Finding out one of your children has a wheat allergy can be a hindrance to a parent unfamiliar with nutrition. For Kelli Swick, who has a degree in nutrition and food science, the medical prognosis had an easy fix. For years, oats were the healthy solution to this dietary dilemma. But after her kids went off to college, Swick couldn't find a reason to stop using the oats. In April of 2013, she opened Queen Of Oats (queenofoats.com), a small business operation that provides granola, protein bars and power cookies to the Davidson Farmers Market. Since starting the biz, she's been featured as a finalist for Martha Stewart American Made and her products are now carried in Whole Foods (Lake Norman and Charlotte locations). Her latest granola bar pays tribute to Davidson College's Wildcats.
Creative Loafing: How did you get the name Queen Of Oats?
Kelli Swick: My husband thought of that. You'd think it would be easy to think of a name for your business but it's really not. We came up with so many things and couldn't come up with a name, but I knew I couldn't start a business without a name. One day my husband came home from work and said '"I got it: Queen Of Oats." At first I thought 'That's a little tacky,' but then I thought of Charlotte and the Queen City, so I thought queen works. I've worked with oats for so many years and made so many things with oats and love oats — I eat granola every day — so it's perfect. That's how we came up with it.
What's the production process like as a solo entrepreneur?
With Whole Foods, it's a little different because I've just been there since October of 2014. The production varies a lot with them. They placed a big order a couple weeks ago, so I was super busy getting that done and getting the market stuff done. This week isn't as busy because I know that they've got product in both stores and it's going to be a while before they place another order. The farmers market is pretty consistent. If it rains, then I have extra product because it wasn't on the market. I have a commercial kitchen and I do everything myself at this point still, usually every week making everything, it just depends on the quantity that I'm making.
I noticed that a lot your products use natural sweeteners like ground dates, unprocessed honeys and homemade fruit pastes. Was the Wildcat Crunch new terrain for you since it has dark chocolate?
When my daughter was running I made a fig protein bar and she liked it but asked if I could make a chocolate one. So I sort of went back to the drawing board. I know that dark chocolate certainly is healthy. But I thought 'What am I going to use though?' because a lot of dark chocolate has butter and sugar in. If you're going to use a really bitter one you'd certainly have to sweeten it up. I found this dark chocolate powder, which is literally 100 percent cacao and that's what I wanted to use. From the development of that recipe, I did the Wildcat Crunch and made it more into granola and not a protein bar. I tweaked granolas that I made in the past and put dark chocolate into the granola and it worked. People want treat and the whole point behind the Wildcat Crunch was not only the Davidson connection, but for people to have something sweet after dinner or before they go to bed that's not bad for them. Some people mix it in with a little bit of frozen yogurt or something like that and they said it really satisfies their sweet tooth, so that's good.