Making holiday gifts. That's all Jennifer Huntington thought she was doing when she made batches of granola to give to friends and neighbors a couple of years ago.
In fact, Huntington, a Raleigh mom of two young boys, was building the beginnings of a business. Her friends and neighbors raved about the gift. One suggested she sell her creations. So, eighteen months ago, she launched Huntington Kitchen, selling her granola and nut butters at farmers' markets, online and through local produce delivery services.
"It's definitely exciting," she tells me. "I've always dreamed of doing something food related. So it's the dream coming to fruition."
Huntington holds a master's degree with a concentration in nutrition. She was working at UNC-Chapel Hill's School of Public Health when her first son was born a few years ago. She went back to work and lasted about a month. She knew she wanted to stay home with her kids. But after some time at home, she wondered if there was a job she could do from home too.
"My kids are such a big part of my life," she tells me. "I've always wanted to do something with food. So this is perfect. Two things I love the most."
The business comes naturally for Huntington, who has always loved cooking. A runner, she also seeks out high protein foods. When her children came along, she found she had little time to sit down for a meal, instead grabbing handfuls of granola, for instance, for breakfast and lunch.
Her husband is a part owner of Cafe Helios on Glenwood Avenue near downtown Raleigh. She's able to use the cafe's kitchen to create her products.
She takes different twists on the usual granola with blends such as strawberry banana, peanut butter chocolate and Maine blueberry maple. Her nut butters include peanut butter, along with coffee vanilla peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter and more.
Huntington was kind enough to let me sample a few and they were all absolutely delicious. My kids' favorite granola was the strawberry banana, but I ate great handfuls of the peanut butter chocolate variety. So good!
It has been a very busy winter for Huntington as she seeks out new places to sell her products and grow (she's been talking to Sur La Table!).
Right now, Huntington Kitchen sells its nut butters and granola through The Produce Box,
Backyard Produce, Papa Spud's, Lomo Market, Carolina Grown, Bella Bean Organics, Cafe Helios, The Meat House in Raleigh and Cary, Nofo, Foster's Market in Chapel Hill and Durham, and Parker and Otis.
She also is working on some big collaborations, including one with a gourmet ice cream company in Brooklyn called MilkMade. And she is working to unveil a new flavor of granola for athletes that the company has worked on with some Olympic athletes who already are fans of Huntington's granola.
She's thrilled with the growth so far and has ambitious plans for the future, especially once her young boys, a preschooler and a baby, are in grade school.
She looks to Stonewall Kitchen for inspiration. The specialty food company got its start selling jams and jellies at a farmers' market. Today, the nationally recognized brand is a thriving business with stores, wholesale accounts and hundreds of employees.
"Maybe we can be them one day," Huntington said.
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