Kate Schade, Kate's Real Food
Kate Schade started making Tram Bars for herself, so she could skip lunch on powder days at Jackson Hole. Her friends started paying her for them, and then their friends. Now Kate's Real Foods makes several energy bars in Victor and distributes them around the country.
On how Kate's Real Foods and the Tram Bars got their start:
I moved out here after college with plans of staying for the summer and who knows after, but started skiing at the Jackson Hole Ski Resort, and was kind of a bit of a ski bum. I skied just about every day and I worked at night. I had a night job that fed me dinner and was awesome. So I started making these bars pretty much just from whatever I had in my cupboard - pulled out some oats and pulled out some dried fruits and nuts and started mixing up a concoction and came up with the Tram Bars, stuck in my pocket, take it skiing with me. Soon enough we'd be standing in the Tram line and that's when I'd be pulling out the bars and giving them to my friends and they loved them. After a while I had people offering to buy me the ingredients so that I would make the bars for them.
So that's the origin of kind of the tram bar story and hence, it was called Tram Bar because we were always eating them when we were sitting in long tram lines trying to get to the top of the hill.
On what she wanted the bars to accomplish:
I wanted something that tasted good, number one. A bar that I liked to eat and yeah, out of convenience, number two. Actually that was probably the biggest - it was just convenient to have something with you on your person and be able to eat that and keep skiing all day rather than stop, go inside, buy a sandwich or what have you and eat and you kind of get all warmed up. If I would stop and eat inside, get warmed up and try to go back out and it's cold out it's a little harder to get going again, so this was on the go, perfect on the go food and they have a lot of calories.
And it's what I want in there. Exactly. And they're filling. They're perfect for all day activities. You're out there for a long time and you need something that number one, kind of matches the experience that you're having. If you are out skiing or biking or hiking and having this great experience you don't want to pull out a bar that tastes - like everyone says - cardboard. You want to have something that matches the experience you are having. So, there are so many textures and flavors and tastes to the bar. It's really good. Yeah, it matches it.
On the challenges of starting a business:
It is always kind of hard. I'm learning as I go but it is just being persistent about it. You have to do this - right from the start when I started doing paperwork to get the health inspections, to become a sole proprietorship, to do this, to do that, because it was new to me it seemed, they all seemed like hurdles but they were all easy to get through in a sense as long as you keep chipping away at it.
It doesn't surprise me now. There are always challenges. Gosh, I can't name one in particular but I anticipate a challenge every single day so I'm not surprised by them. They are tough and I think they are just always going to be tough but it always brings us to another level of the company also. A year ago our packaging was kind of mom and pop packaging - not even - 8 months, 9 months ago we had mom and pop packaging and now we've got our new packaging and our new boxes and we were in the tiny little basement facility about a year ago.
Did she dream of running her own business?
No. Hell no. What did I want to do when I was younger? All I can think of when I was real young, I wanted to be a veterinarian but no I really thought I was going to be a writer, I was a little bit more on the art side. Graphic art or some sort of artist.
On the creative process:
I always have new ideas. I'm trying things. I'm taking requests, you know? It all kind of spurs some ideas and people like different flavors so I always like to hear what people like. I'm working on a tropical bar. I can't tell you the name but it is coconut/mango/cashew and it's really good. I just have to finalize the recipe and so hopefully that will be out before the end of the year.
I love hearing new names. There are a couple of different flavors I have in my head that I'd like to try. It is hard to get back in the kitchen these days but I also have a pretty good crew onboard now so I'll be able to get back there sooner than later.
Why did she move here?
I wanted to go camping and backpacking. That's what I wanted to do and that's why I moved out here originally. I was a skier back east but I skied on ice and that was really fun - so I wasn't really thinking about the skiing when I came out here originally, which is a little bit opposite of most folks because they think Jackson Hole and skiing. Then I grew to love the powder snow also. Just the love of the outdoors brought me out west and the fact that my brother lived out here too was an easy way to - it just made it easier to come out because I had someone to stay with as soon as I got here until I found a place.
On her new favorite outdoor activity:
You really have to be fit to ride a dirt bike - or to ride it well. This bike is probably almost 250 pounds and if you drop it you've got to pick it up and it is just a lot of machine to be moving around so you need a lot of energy and the bars go over really well - and the motorcycle community has really enjoyed them. It is a different crowd. I found too - we're mostly out on a single track and never on the tracks so the folks that I know in this community are mostly like the endure single track kind of riders and it is a tight community. I think maybe because it is a smaller community and people really look out for each other when you're riding and if something goes wrong or in races and someone is on the side of the trail, seeing if everyone is okay, how they can help them. In a lot of sports it is but it just seems like it really is a neat caring group of people and it has been really fun meeting a lot of new people in this sport.
It's like a huge mountain bike but the up-hills are - I think everyone probably says this, too - but the up-hills are a lot more exciting on the bike than on the mountain bike. And the down-hills are just as fun and you can get out in the mountains and you can go a lot more places, or get there a lot quicker. I can't really mountain bike 60 miles in a day but it's pretty easy to dirt bike 60 miles in a day.
I think Idaho is a lot more user-friendly than other states. It seems like a lot of motorized trails are getting shut down in other states. I understand environmental impacts and that sort of thing. I think sometimes dirt bikers get a bad rap. For the most part everyone that I know who rides is pretty conscientious about where they ride and turning off their engines if they're near horses and animals and that sort of thing. But I do get the wildlife impact studies, too, and how they want to make less of an impact. They're kind of loud, but I think there is room for everyone. There are the motorized trails and there are non-motorized trails. It's really nice that everyone can get out and do their favorite sport. Hopefully it won't be shut down to motorized sports, not too many trails, because people need to have fun.
On why the business works in Idaho:
I would not have done this in New York. I think I would have been like some sort of art geek or something back in New York - in a good way. I've no idea. I've no idea but maybe if I were in the Appalachian Mountains or something and still doing outdoor activities all day long, yes, I would have been inspired. If I stayed home and started a farm which I almost thought about doing. I almost thought about moving back east, Finger Lake Region, and starting an organic farm at my grandfather's farm. No, I wouldn't have because I would have been too busy farming. The outdoors really, the outdoor activity, outdoor hiking, skiing, biking, that kind of thing is what inspired it. And that's mountains. I think you need the mountains. I needed the mountains for that.
I just had this conversation with someone else the other day. They were saying well, yeah like the - an energy bar from Pennsylvania just isn't as sexy as an energy bar from the Rocky Mountains, you know? I think it helps give it a little bit more of a clout.
Any downsides to being here?
The downside for me now that I love dirt biking so much is that winters are really long here which is great for the ski bum and the skier, people who love skiing. I've skied many, many, many years now but I love summer so I'm ready for longer summers. That's the only downside I really see - for me personally.
As a small company there haven't been transportation issues yet. I can see in the future being next to an interstate, if we have a production facility that might be more helpful for shipping and that kind of thing. It is costly to ship back east. We don't ship a ton back east right now. That will be a hurdle to figure out in the future.
On the future:
I'd like to get to a place where I can get pretty big and without compromising the quality of our bars. I'd love to be able to hire more folks in the community. I'd love to be able to support outdoor play and sustainable organic farming which is kind of the roots of the company. That's where the bars came from - playing outdoors and when I worked at the farm and to the importance of organic. So that's the goal of my company, to support those things that helped start the company. To be able to help out the community, create more jobs and I would love to get them all over the country. I think that would be fabulous. I'm not setting limitations to myself as long as I can keep the company real, keep the culture real.