they catch up, and a senior-level marketing class has students competing to see who can come up with the best marketing plan for Love Grown Foods.
“We’re on a mission to show people how healthy can also be delicious. Alex and I are obviously health nuts, and we take so much time — or we really did in college — to make food, but that takes so much time out of your day,” D’Amato says. “If people don’t have that time, we thought we could bring them healthy products so they at least have the opportunity to eat healthy, even if it’s on the run.”