Down-home sweetness in Stumptown
Portland-based Honey Mama's makes raw honey-sweetened cocoa bars that taste so good they must be bad.
The company recently leased a larger production facility on North Williams and expects to move in at the end of March. Plans call for hiring eight more people to join its staff of 34.
Honey Mama's CEO Christy Goldsby made her first batch of the refrigerated treat at home. Goldsby adores honey, a love that grew as she tinkered with a variety of low-glycemic ingredients. When her daughters kept returning to the fridge to sample more of her honey bars, she knew she was finally on to something.
Raised in Northwest Portland, Goldsby spent summers in Oklahoma and Texas. Those trips inspired the name, its down-home twang is no accident.
"'Big Mama' is what we called my grandma," Goldsby explains with an easy laugh. "My family history is a lot of laughing, a lot of eating and being very salt of the earth. I'm into people not taking themselves too seriously."
A Honey Mama's bar is shaped like a big Kit Kat. It sells at New Seasons, Kure and other grocery stores. There are seven different flavors and each bar is made with raw, local honey, unrefined coconut oil, and sprouted almonds or shredded coconut.
The raw honey comes from Mickelberry Gardens in Troutdale. The company presently goes through 400 pounds a week. It's non-GMO and contains no gluten, soy, dairy or grains. All the almonds are soaked and sprouted. The bars are made raw, and two flavors are completely raw: Peruvian and Mayan Spice. The others use Dutch or dusted cocoa so technically can't be classified raw. Honey Mama's is best described as chilled fudge, but it's definitely not that stuff sold at the Oregon Coast. It only takes a small amount of a Honey Mama's bar to hit the sweet spot.
Goldsby recently hired food and beverage marketing veteran Lori Spencer (Oregon Chai, New Seasons Markets) as President to steer Honey Mama's forward.
"It's going to be about bringing structure to a typical start-up," explains Spencer. In the coming year the company plans to hire eight people for the kitchen and an assist on the executive side. CFO-type stuff, financial, sales and operations. That's keeping them up at night, she says.
Honey Mama's handmade process and quality ingredients sets it apart from competitors, Spencer says. "I had watched this product fly off the shelf at New Seasons," says Spencer, "and I was like, 'who is making this? Then I saw Christy handing out samples.'" The two knew each other from Lincoln high schools in the '80s. Full disclosure: so does this writer.
Beginning in 2008, Goldsby tried different concepts and recipes, testing each at the Portland Farmer's Market. She tried cultured vegetables, juice, sauerkraut. No rave reviews until she played around with a recipe a friend brought over.
"It was something we could eat on a cleanse we were doing, but it tasted like a cheat," Goldsby recalls. New Seasons picked it up the first summer it debuted at Portland Farmer's Market, and now it's sold in California, Washington and Texas.
"We've just been nose to grindstone ever since," says Goldsby. "Mainly we just want to educate people and put it in their mouths. Four years in, and we're in a whole new phase."
Honey Mama's hopes to be in Fred Meyer stores in 2017. In the meantime, the women say they want to keep the business lean and mean, and manufacture the product themselves. The dough is handmade but they've bought a packaging machine so they no longer have to hand wrap them.
If Honey Mama's tastes a bit wicked, Goldsby's aim is pure.
"I wanted to put something out there that just happened to be incredibly beneficial, yummy and nutrient-rich."