Granola restaurateurs rolling out food truck amid expansion | Crain's Connecticut

Granola restaurateurs rolling out food truck amid expansion

  • Julie Mountain, left, and Dana Noorily, co-founders of The Granola Bar restaurant group, are restarting their food truck amid an expansion that includes the start of a catering business and planned openings this year in Stamford and Rye, New York.  | Photo courtesy of The Granola Bar

    Julie Mountain, left, and Dana Noorily, co-founders of The Granola Bar restaurant group, are restarting their food truck amid an expansion that includes the start of a catering business and planned openings this year in Stamford and Rye, New York. | Photo courtesy of The Granola Bar

  • The Granola Bar's menu includes sandwiches, salads, wraps and egg dishes. | Photo courtesy of The Granola Bar

    The Granola Bar's menu includes sandwiches, salads, wraps and egg dishes. | Photo courtesy of The Granola Bar

  • The Granola Bar's emphasis on fresh ingredients and healthy food has helped fuel the expansion, its founders say. | Photo courtesy of The Granola Bar

    The Granola Bar's emphasis on fresh ingredients and healthy food has helped fuel the expansion, its founders say. | Photo courtesy of The Granola Bar

A Fairfield County restaurant group is baking up multiple new offerings this spring, including a brand new food truck.

The Granola Bar, which opened its first location in Westport in December 2013, is opening a Stamford to-go only location this spring. Groundbreaking for a sit-down restaurant in Rye, New York, is also slated for this spring with plans to begin serving customers there in the late summer, co-founder Julie Mountain said. The food truck will be rolled out in June, she added.

Amid this swirl of activity, Mountain and fellow co-founder Dana Noorily are also starting a catering business and recently hired Samantha Young, a former restaurant owner and manager in Westchester County, New York, to be The Granola Bar’s catering and events manager.

This summer’s rollout will actually mark The Granola Bar’s second foray into food trucks. The previous truck, which was started prior to the opening of the Westport restaurant, was retired about two years ago with Mountain saying that food quality “compromises” had to be made due to the vehicle’s equipment limitations.

“Now we have a beautiful food truck,” she said over coffee during a recent interview at the Westport eatery, whose menu includes artisan coffee, sandwiches and wraps, egg dishes and salads.

The food truck will be great advertising for the restaurants, which includes one on Greenwich Avenue in Greenwich that opened in May 2016, Young said.

“It (the food truck) is going to take us to a whole other level,” she said.

The Granola Bar food truck will operate year-round, Mountain said.

In contrast, New Haven Pizza Truck owner Frank Bernardo takes his vehicle off the road in November after doing healthy business most of the year, especially in the summer. Outdoor food sales are subject to seasonal fluctuations due to Connecticut’s gyrating weather, he noted.

“Winters are tough,” said Bernardo, who began his mobile pizza business in 2013, the same year that Mountain and Noorily opened their first restaurant.

In order to earn income year-round, Bernardo has rented a restaurant storefront in Milford that he plans to open in early May, known as New Haven Pizza Place. The 1946 International Harvester pizza truck will continue its seasonal rounds with Bernardo’s 25-year-old daughter and 22-year-old son manning the truck this year while Frank focuses on the restaurant’s opening.

Food trucks are growing in popularity in some parts of the state, said Sarah Maloney, executive director of the Hartford-based Connecticut Restaurant Association. Among those are the row of food trucks near New Haven Harbor that are easily visible from Interstate 95.

Maloney said she is pleased that The Granola Bar is getting back into food trucks and looks forward to tasting some of its offerings.

It’s been a whirlwind four years for Mountain and Noorily. Both had left careers in New York City and moved to Connecticut’s suburban Fairfield County when they met at a birthday party—thanks to the fact that their daughters are close in age, Mountain said. They started a wholesale granola baking business before taking advice to enter the restaurant world, she said.

Mountain and Noorily found their current spot on Boston Post Road East in Westport in early 2013 and continued their Oats Granola wholesale business in the restaurant’s 1,200-square-foot kitchen. The pair thought they would spend most of their time in the kitchen baking granola for the wholesale market with few customers to wait on. They underestimated the demand for their restaurant’s food, Mountain said.

Like supermarket-sold granola and granola bars, their offerings were popular with health-conscious consumers, the partners learned.

“The intent shifted immediately,” she said. “The restaurant became very popular very quickly and we had to attend to that and let the wholesale business slide into second place.”

Mountain says Noorily, a veteran of New York City’s world of finance, was more than up to the task in handling the change.

“We both have a voracious appetite for work,” said Mountain, who worked in the music industry during her New York City years. “In everything we do together, she’s tremendous.”

The Westport restaurant is in the Playhouse Square shopping plaza, next door to the Westport Country Playhouse, one of Connecticut’s most visited performance centers. Mountain said the playhouse has been “awfully supportive,” but The Granola Bar doesn’t do as much in theater-goer traffic since its restaurants close at 5 p.m.

The decision not to be open for dinner was a “quality-of-life issue” for The Granola Bar’s 45 employees, Mountain said.

“If we were open for all three meals then people might be getting called in at all hours,” she said. “That would take its toll on marriages and family life. We want to avoid that.”

Families are regular patrons of the restaurant, Mountain said. Meanwhile, The Granola Bar’s marketing manager, Nicole Muto, has helped make the restaurants popular with people of all ages, Mountain said, recruiting young adults through Instagram and a young ambassadors program.

“Instagram is our No. 1 marketing tool and that’s thanks to the young women who use it,” Mountain said. “They bring their friends and their parents to our places.”

Along their busy road, Mountain and Noorily have managed to gain new business partners. Westport-based Trilynx Partners took an undisclosed ownership stake in The Granola Bar earlier this year. That move grew out of the fact the wife of Michael Schwartz, one of Trilynx’s co-founders, is a frequent patron of the Greenwich restaurant, Mountain said.

“From the moment we met Julie and Dana it was clear that their vision expanded far beyond Westport and Greenwich," said Trilynx co-founder Adam Diamond. "We believe there is a white space for a significant player in this category, and Julie and Dana have struck the right chord with the right consumer.”

Trilynx’s experience includes work with hospitality brands owned by Stamford-based Starwood Hotels & Resorts as well as Walt Disney Co.

“We were approached by other investors but it never felt right,” Mountain said. “They (Diamond and Schwartz) are very bright guys and that’s very helpful. They understand our brand and they’re helping us grow in a thoughtful and intelligent way. And we actually like each other. That’s important, too."

March 17, 2017 - 4:04pm