In a world where delicious and flavorful breakfast is a reality for many countries, America is all too quick to settle for a morning meal that is convenient, tasteless, and, in all honesty, boring. It’s this particular thought that led Max Mong to develop The Unboring Granola, a product of his small business, The Unboring Snack Company. Max, a professional chef with an MBA from Yale, began to dream of a better breakfast experience years ago while working for Kraft Foods in Chicago. Fueled by the desire to eat something more satisfying than tart Greek yogurt or bland breakfast bars during his daily routine, Max found himself brainstorming ways to make his morning meal taste better without sacrificing its protein. Flash forward to the present and you’ll find the entrepreneur at Dream Kitchen producing batches of crunchy, buttery, and toasty oats that have completely transformed the granola game. Max’s story of how he came to create The Unboring Granola is surprising, especially considering his take on the snack prior to crafting his personal recipe.
“I had never really been a big granola person,” Max admitted without hesitation. “But I did recognize granola as something to add to my Greek yogurt along with fresh berries. At the time, I was buying granola, not thinking about a business yet. Overall, I felt that it lacked the texture and flavor that it really needed. So I started just making my own granola with the goal of making something that ate more like a cookie but could be used as a topping, especially on yogurt.” Max began to share his creations with his wife and kids before seeking opportunities to test his recipes in larger crowds, like school fundraisers, sporting events, and even doctors’ offices. Once he met 80% positive customer response, Max decided it was time to sell at local farmer’s markets.
“But while I was getting ready to set up a stand, I took a big detour,” explained Max. In the early stages of his business, Max connected with an incubator initiative for pop-ups at the Batavia Boardwalk Shops. “The city was piloting this program for small businesses to help increase foot traffic to downtown businesses and help aspiring entrepreneurs prove out their businesses,” he explained. The new entrepreneur decided to jump on this opportunity and gain the city’s support and resources. “If the chosen pop-up shops had a successful season and wanted to pursue a lease within Batavia, the incubator program would put them in touch with the property developers in the downtown area to present available properties. “That’s how I opened my brick and mortar shop.” Max is currently subleasing a small nook on the first floor of The Wilson Street Mercantile at 222 East Wilson Street. He operates his business alone, selling out of his store three days a week, crafting batches of granola two or three days, and sourcing his ingredients in the remaining time, while also bookkeeping and managing his company’s social media Instagram account @eatunboringgranola. Max’s hardwork and insightful timing has paid off despite COVID-19 setbacks. The Unboring Granola shop has gained a faithful following and the business is starting to expand. In the past month, Max connected with the Royal Wren, a local gourmet shop in Geneva, and began to sell his granola there. They sold out the first day and asked to double their quantity for the following week.
The secret to Max’s granola lies in a more or less taboo word: butter. “Butter is the transformative ingredient in my granola. It makes the oats the vehicle for brown butter— a very addictive flavor profile. It also creates a texture like a pie crust mixed with a buttery oatmeal cookie.” Max explained that butter has often been viewed as the antagonist in the saga of healthy eating. “People have forgotten what butter actually tastes like. When you taste my product, what you’re getting is an all-natural burst of flavor that you probably haven’t experienced in a while.” Currently, The Unboring Snack Company offers two types of granola: Original, which is meant to be eaten as a snack, and Gold Dust Granola Topping, made to be a companion for other foods, like yogurt. Max also crafts parfaits topped with The Unboring Granola. Since Max’s granola uses egg whites, Max repurposes the leftover yolks to create a custard base for some of his parfaits. “They’re a huge part of my business, about 12% of my sales. They’re definitely dessert parfaits, and they’ve gained a reputation for being really good. For example, last week I made a carrot cake parfait and sold 29 out of 30…on a Thursday.” Max rotates his parfait flavors, making everything from Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake to S’mores.
With all of The Unboring Snack Company’s success, it’s hard to believe how young the company really is. Max legally formed his business in Q4 of 2019, right before the pandemic hit and shutdowns changed small business life as we know it. “Still, I’m way ahead of where I imagined I would be,” said Max. “I know the community has a lot to do with that. Batavia gets behind their local businesses.”
Similarly, The Unboring Snack Company has strong ties to small and local businesses, in many regards. Max sources flaxseed from Minnesota, purchases oats from nearby, multi-generational Brian Severson Farms, and uses only Chicago’s Morton Salt in his recipe. The granola’s production is local too, taking place exclusively out of Dream HUB’s shared kitchen.
Ironically, Max initially started making granola out of his home because baked goods are one of the few categories that Cottage Food laws allow to be made residentially, in-house. But in the initial recipe creation phase, which lasted three years, Max learned two things:
1.) How to perfectly balance butter quantity with the flavor, crunch, and structure of the granola bark.
2.) That he didn’t have a big enough kitchen.
“My oven was really small,” Max said, acknowledging early limitations. “I knew from my background as a chef that I couldn’t accommodate the capacity I would need for production. I would need to bake large batches to make money, so a commercial kitchen was an obvious next-move.” A quick Google search brought Max to Dream HUB’s website.
Max applied to become a member and met with Dream HUB’s founder, Kevin Echevarria. He joined in February of 2020, a few months before the Batavia Boardwalk shops would open. Max used this time to further perfect his production process in Dream Kitchen, scaling the granola up to commercial batches and adjusting his recipes to the conditions of a much larger oven. “Having access to commercial-grade, quality equipment is a game-changer,” explained Max.
Dream HUB’s commercial kitchen is also key in the success of The Unboring Snack Company’s parfaits. Recently, Max fulfilled a large order that would have been impossible without the Dream Kitchen facility: “I had a special order for middle school last season, something like 120 parfaits. It took me three days to make them all because their pudding base needed to set, so I obviously had to store them somewhere. I would never have had the space for all of the parfaits if it wasn’t for Dream Kitchen. I had a speed rack in the walk-in cooler full of sheet trays of plastic cups. The benefit of having the space and the commercial grade equipment is invaluable, especially for someone like me who is fulfilling large orders and constantly testing recipes. I can’t do that at home.”
“But, honestly, it’s not just that,” continued Max. “One of the great things about working with Dream HUB is that the founder, Kevin, is very much involved in the business. He personally gives a tour of the facility to interested members, and he remains involved as people join. As my business has demonstrated staying power, I’ve increased the amount of time I spend at Dream Kitchen. Kevin has become a really valuable resource, whether it’s managing a change in scheduling or addressing a question concerning kitchen equipment or business growth. He has a background in the restaurant business so he gets it. He’s also involved in a lot of different projects that fit nicely into the goals and needs of current Dream HUB members. Right now, Dream Kitchen meets my needs. As my business begins to grow I might need to move up to something bigger, like the manufacturing facility that I know Kevin is working on.” Max’s granola venture is a testimony to his closing thoughts at the end of the interview: Dream HUB meets business owners where they are, fulfilling needs as they grow, be that slowly or exponentially. Despite a global pandemic, The Unboring Snack Company has had an extremely successful first year thanks to Max’s unwavering determination to make granola unboring, a community that loves to see small business thrive, and a bit of help from Dream Kitchen’s facility along the way.