Real people are the foundation of our business, and our other values of real ingredients, artisanry and moments are built upon them. We can say we value using real ingredients and artisanal baking methods, but it’s our people who have to exemplify these values in the work they perform and the products they make. Our people must understand the enjoyment our products effect in your life, otherwise quality and consistency could take a backseat to efficiency.
Being a family business, we see Granola Factory as an expansion of our family circle. We instill the same values in our team members that we built our family around: kindness, respect, integrity and accountability. Over the past 15 years, we’ve seen these values being more important than any other skill or characteristic a person can have. They result in team members who care about our products and connect with our mission for making quality-driven food that provides fuel and comfort in life.
This real people segment will highlight not only people of Granola Factory, but our customers, friends and suppliers who share our values. We look forward to sharing more about why we value real people in business and in life.
Meet Suzanne Virgilio:
In 1988, Robert and Suzanne Virgilio fulfilled their dreams of opening a bed and breakfast, The Bethlehem Inn. Located in the historic district of Bethlehem, Pa., the couple renovated a 140-year-old home where they raised their three sons.
Soon after opening the B&B, they realized they needed a breakfast to offer their guests, which led to our Original Bethlehem Inn Granola. Suzanne is the reason why the Granola Factory continues to produce delicious, innovative products. Many of the desserts featured in our GF at Home category are recipes from Suzanne’s retail bakery. She’s often in our test kitchen trying out new baked goods and flavor pairings. I asked Suzanne a few questions about the journey that has been The Granola Factory…
Why did you and Bob open a Bed and Breakfast?
“My husband and I always worked in restaurants. I think a lot of people who work in restaurants have the idea they’d like to open their own restaurant. Knowing we wanted to someday have a family and knowing the commitment that comes with owning a restaurant, we realized it probably wasn’t a great idea.
We went to Ireland, a long time ago and stayed in bed and breakfasts. We came home and said ‘ya know, that would be a great thing to do’ because it would give us the opportunity to meet and cook for people, but also be in our own home so that when one day we had children, we could be home with them.”
When you opened the B&B, how did the granola come about?
“Once we opened the bed and breakfast, we realized we would need something to serve to the guests. The idea of granola seemed like a good one because it was easy to serve and a lot of people liked it. At that point I started experimenting with different granola flavors, trying out different recipes, and really it was hit or miss until I came upon something that turned out really good, and that we all liked.
“Ironically, I baked the granola in a 9 x 13 pan, and I would bake it depending upon how many guests we had the next morning. The good thing about it was that when guests would come home in the evening, they would smell the granola baking. It gave off a good ambiance and built some anticipation about what would be served for breakfast the next morning.”
How did you come up with the original Bethlehem Inn granola recipe?
“In hindsight, it was an easy thing to come up with because it was just a matter of what ingredients I had on hand and what I liked. It was the culmination of trial and error and my husband sampling it, and we eventually decided ‘yeah this is a pretty good one.’ We were fortunate because all of our guests agreed with it as well. Many guests asked if they could purchase it – but at that point we weren’t anywhere near that caliber of production…The 9 x 13 pan was the most we did.”
Did you have any culinary training or was baking more of a hobby for you?
“I’ll blame it on the easy bake oven. When I was a child, I loved to cook. I had an aunt I used to bake with. I loved the easy bake oven. Cooking makes people happy. Making things for people is a special gift and I felt fortunate that I had the ability to make things. Over the years when I decided to go to college – I decided I wanted to be a Home Economics teacher. Nowadays it’s called Family and Consumer Science.
“I was really fortunate when I graduated from college. I got a teaching job right away that allowed me to continue on with cooking. It was a really fun subject to teach and I was a big hoarder of food magazines and cookbooks. I could look at the cover of a magazine and tell you what recipes I made from it and what dinner parties the food was served at. Food in general has always been an obsession of mine.”
What’s been your favorite product to come up with?
“It’s hard to pick a favorite. We initially had a retail bakery prior to the takeoff of the granola and some of our most popular items were our scones. We had a lot of varieties of scones and when I had to call on flavors to come up with another granola, I thought back to our most popular scone which was cherry almond. So, I took that flavoring and applied it to a granola, and that’s how we came up with the Cherry Almond Quinoa.
"Bethlehem Bars have been a big hit and people seem to love them so that’s also been a favorite. Although our team might disagree as they are a bit labor intensive. But that’s what artisan baking is all about, not the quick production rather when people take the time to make food, that’s when it tastes the best.”
What has been the most rewarding part of running the Granola Factory?
“I think the most rewarding part has been that we’ve been very blessed with great employees. Your product is only going to be as good as the people that you have making it. We’ve just been so fortunate to have employees that come to work, they’re enthusiastic about what they’re doing and really care about what they’re baking. It’s an extension of our family, which has been really rewarding
What has been the most challenging part of running the Granola Factory?
“The most challenging is coming up with new ideas. Initially, back in the B&B days, it was just about coming up with a good flavor. It was just pure and simple cooking. Certainly, that changes as you get into large production. There are many factors that you have to consider such as food allergies, ingredient costs etc. It’s challenging to hit all the marks and still produce something that tastes good.”