The name “Crapola” doesn’t immediately inspire confidence. When Crapola Granola Co-founder Brian Strom launched his product in 2007, he quickly got used to not having his emails returned. “It might have been my return address,” he says: “brian@crapola.”
A quick behind-the-scenes company name change (“Brainstorm Bakery”) helped the product make inroads with suppliers and distributors. But meanwhile, the Crapola name (and its tagline: “Makes Even Weird People Regular”) propelled the Ely-made granola onto Midwestern store shelves and a mention on “The Tonight Show” by Jay Leno.
It helps that the product behind the name is anything but crappy. After the chuckling is over, the consumer is left holding a bag of hand-mixed, hand-baked granola containing a combination of five organic grains, nuts, and dried cranberries and apples. When we caught up with Brian Strom and his partner (and wife) Andrea Strom in their little Ely bakery, they walked us through the process of making a batch, and it looked a lot like home cooking, writ just a bit larger.
“We wanted to go wholesome and go gourmet and be as organic as possible,” says Brian. “For sweeteners, we went with honey and maple syrup. And the combination is just what tasted right to us after several test batches.”
“We wanted something that would be a nice, sweet flavor without being overly sweet,” says Andrea. Andrea handles the mixing in of fruit and packaging of Crapola after Brian has mixed and baked the product.
“I think if you compare the ingredients [to those of other granolas], you’ll find a lot more diversity in our product,” says Andrea. “We have five organic grains. Cranberries especially, the way they’re produced, it’s really important to us.”
The name’s origin is actually the product’s origin. “It all started — it was just us sitting around [in 2005], having a beer — and we said, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if we made cranberry apple granola and called it ‘Crapola?'” says Brian. “It was just a joke. You say things like that all the time, ‘Say, wouldn’t it be funny if we did that?’ But we actually did, is the thing.”
“A lot of people say, ‘We make good granola, let’s market it.’ Our business plan was: ‘You know what’d be hilarious…?’ And that’s how it happened.”
Recipe hunting, test batching, and tasting parties resulted in Crapola’s eponymous variety, made with cranberries and apples.
In a word, Crapola tastes good. The ingredients have a liveliness to them that many granolas miss. The sweetness level is sufficient and pleasing, but not cloying or artificial. The mix isn’t overburdened by too much of anything; an abundance of flax, or sunflower seeds, or even oats can be a buzzkill when it’s out of proportion to the overall mix. Crapola granolas are complex, but not overloaded with stuff, and their relatively fine, regularly sized bits mean that most every mouthful tastes like the mouthful before it. That consistency is a nice contrast to other granolas that have such massive (insert ingredient here: walnuts, oat clusters, dried fruit chunks, etc.) that you’re effectively playing roulette with every handful.
Crapola comes in three varieties: the original, #2 (which features cranberries, orange, and cardamom), and “Red, White, and Blueberry.” A chocolate variety is potentially in the works; one has to assume that coming up with a scatologically punny name for that one will be fairly straightforward.
Crapola is a small company (just the Stroms and some seasonal help during the summer and holiday rushes), which last year sold 65,000 bags of granola, translating into roughly $225,000 gross sales. Its products show up in about 100 stores, mostly in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest. But the Stroms are working with a product broker and a PR agency, growing the company and looking for a new, larger bakery space in Ely.
“We want to stay here in Ely and have a place not too different from this… we want to keep our hands in it,” says Brian. “But a place also where people are welcome to come in and watch us work. It’d be good for the customers and for us. Competition with the local coffee shops is something we want to avoid.”
For the Stroms, growth is inevitable, but a radically changed Crapola isn’t.
“It’s a made-by-hand deal right now and we’ll keep it that way for the near term,” says Brian. “As we expand into the greater Midwest, I think we can still keep it made by hand — we’ll just need more hands.”