Rick and Belinda O’Brien have always been health conscious people. So when friends introduced them to a new brand of granola on a visit to Texas a few years ago, they were hooked.
That is until Belinda came up with her own granola recipe — and they haven’t turned back.
The couple began producing O’Brien’s Own Gourmet Granola from their home kitchen three years ago. Rick, who worked at Rockwell Collins at the time, brought batches into work for co-workers to sample.
“It just blossomed from there,” he said.
The O’Briens then developed 11 recipes, found packaging and managed to get shelf space in local Hy-Vee stores.
They also quickly learned they needed a commercial manufacturing kitchen in order to continue selling their granola. So Rick gutted the basement of their home to convert it into just that.
“It forced us to expand, but it was a blessing in disguise,” Rick said.
The company grew out of its basement space after one year, so Rick and Belinda began looking for a larger property, settling on the spot in Center Point.
The building allows them not only to have space for production of granola but also includes a store front where they serve other items, including hand dipped Blue Bunny ice cream and gourmet cupcakes from Heather’s Cake Studio.
The store offers 13 varieties of granola, including high protein and gluten-free options. They also added energy bars to their product line.
“That’s a whole other level of madness,” said head baker Belinda. “He twisted my arm to do it.”
As spouses, they have found a good work balance. “Each person has to let go of a little control,” Rick said. “Then we tap into each other’s skills and what we are good at. That’s the area you stay in.”
Rick handles the day-to-day business operations as well as all deliveries and shipments, while Belinda does the baking.
The O’Brien’s do the hiring and training together. In the busy summer months they double their staff from about seven to 15 employees to accommodate their sales at farmers markets.
O’Brien’s Own Gourmet Granola has been a full-time vendor at the Cedar Rapids Downtown Farmer’s Market for several years, and they plan to sell products at the Des Moines Farmers Market this year.
“Our regulars are awesome. We know their orders. And we treat every individual that walks through the doors as very special,” Belinda said. “Kids love it here. We spoil them.”
“It’s rewarding and fun to have your own business,” added Rick. “It makes us feel like we are doing something right and having an impact on someone’s life.”