In our brand spotlight, we feature Abound brands who are ready for retail. This week we sat down with Luther Cutchins, owner of Noke’s Granola. Noke’s Granola sells granola and spicy beer nuts, is based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and has been in business for five years.
Robin: Why did you decide to start this business? Why this business and not a different one?
Luther: My brother used to make granola at our catering business and it started to get a bit of an underground following before he suddenly passed away in 2012. Two years later I opened “Noke’s Granola” in his name (nickname) to honor him and the granola everyone loved, his Ryan’s Blend.
R: How did you make your first prototype? What changes have you made to your product since then?
L: Ryan’s Blend (honey, mixed nuts, and cranberries) was developed over two years selling fruit trays to different offices. After making it with a larger market in mind I decided to start using gluten-free oats in all the blends and remove butter from the recipe to a more vegan friendly coconut oil.
R: How do you make your product? What’s your process like?
L: I continue to make every batch of granola myself in my commercial kitchen, by hand and in small batch sizes, to ensure the highest quality of granola possible.
R: What’s your day to day like? Do you have any favorite and least favorite parts?
L: After dropping my son off to school, I usually head straight to the kitchen, fire up the ovens and music. It’s not uncommon to see me jamming out and roasting oats from the highway that runs past the kitchen. I love cooking and packaging, my least favorite is doing work on the computer.
R: What was your initial investment? How did you get the money?
L: I started working out of my house and built the company in its current state, granola bag by granola bag.
R: Where was the first place you sold your product?
L: My first tip toe into seeing if there was a need for Noke’s Granola, I went to a small farmers’ market and brought a batch of granola that I had portioned in tin-tie bags and hand stamped. I sold out in an hour.
R: Where do you sell your product now?
L: The Chattanooga Farmers’ Market, all of the Local Juice stores, Real Roots Cafe, Bleu Fox Cheese Shop, Mayfly Coffee, Vinterest in Hixson and Southside, Nutrition World, and the Georgia Winery.
R: Where would you love to sell your products in the future?
L: In specialty stores all over the southeast, but especially in retail stores that cater to the outdoor enthusiast.
R: What’s your marketing like? Is social media an important part of your business?
L: Social media is an important part of my business including a decent following on Instagram. I’ve done a pretty good job using local influencers to help carry the brand torch.
R: How do you pick which influencers are right for your brand? What’s it like working with them?
L: I really wanted to make sure to lean on my brand being an all-natural snack, perfect for an “REI” outdoor enthusiast type individual. So on Instagram I posted a photo of me in the woods with the caption “Want to become a Brand Ambassador?” with these rules as a caption:
I want you to go play outside!! Go camping, hiking, biking, kayaking, stand up paddleboarding, or anything outdoors.
Once a month I draw out of all the reposts one person to get a free shirt, sticker, granola bag combo.
I love nature. My hope is to not only inspire people to get out and just take pictures. But through pictures, to hopefully inspire others to just go out. “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” I like the sound of that.
The response was great, I had 100’s of people going out and taking social media content for me, a lot of them being professional/semi-prof/beginning photographers, and sending it to me for what amounted to a bag of granola.
R: What are some of the most frustrating challenges and/or moments you’ve had with your business?
L: Some of my biggest frustrations have come in opportunities that I thought would be the easiest to accomplish like sourcing packaging, ordering bulk organic ingredients, or figuring out shipping costs on small quantities.
R: How do you source your ingredients? What advice would you give people looking to source ingredients in bulk?
L: I relied heavily on the internet and luckily I found a great company in Nuts.com that really caters to small businesses, especially when sourcing organic, gluten-free, and specialty ingredients.
R: What are some of your greatest achievements and victories you’ve had with your business?
L: Noke’s Granola was highlighted as the best healthy snack in 2018 Southern Living Magazine. It was great and it made my mom cry with happiness.
R: What advice do you have for people who want to sell a product?
L: Make sure you are filling a need, if you find that a need is warranted make sure you know what makes you unique, and always look for the pivot. What you think you want to sell and what you eventually sell may turn out to be two different things, so get your head on a swivel.
R: Is there any business advice or quotes you’ve heard that you think about often?
L: “Good food is very often, even most often, simple food.” – Anthony Bourdain from Kitchen Confidential and it’s the goal post of my business model.
R: What’s your favorite thing about being a business owner?
L: The ability to turn off the ovens at the end of a day and enjoy my children. I say that because it was not something I got to do a lot of in my 22 plus years in the restaurant business as a chef and general manager.
R: What type of restaurants did you work at before you started Noke’s Granola? How did that experience help you as a business owner?
L: For 17 years of my career I managed kitchens and whole restaurants for a large casual-plus Italian chain restaurant. I learned a lot on how to set up systems and how to capitalize on having consistence being job one. It showed me how to win as a team working along side other talented people, and how to deliver on your promises, without compromise, to your guests.