Pashen entrepreneurs tell the story of their first year in business, part 2
This is part 2 of our interview with Pol and Wendy Sorquist, the brother-sister team behind Pashen snack bars. In part 1, we found out how their oldest sibling (Lisa Wilson) created the original Pashen recipe using raw/sprouted/dehydrated ingredients, and talked about the challenges of moving the company from Virginia to Minnesota.
Labels-in-waiting: A stack of Pashen labels await their fate
When we left off, they were searching for a place to make their products. And Wendy was about to place a phone call she hoped would provide the answer.
It was late, but Wendy knew exactly what she'd seen the night before. Lit up like a billboard against a blanket of darkness, she'd spotted a woman through the window. And that woman was making pies in a full-on, stainless steel, commercial kitchen--exactly like the one Wendy and Pol needed to make Pashen bars.
When Wendy called for information the next day, she was pleasantly surprised to be connected with Kindred Kitchen--a north Minneapolis organization that helps entrepreneurs start their own food businesses.
Pashen bars contain sprouted almonds (pictured), buckwheat, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and white and black sesame seeds
In addition to renting cooking facilities, the Sorquists also tapped into Kindred Kitchen's other services. They completed the food certification program, and even attended the buyer's fair last May--where they signed up their first locations: Seward Co-Op and Golden Fig. "Kindred Kitchen was exactly what we were looking for, and it kind of just fell into our lap," Wendy says of their good fortune. "They've given us a lot of support."
Pol and Wendy reached out to other like-minded startups as well, like Donn Kelly of Flackers (flax seed crackers). When they were struggling to get into stores, Kelly offered them some invaluable pointers and even gave them a copy of his own sell sheet--something they're now happy to share with others.
"That's been really rewarding," says Wendy. "We had a lot of mentors, and now it's fun to give back to new people that are up and coming."
Pol and Wendy bookend the packaging line
But despite sound counsel, nothing can prepare you for all the speed bumps that come with owning a small business--as evidenced by a packaging debacle several months ago.
Pashen is a small operation: just Pol and Wendy, along with a few friends who generously pitch in whenever they can. But when they rent out Kindred Kitchen for an eight-hour block, their small army can often crank out 700 to 800 products. On one such day, they were deep into a shift when Wendy picked up a wrapped bar--and the end instantly popped open.
Every single one had been sealed incorrectly, which meant every single one had to be sealed again. "That goes down in Pashen history as relabeling day," Wendy says, now far enough removed to joke about it. "You live and learn."
While it was a painful experience, at least it happened in the confines of the kitchen. Sometimes, lessons are played out more publicly. When Wendy and Pol received their inaugural shipment of Pashen boxes, they were horrified to see that their beautiful color palette had been printed as a nasty swamp green and putrid yellow. But there wasn't enough time or money to change them, so they sent them out anyway.
Pashen's cacao topping is made with cacao butter and powder, agave nectar, and vanilla beans
"We've made a lot of mistakes and wasted a lot of bars," Pol says of their trials and tribulations to date. "At times it's been kind of overwhelming--and you think, maybe I should be doing something else."
"But then we'll get really exciting news," Wendy says. "Like we just got into the Wedge!" And it keeps them going.
Thankfully, there have been plenty of things to celebrate, and it seems like Pashen is in the right place at the right time. "Minnesota is really embracing healthy living and smart consumer shopping," Wendy says. "People will come and talk to me for 5 to 10 minutes at a co-op and say, why isn't there more sprouted food?"
Pashen is now distributed in 10 locations around the Twin Cities, as well as online at mypashen.com. And product development is under way for new flavors and possibly additional lines, like granolas, cereals, or trail mixes.
But for the time being, the Sorquists are just happy the business is thriving--and that they get to be a small part of the local food community. "If you go to the co-ops and flip over the packaging, there are a lot of foods made here in town," Pol says proudly. "And they're made by families and young people--people like us."