Impossibly friendly but with a gangster edge, Sarah Napier has a serious thing for breakfast. So not surprisingly, when deciding to combine her experience as a graphic designer and her love of food, she dreamed up Granola for Gangsters - 100% natural, handmade granola, with a touch of naughtiness.
Here, Sarah tells us a little bit about why authenticity wins, the perks of running a family business and how mealtime (not just breakfast, she swears!) should always be a celebration.
Cropbox: Tell us a little about yourself and how you ended up here.
Sarah Napier: Well, I’m Australian and I've lived in Amsterdam for six and a half years now. My background is in graphic design and about two years ago I started working on the side on this project.
It’s born out of a love of food and cooking... I was always making things, like granola, for myself at home. (Pauses) Just to clarify, I'm not like a crazy granola lady who's always been obsessed with granola (laughing). It's one of many things that I was making [on the side], and it's just one of the things that my flatmate at the time and a couple of other friends happened to pick up on and say "I would totally buy this, maybe you should think about making it."
Because I was working in graphic design and feeling perhaps a little disgruntled with my position and the work that I was doing, it seemed like a really golden opportunity to combine two things: to create a brand for a food product [and work with food]. If people asked "What would you do other than design?" I'd always said I'd do something with food. So I thought okay maybe this is the chance. At that point, I wasn't thinking about what it means to run a small business, to be an entrepreneur, to run a small team of people, to work in a commercial kitchen. I wasn't thinking of any of those things, it was purely about combining design and food.
CB: So how did you start out?
SN: I started off baking in my tiny kitchen in de Pijp. But there came the point when it was starting to outgrow that tiny space and the home environment. It had started to become sort of a commercial reality - we had a couple of customers, my younger brother was helping me out on the business side of things, Mazz [my brother's wife] was starting to get involved from a social media and online marketing perspective. It started to feel like an actual business entity so we started to think that it was time to upgrade to a kitchen. And around that time, the guy who started Kitchen Republic contacted me actually. He'd read something about my product and thought that is was the kind of thing that would be great in a shared kitchen environment. So he contacted me and I went and had a look at the space and I was one of the first members over there.
CB: So what makes you get out of bed each day?
SN: Breakfast! I'm not joking. I actually usually think about it the night before. I think my husband will tell you, often I'll go to bed and say "Oh, what are we going to have for breakfast?"
CB: What or who has been your biggest inspiration?
SN: I'm not sure that I could pin it down to one person or thing or product for that matter. But I think I speak for all of us [on the G for G team] when I say we're continually inspired by those around us who are doing similar things on a similar scale and really kicking ass. There are some really driven and talented people out there who might come from an IT background or a law background, but they've just kind of ditched what they were doing before or taken all of that knowledge and put it into a food product.
And they're really challenging the food market. The market is huge and varied and there is so much noise in all sorts of categories so it's really inspiring to see how people are wiggling their way in and creating a scene and being noticed. And they're being really smart with how they're capturing their audience and bringing their products to market.
CB: What do you think the key is for some of these smaller producers to stand out and break through?
SN: I think honesty is a big part of it. It's people who are creating a product that is pure and simple in not only its ingredients but its approach. And people who are telling their story in a clean, clear and bold way. They're just creating a really good product and have a good story to tell.
That inspires us to be really focused in what we're doing and why we're doing it and presenting it in a way that is tangible for consumers. In our case it's ironic and fun and a bit naughty and there is something a bit different about us that people want to know about.
CB: What is comfort to you? Where do you look to for comfort?
SN: Comfort is, as I get older, certainly family and the people that are around me. And I'm lucky to work with a group who are all family. So in a way, a really great thing about this little family business is that I have a great excuse to connect with these guys once a week if not more.
With my parents in Melbourne and my two brothers in London and me here, for a while there unless we had a really good reason to Skype or call then we might go for a few weeks without really talking. And now we're talking all the time. So that's a great comfort to me.
CB: How does memory play a part in your life?
SN: Well on the business side of things, we're all [the G and G team] from Australia and Australians are pretty much bananas about breakfast. What I found the first few years living here is that breakfast wasn't even really a thing. So certainly the memory of the breakfast experience and the breakfast culture that I come from is what drove, in a big way, this project.
CB: How did you eat growing up?
SN: We always ate really well. We grew up in a wholesome food environment and eating around the table together was always really important. Family breakfast and dinner time was a really important part of the day and at weekends we would always have Sunday leftovers was a thing and Sunday lunch with our grandparents. So those are my memories of food and those are the things I still hold really important. Like I still find it weird if my husband and I sit on the couch and eat dinner. It just feels really lazy.
[Mazz and I were talking earlier] about this idea of home truths, like little rules to live your life by and one I threw in there with was "every meal should be a celebration." I will always make time and space to sit down and eat. And now that you ask this question, I think that is definitely a value that people are brought up with: that meal time is something to be marked. It's an occasion.
CB: In three second or less, tell me what your favorite food is.
SN: Oh god! (Laughing) Well lasagna came to my head! I think that came from mum always asking us when we were growing up what we would like to have for our birthday and I'd always say lasagna and chocolate cake. So I guess that's it.
CB: What would you serve to someone you were trying to impress?
SN: I'd probably make some kind of breakfast bowl, including granola. But showing how it can be combined with more than just yoghurt. So maybe some nut butter... like a smoothie bowl with nut butter and some fruits and with granola as one of the key ingredients but not the main one.
CB: Okay, now for some rapid fire...
1. Dinner in front of the TV, okay or not okay? Not okay
2. Breakfast for dinner or dinner for breakfast? Breakfast for dinner
3. Champagne or martini? Champagne
4. Food on a skewer or food on a tiny spoon? Tiny spoon
5. Would you rather have a coffee or red-wine spill on your favorite outfit? Coffee might come out easier
6. Buffet or sit-down dinner? Sit-down dinner
7. Soup or salad? Right now, soup because of the weather. That's very much weather related. But actually... salad. I make salads a lot and I've converted my husband into a salad lover
8. Nutella or Speculoos? Nutella
9. Worst food to get stuck in your teeth: Kale or poppy seeds? Poppy seeds
10. Edible flowers or edible gold? Edible flowers
11. Crushed ice or cubed ice? Cubed ice
12. Pizza or pasta? Pasta
13. Sing in the shower or sing in the car? Car
14. Are you a hunter or a gatherer? Gatherer
In the box today:
Roasted fennel and leek eggless quiche with orange and thyme granola crust
Spicy plum chutney
Maple-roasted parsnip, plum and fresh pear breakfast bowl with tarragon-lime coconut yoghurt
Smoky coconut "bacon" and buckwheat granola sprinkle
Blood orange dressing