It's NOle is founded by a professor who, at first, was a somewhat reluctant granola ball entrepreneur. Students who loved the cranberry-coconut treats that Margaret Barrow brought to class conducted hundreds of surveys, without her knowing, to prove there was enough demand to launch a business. Margaret only agreed when she figured out how a percentage of profits could go to community college mentoring programs.
Mini Granola Balls
These sweet granola balls meet the Goldilocks dream scenario: not too big, not too small, just right for snacking on the run.
A Conversation With...
When did you come up with the idea for It's Nola?
When I started going through menopause seven years ago, I started snacking like a fiend and I gained 15 pounds.
I decided that instead of giving up snacking, I wanted to make my own snacks. The one snack I had enjoyed the most was the granola bar, but I’d grown tired of them and the mess they left in my purse. So I developed a new version. It was challenging at first because I wanted something small and round, something that was easy to pop in your mouth if you were working, driving, writing, reading or watching a movie.
I didn't create my snacks to sell them. I created them to eat better and wanted to share with my family, friends and my students. My students at BMCC (Borough of Manhattan Community College) started sharing them with their family and friends and then, behind my back, they started sharing with other college students. They conducted hundreds of surveys and came to me all of them filled out with phone numbers and email addresses and comments about my snacks.
They said, “Professor, you told us every argument has evidence. Here’s the evidence that you should start a business.” At first I was mortified! Then I was deeply touched that they would have such strong belief in me and my ability to run a company.
After some thought and discussion, I agreed that I would start the business if I could give money from the profits to community college mentoring programs.
My mentees named all the flavors; two have joined me in the business--Candice Ricks and Mariem Sanoe. Also, it is my hope that being a part of this company will encourage them to start their own.
Where do you create the granola balls?
It seemed like once COVID-19 hit New York City, everyone went underground, disappeared. Our original commercial kitchen, for example, doesn't exist anymore. We now have a new one: Cook Collective in Brooklyn. That’s where we create magic.
How did you develop the recipe for the granola balls?
I read a lot about granola bars, and wanted to make one that was healthy and wouldn’t crumble. I started playing around with flavors, something I love to do when I cook. I never ate cranberries at family Thanksgiving, but I had an idea: What if I used cranberry and coconut in my granola and added a little bit of this and a little bit of that—including some herbs, which I love.
I began rolling the ingredients together into a ball that was about three inches—it was pretty big! As it baked, the smell filled the entire house; I was immediately taken back to my childhood.
When I bit into one, I just kept bobbing my head up and down while I chewed. It was so delicious, I ate the entire thing. Then I called my husband to try one. He was completely amazed at the taste and ate quite a few of them. I had to chase him from the kitchen.
Then I called my daughters from upstairs and they started to eat them, and I had to chase them from the room, too. I stood in the kitchen feeling proud of myself. It’s not everyday that my family all has the same response to my cooking.
Did you ever consider giving up?
When I had COVID-19, and the business looked like it was going to die, I thought about the students who believed in me and encouraged me to create this business, and I thought about the young women who are a part of this business, and I thought about my husband and daughters. I thought about how I was working on my doctoral degree at Columbia University and working full-time and struggling with problems in my family. I thought I wouldn’t make it through.
But I did.
I joined groups of women business owners and leaned in and learned and offered what I knew to support them, too. I just kept reaching out and searching for ways to survive one day at a time. I knew if I sat down with the ladies and made a plan to work together, we would eventually find our way out of what felt like a bottomless pit.
What was your first entrepreneurial endeavor?
I love flowers and take all kinds of pictures of them. Years ago, I contacted Vistaprint to have them put on mugs. I started selling them to family and friends. I never really thought of it as a business, though. I wasn’t emotionally invested in turning it into a business the way I am with It's Nola.
I created this company because my students insisted that the snacks I was giving them at 8 a.m. and noon brought value to their lives and the lives of their families. If it had not been for them, this company would not exist. We give 10 percent of our profits to community college mentoring programs that will help to develop healthy mentoring relationships for the students I care about so much.