Sophie Bolich

Husband-and-Wife Team Quietly Growing Olympia Granola in Riverwest

After bouncing from Washington to Minnesota to Green Bay, company has found its way in Milwaukee.

By - Feb 13th, 2023 10:05 am
Photo courtesy of Olympia Granola.

Photo courtesy of Olympia Granola.

When AJ Girard took ownership of Olympia Granola, a small manufacturer of health-focused bars, he didn’t foresee himself overnighting at the office while putting in 12-to-14-hour days as the company’s sole employee.

But that was just one of the many surprises that the year 2020 delivered.

Despite a handful of unprecedented, pandemic-era months, running the business has been fulfilling and provided a welcome opportunity to enhance the city of Milwaukee, said Girard, who owns the business with his wife, Dana Herdeman.

The couple acquired Olympia Granola in 2019. At the time, the company was based in Green Bay, though it had changed hands and locations several times since its original launch.

The company, originally called Olympic Granola, was founded in 2003 in Washington. The business shut down after several years, but was later purchased and revived by a Minnesota-based owner. The company passed through four subsequent owners in Minnesota and Wisconsin before making its way to Girard and Herdeman, and ultimately into Milwaukee.

The frequent changes in ownership had taken a toll on the company, said Girard, but the couple saw potential. “We definitely fell in love with the brand,” he said. “We thought, ‘hey, we can make this bar really good and we can make this grow.'”

When the worst of the pandemic passed, the couple relocated the business closer to home. Thousands of bars per day are now packaged at a Riverwest production facility, 3950 N. Holton St.

The 3,900-square-foot building was formerly home to Milwaukee Pretzel Co., which has since relocated to a larger facility at 8050 N. Granville Woods Rd.

The couple also tweaked the bars’ recipes to feature Milwaukee ingredients such as local honey and Stone Creek Coffee beans.

Olympia products are free of peanuts, gluten and dairy, and are available in flavors such as turtle mocha, espresso almond, honey almond, almond chocolate and caramel apple.

Additional flavors featuring Wisconsin ingredients are in the works, said Girard, and will likely launch by the end of 2023.

The company touts its bars as all-natural, nutritious and delicious, noting that its signature cold-press method and base of honey, rolled oats, almonds and puffed rice aids in avoiding the same shortcomings of other bars on the market that are overly crumbly, sticky, flavorless or lacking texture.

The company’s small team includes one full-time and two part-time members. Girard oversees operations and Herdeman is president. In addition to her work at Olympia, which includes nights, weekends and back end operations she works in the underwriting department for an insurance company.

The couple work as a team to tackle farmers markets, demos and strategy. On Saturday mornings, they can be found holding a “very formatted and structured” weekly meeting, Herdeman said with a laugh.

“I think when you own a business with your partner, you live together, you’re constantly talking about it anyway. But to have that formal structure with agenda points you want to hit and action points going forward, that’s very important to me.”

Olympia bars are available for purchase locally at Beans & Barley, 1901 E. North Ave., Metcalfe’s Market in Wauwatosa, Pop’s Marketplace in Muskego and market30 in Cudahy. At the end of the month, the bars will enter all 18 Sendik’s Food Market stores in the Milwaukee Area. The bars are also for sale online through the Olympia Granola website.

For the remainder of February, keep an eye out for the bars at local Adventure Rock locations. The company is running a “buy a bar, give a bar” campaign to fuel a donation to the Kinship Community Food Center in Riverwest.

Olympia has run similar campaigns in the past, said Girard, who added that he hopes to make it a monthly occurrence.

“What we’re really trying to do is just help Milwaukee,” Girard said. “We’re always around to help other companies, talk with everybody and kind of help everybody succeed.”


Categories: Food & Drink, Weekly

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