Meet NYC Fancy Food Fellow Finalist: Hungry Bars
Hungry? Have a granola bite.
Vlad Harkovski, a Bulgarian-born outdoor and fitness enthusiast, turned his hobby of making healthy energy mixes into a business when he opened Hungry Bars in Astoria, Queens. Hungry Bars specializes in small batch granola bars using only organic, natural ingredients.
Though the name may indicate otherwise, Hungry Bar's primary product is bite-size and not an actual bar. When they first began developing the product, production and packaging made it challenging to sell individually-wrapped bars, so Vlad and his team transferred their focus to loose granola and smaller "bites" to create a "mini" bar.
As one of seven finalists in our Taste of NYC: Fancy Food Fellowship, sponsored by NYCEDC and the Specialty Food Association, Hungry Bars now has a chance to share its "quick-bite" bars at this year’s Summer Fancy Food Show, where over 22,000 buyers from more than 100 countries will converge to view top-of-the-line specialty food products.
In what Vlad calls Hungry Bar's "jumping over the bar" challenge, he hopes to have the chance to find a "jumping" partner at the Summer Fancy Food Show, which will help him to move forward with more production of individually-wrapped bars. The company currently does sell granola bars, which are delicious, but produced in a small-batch, more time-consuming way.
We spoke to Vlad about how his healthy business got its start.
Where did the idea for Hungry Bars come from?
The initial spark of the idea to turn my hobby of making my own healthy energy mixes into a business came from a mountain biking trip to Sedona, AZ.
On four separate occasions, strangers whom I shared my creations with loved them so much that they asked me where I bought them.
The truth was that I made my own healthy and delicious snacks to sustain myself in my outdoor activities because I could never find the perfect balance of healthy, tasty, and fulfilling elements in a snack. When I went home, I started thinking more seriously about the lack of delicious healthy snacks and saw this as a great business opportunity.
I started experimenting with recipes and gathering information on starting a food business, ie. licensing, baking facilities, suppliers, sales channels, and everything else involved in making food in New York.
Did you have any culinary or business experience to help get Hungry Bars started?
My background in corporate finance has been a huge asset in helping me get started with Hungry Bars. My wife says that I can make a spreadsheet out of anything. This apparently includes granola recipe ingredients, cost calculations, inventory tracking, and CRM tools. If there is one positive thing I can say about my business, it is that we are very organized, down to the ounces of vanilla and the 42 cents owed by an account.
Prior to entering corporate finance, I always had the entrepreneurial itch which was always crushed by the state of affairs in my home country. One instance that comes to mind was when I provided freshly-baked bread to a nearby mountain village in Bulgaria. At 16, I would wake up very early and bake a couple dozen loaves of bread and take them to the town center to sell. After several days of watching my business grow, the town baker became nervous of the competition. Before long, the baker, the mayor, and the town vet showed up at my family's home and told my parents that I had to stop—or else!
What are some of the major obstacles you face in your day-to-day operations?
We have many obstacles that we face in our day-to-day operations.
One of our most difficult obstacles is the lack of a permanent baking location, which disrupts our production process and creates a lot of extra work. We are constantly transferring ingredients and product in and out of our baking facilities. This also limits our ability to purchase and deploy machines that would automate our process and increase our production efficiency. Our work is very manual and we would greatly benefit from automation.
Another challenge is that it is very difficult to get Organic or Kosher certification when you don't have your own facility. Additionally, distribution is a challenge because we've noticed that many of the larger stores in New York City prefer to work with distributors and not directly with manufacturers. At Hungry Bars we do our own distribution because we do not have the margin to maintain our high level of ingredients and pay a distributor and maintain price levels that will be accepted by our customers.
What role does your local community play?
Apart from participating in endless Hungry Bars promotions that allow me to get acquainted with my local community, I am committed to hiring staff directly from the community and paying above minimum wage to ensure that people are fairly compensated and can live comfortably.
My long-term goal is to have a motivated, full-time staff all working at far above minimum wage, with health insurance, who are encouraged to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Currently, all of my employees are being paid up to 50% more than what other food start ups are paying.
Additionally, Hungry Bars has contributed regularly to Stop Hunger Now from the very beginning. We are investigating ways to contribute to stopping hunger here at home in New York City. One of our self-initiated activities is that we package our leftover pieces of granola bites from the bakery and distribute them directly to the homeless population near Port Authority.
Are there any common cultural misconceptions that you face as an immigrant entrepreneur?
Actually, I can say that there are none. I have found New York City to be the most culturally accepting place to do business regardless of race, culture, religion, etc. On a day-to-day basis I deal with people from many different backgrounds and these are enormously successful people. I contribute this to the essence of New York. I am an immigrant selling an American food to Americans. I find this amazing. Only in New York can this be done!
About the Fancy Food Fellow Series: Each week, we’re featuring immigrant entrepreneurs with a passion for bringing their unique flavor to NYC’s melting pot. Come back next week for another food profile from this year’s Fancy Food Fellow Finalists. You can find all profiles here.