Mother + Son Scale Granola Bar Business Built on Family Values
Steven Rasovsky can’t help but gush with pride when talking about his mother Lenka. She left the dangers of 1980s Czechoslovakia at the age of 23 with nothing more than a backpack, a few English phrases and a positive attitude. Like many immigrants, Lenka worked in food services. Eventually, her undeniable entrepreneurial spirit lead Lenka to launch a pre-packed sandwich business selling to stores across New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.
Young Steven was right by her side making tuna salad, meatball and Italian hoagies.
One day, Lenka made a batch of muffins — and the family couldn’t stop eating them. The family knew they would sell but weren’t keen on using preservatives to extend shelf life. So they transitioned to granola and Lenka Bar was born. The handmade bars are crafted in small batches using simple, quality, all-natural ingredients. They can be enjoyed as a quick snack on the go, or crumbled over oatmeal or yogurt.
Steven helped in all aspects of the new business — from cooking to packaging to deliveries. As he hustled hard to transform an old building in York, Pennsylvania into a modern food production facility, Steven spent his free time winning over wholesale account managers in cafe after cafe in New York City, a notoriously challenging market. Now, Steven, Lenka, and their growing team produce 3,500 bars per day and sell to 500 cafes and gourmet markets nationwide.
At Saxbys, we love partnering with hard-working entrepreneurs who are dedicated to serving their communities. Lenka’s focus on Handmade Joy and our mission to Make Life Better go hand-in-hand. We couldn't have dreamed up a partner (or a product) we feel better about carrying in our cafes. That’s why we’ve added the Peanut Butter and Sea Salt and Nuts & Berries Lenka Bars to our Grab & Go menu.
We sat down with Steven to learn more about how Lenka came to life:
So … Lenka Bar actually started with a batch of muffins?
My mom was playing around with muffins and they were really delicious. I mean, they were really, really good. The problem with muffins is shelf life. It’s really difficult to have them shelf stable for more than a couple days unless you use preservatives. So we made granola bars instead. We wanted to offer something that looked beautiful, tasted awesome, and was made with real ingredients.
How did you get Lenka Bar off the ground?
We started in our kitchen for the better part of a year. Then, we moved production into this little basement room behind the garage with one tiny little window. Looking back, I can't believe we made bars down there. Then we bootstrapped our production facility. It was a really old building. If you hit the wood floors with a hammer a plume of dust would come up — letting us know there was a lot of work ahead of us. So my dad, mom, brother, and I laid tiles, installed washable walls, and transformed it into a food-grade facility. Each time we had some more money, we could make an improvement. We put every penny back into the business.
You began gaining traction in convenience stores and gas stations across Maryland and New Jersey, which meant quite a bit of driving for you.
We had a Scion xB, this little box of a car. We’d fill it with granola bars, bottom out the suspension, and they’d send me out on a 14-hour delivery route to 20 stores. Oh and I had just gotten my driver’s license.
How did you find new customers in the midst of the recession when people were cutting back on purchases?
There wasn’t a whole lot of extra capital to spend on a handmade bar. It was hard to convince a store owner why they should spend money on our bar rather than another snack. So we spent time knocking on doors and cold calling. As soon as they tried it, they bought it because it tasted so great.
Why partner with Saxbys?
For us, it’s all about family values. We care about our people and our community. I was really attracted by how the Saxbys team is so invested in company culture and values. When I learned the values of Saxbys — namely “we are a community serving a community” — I knew this partnership was a perfect fit.
Are you seeing that today’s consumers are more interested in smaller, independent food producers like yourselves?
People are becoming more conscious of what they’re putting in their bodies. They don’t want just a sugar rush from something that has zero substance. Our bars aren't the healthiest thing but they taste damn good. And they’re a lot better for you than a cookie or donut. People are voting with their dollars. People are learning the stories behind the products they’re buying. They want to feel connected to something authentic. At our company, there’s a human being behind every bar. We put a lot of love into these bars and you can taste the difference when you eat them.