Small Bites to Success

Mary and Ernie Molina, Lola Granola Bar, Croton Falls

Snack bars may offer a nutritional energy boost, but the Lola Granola Bar, a gluten-free entry, is giving Mary and Ernie Molina and their four children a financial lifeline. After meeting at a pizza parlor in Ossining where Mary worked as a waitress and Ernie was a customer, the couple married in 2000 and moved to Putnum Valley. Ernie’s venture at the time ran into problems because his industry was in turmoil. “He was forced to close and depend on our savings,” Mary says. “It was beyond scary.” 

He found a job selling gold-plated coins for a mint in Port Chester and, one day, asked Mary to prepare him a snack, since his modest lunches had left him hungry. Studying her aunt’s recipe and using the oats, honey, dried fruits, nuts, and seeds she had on hand, she concocted her version of a fancy granola bar. “I didn’t want what everyone was making with so much protein, brown-rice syrup, high-fructose content, and soy, which our daughter Lola couldn’t eat,” she says.

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Ernie’s colleagues tasted the bars, and he had an “aahh” moment. With a $100 loan from her mother and baking pans donated by Ernie’s cousin, Lola Granola — named for their daughter, who loves rhymes — was born. Everyone pitched in, including their children, to plop on labels. Ernie says he knew they would succeed in 2012 when Adams Fair Acre Farm placed an order of 300 bars. Six months later, Whole Foods placed an order for “thousands,” which spurred the couple to have bars packaged commercially at an Upstate New York factory.

They now employ four in an office/warehouse in Mount Kisco and sell 200,000 bars a month in five flavors. They plan to add flavors, along with granola, and energy gels. And, like many other working couples, they divide tasks — and disagree. “She’s more aggressive; I’m more cautious,” Ernie says. But they think these differences lead to better results.

The hardest part of working together, they say, is having to put the business ahead of their personal relationship. “We want to build the company, to be our kids’ future,” Ernie says. For now, there are no thoughts of selling, just contentment with growing sales and kudos. In June, Mary (a 2014 graduate from the Tori Burch Foundation of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program) attended The White House Summit for the United State of Women, in Washington, D.C., celebrating the progress achieved to empower women and girls around the world. And, yes, she brought along bars. 

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Mary and Ernie Molina developed a gluten-free energy bar that has become so popular, the couple could no longer handle the packaging themselves and have since farmed it out to an Upstate New York factory.

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