Feeding a Village: The Origins of Olde Man Granola in the African Jungle

Born in 1983 in the jungles of Africa, the recipe for Westminster, Colorado’s Olde Man Granola was originally created to provide a healthy and nutritious way for founder Fay Plaza and her family to start their days working in the community.

“I grew up in Africa,” said Fay, who also lived there later in life with her husband, Mark, while doing leadership training. “We were in Congo, right in the very center. We were pretty much Tarzan’s neighbor, in the middle of the jungle.”

The remote area where they lived had no stores or even small markets. “Stuff had to be grown locally or brought in by small airplane or by car, but the roads were terrible,” Fay said. “You didn't really drive very much because the roads were all dirt, and you might have a hole the size of your car in the middle of the road.”

She and her husband had things shipped to them, and they prepared their own food. “For breakfast, we would have toast, and you would butter the sides, but you wouldn't have a toaster,” she remembered. “We didn't have electricity all the time.”

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While the Plazas lived in Africa, they had four children who needed healthy, sustaining meals. This was just the instigation Fay needed to create her granola recipe, which now serves as the foundation for Olde Man Granola. “It was simple and easy to make, but it felt like something special. We could get oats shipped in by the case from South Africa or England,” she said, adding that they purchased local peanuts and other ingredients available in their area. “It was a special breakfast for us out there in a simplified form.”

Sudden Success From a Church Basement

The Plazas created Olde Man Granola so their family would have a nutritious way to start their days. Olde Man Granola

When the family came back to the United States, the recipe changed a little, but Fay continued to make the granola for special occasions and family vacations. “I didn't have the same ingredients that I had out there,” she said. “Out there, I had canned margarine—imagine that. But that's what we had, and it was either that or palm oil.”

It wasn’t until 2007, when Fay’s husband Mark, was hosting a holiday market for local artisans at the church where he served as pastor. On a whim, Fay decided to make and sell some of their granola at the market, knowing how popular it had been with the Plaza’s family and friends. For the granola’s label a friend of the Plaza’s doctored up a photo of Mark and gave his normally clean-shaven face a Jerry Garcia-style beard. The name Olde Man Granola was born.

Olde Man Granola’s packaging used to have an image of Mark, doctored by Photoshop, with a Jerry Garcia-style beard. Olde Man Granola

While the sale was a success, Fay didn’t think much of it until a month later when she got a call from someone in Arizona wanting to order more granola followed by a call from another customer in California requesting the same. Maybe they were on to something.

Inspired by their friends in the church, the Plazas decided to see what it would be like to have their own business. Using the brand name Olde Man Granola, they set up what Fay referred to as a “primitive website” and got to work.

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Olde Man Granola: A Family Business

For five years, they sold their granola at the Golden Farmer’s Market in Colorado, first cooking everything at home and then moving to a local deli that let them use its kitchen. “We cooked from 9 pm until whenever they opened, around 6 am,” Fay said. “We would call it a cook night, and all our kids’ friends would come along and volunteer their time. We would haul in all the sheet pans and all the sacks of oats and cases of this and that. We’d do our cooking and ship it all back out, and that's how we worked for about five years.”

Olde Man Granola was still more or less a side project for the family at this point, and then their son Trevor came back from the Marine Corps and changed things up. “I didn't really know what I wanted to do when I got out of the Marine Corps,” Trevor said. He started a design business and eventually began helping his parents with Olde Man Granola.

“We’d been trying to get into Whole Foods, and it wasn't very successful. Then Trevor came along and he was able to knock on the right door, and we got into Whole Foods. Then we got into King Soopers and Safeway,” said Fay.

Trevor and Fay say that the granola speaks for itself. Made in small batches with butter, not oil, and natural ingredients, it doesn’t taste like most granolas on the market. “We just like to make yummy granola that’s good for you,” said Fay. “The ingredients are very simple—you can understand everything in it.” The company’s Original Nut granola has only six ingredients.

Extending the Company’s Reach

Olde Man Granola is made in small batches using simple ingredients. Olde Man Granola

The family-run company regularly attends local events and helps support the community. A family at their church feeds the homeless out of their food truck, and Olde Man Granola has donated some of their individual serving size packages to help support their mission. They attend events throughout the year and try to hire people who need flexible schedules, like single moms and students, or those with limited income.

Their next big goal is to expand the brand to “a nice coffee shop,” said Trevor, adding that the idea is to make granola in the back so people can see the process as they’re having their morning coffee.

Olde Man Granola is currently only sold in states near Colorado, including Utah, Kansas, South Dakota, Idaho, and New Mexico. However, the company hopes that someday national grocery stores will sell its products as well.

How will they get there?

“When we started, it was all a risk, and it’s still a risk,” said Fay. “But you live day to day in faith and do the best you can. When you have God helping you, it certainly makes it easier. But I think everything is a risk—everything we do is by faith.”

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Written by Abbie Mood for Matcha in partnership with Olde Man Granola.

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