By Katherine Snow Smith Tampa Bay Times, St. Petersburg, Fla.
If Tanya Brown's dream of having a chain of gourmet granola stores doesn't become a reality, she may at least have the makings of a country music song.
I sold my viola
To make my granola.
She recently reeled off the other things she and her business partner and fiancee, DeLisa Drake, also sold. There was the 2005 Chevy Malibu, a Suzuki motorcycle and an alto saxophone, among other things. Once they raised some money, they quit their jobs at the Capital One call center in Tampa to make and sell more than 50 flavors of gourmet granola.
Two years later, their Kozma Artisan Granola is on the shelves at Locale Market in Sundial, is a favorite at the Saturday Morning Market and has been voted favorite artisan food by readers of Edible Sarasota magazine. Internet orders come from as far as California and London.
"They stood out immediately because of the quality of what they were making and the level of what they were doing," said Jeff Houck, spokesman for Locale gourmet market and restaurant. "Their packaging, their canisters stood out. I remember the night before we opened, they were tying tiny burlap ribbons on each can. They just show an immense amount of love for what they are doing."
Making a good product is only half the battle, Brown said. Knowing how to mass produce, package, market and sell that product is the other half, Drake added.
Though they have learned along the way, both have a knack for running a business.
They are relaxed yet passionate when engaging Locale customers with sophisticated palates on a Friday night or talking up health enthusiasts at the Williams Park Summer Market on a steamy Saturday morning. Drake and Brown dish out samples of jalapeno n' ranch granola, cocoa banana crunch granola and pineapple paradise from a row of martini glasses, making people wonder how they ever got along without Kozma granola.
"You can put it on chicken salad or in a tuna wrap," Brown said. "It's great sprinkled over a baked apple. Oh, and it makes a gooood pie crust."
The granola sells for $12 for 12 ounces, $28 for two pounds and comes in various gift sizes, as well.
Going for it Brown has always loved to bake but wanted to try something different for a Mother's Day present for Drake's mom, Delois Drake, three years ago. She decided on granola.
DeLisa Drake wasn't so sure.
"I always thought granola tasted like birdseed," she said with a laugh.
Because Delois Drake has fibromyalgia, which some believe is exacerbated by sugar and artificial additives, Brown concocted a granola without sugar, corn syrup or molasses. She used coconut oil, sunflower oil, honey and fruit to sweeten it.
"I told her that night, 'You should sell this,' "Delois Drake recalled. Brown started making different flavors each week and sold the leftovers to co-workers.
"And they kept telling me I should sell it," Brown said. Finally, she decided to go for it. She and Drake spent about $2,000, most of it charged on their credit cards, on ingredients, packaging, labels and a website. They started hitting outdoor markets, including the Azalea Fresh Market and the Gulfport outdoor market. They hit big time when they got into the Sarasota Farmers Market and, after many months of waiting, were admitted to the St. Petersburg Saturday Morning Market.
Customers liked what they tasted. They loved the creative names. They asked for business cards. They came back for more free samples. But not a lot were buying it at first.
"It took a good year before enough people really knew what we were all about," Brown said. "You have to build your customer base to get the repeat business."
At the same time, they wanted to get the granola into stores. It had to be baked at a certified, commercial kitchen in order to do so. Drake and Brown were thinking of paying to use a church kitchen when they heard about Your Pro Kitchen in Largo.
The space in an office and industrial park off U.S. 19 is designed for "culinary entrepreneurs" who need the space and qualifications of a commercial kitchen but aren't ready to invest in their own. Kozma pays $250 each month to use the kitchen eight hours.
Finding the right markets Rollin' Oats seemed like a natural fit for the additive-free granola, so the independent grocer on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street was the first store Drake and Brown approached.
"They really liked it but just needed a few things before we could sell it there," Drake said, with a slight laugh at the team's inexperience. The packaging was missing an expiration date and the address of the manufacturing facility. They also needed proof of insurance. It took a while, but Drake and Brown got it all done and were thrilled when their granola made it to the first grocery store. They got it into Hooker Tea on Beach Drive NE, as well.
While sales grew at the outdoor markets, not much was happening at Rollin' Oats. And when a package did sell, they barely broke even on it once the store took its cut.
"We realized even though our food was healthy, a health food store wasn't the best market," Drake said. It also was a unique, locally made, unusual food that could sell for more at a gourmet market.
"We had two different avenues, so we tried to lead with gourmet. It's still healthy, but it's also gourmet," Drake said. So, in mid 2014, they got an appointment with Locale Market, which was about to open. Co-owner and famed N.Y. chef Don Pintabona himself tasted the granola, learned about their health conscious ingredients, and he was sold.
"We actually have it in two different locations (in the market). That's how much we like their product," Houck, Locale's spokesman, said.
Kozma is focusing on getting into more brick-and-mortar stores instead of outdoor markets. It's expanding its product line with high-protein truffles and oatmeal. Based on activity so far this year, Kozma should do about $25,000 in sales in 2015.
That's about a 40 percent increase over 2014. Still, Brown must supplement her income with other part-time work.
They have started fundraising through Kickstarter at kck.st/1KiJTH9 for $7,500 to open a customized kiosk in WestShore Plaza.
"We want to be sold in Neiman Marcus and served in resorts. We want to have storefronts in malls," Drake said. "We want to be the Dean & DeLuca of granola."