Granola business a healthy success for Denise Guest

— Photo by Susan Safford

In one year Be My Guest granola has grown by leaps and bowls. What started with a few bags Denise Guest made in her kitchen in Edgartown for family and friends sprouted into a business she now runs out of a 3,000 square-foot warehouse in Pocasset.

Last summer Ms. Guest launched sales of Be My Guest in six Island stores. This summer, her granola is being produced in 1,500-pound batches and will soon be sold nationally in Whole Foods Market stores.

Although it’s not listed on the label, as Ms. Guest tells it, love is one of the ingredients that led to her granola’s success. After she opened her first private nutrition practice in Newport, RI, Ms. Guest began baking granola as a treat to send home with her boyfriend and now husband Jay when he went home to Martha’s Vineyard after their weekends together.

“I began fooling with different recipes, and I came up with this on my own and never changed it,” Ms. Guest said. “I continue to make the same recipe all these years later.” Not surprisingly, Mr. Guest has been one of her biggest supporters.

Whole rolled oats, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, raisins, walnuts, almonds, and coconut are among the ingredients. There are no preservatives. The granola is wheat-free but not gluten-free, and has earned the kosher label.

After many batches of granola, followed by marriage, Ms. Guest moved to Martha’s Vineyard. She opened Vineyard Nutrition in late 1989, where she has provided private nutritional counseling ever since.

From batches to bulk production

Ms. Guest continued to make it as a gift for her husband 10 pounds at a time, and then upped production to 35 pounds so she could freeze some and bake less often.

“The problem was, people would come in while I was making it and would suggest, could you give that to me as a Christmas gift?” she said. Her fans grew in number and boldness, from delivering subtle hints to notes with their birthdates on them to outright commands: “Get this on the market.”

When she stepped up production to 65 pounds at a time, “Our tiny kitchen, from floor to ceiling, would be covered with granola,” Ms. Guest recalled.

She incorporated her business three years ago and trademarked the name. For the cereal bag design, she painted a watercolor of a favorite blue, white and yellow bowl from her kitchen. An emblem of Martha’s Vineyard is on the back.

Ms. Guest launched sales of her granola on her birthday, July 17, 2009. She talked to a few people with business contacts that passed along information about her new venture, and before long, her phone started ringing.

“At that point, that’s when I realized my self-baking in a small commercial kitchen that I finally had moved to was no longer an option,” she said. “Up until early July last year, I was mixing, baking, bagging, sealing, and delivering the granola myself.”

She was baking as often as she could, day and night and had rooms full of inventory. Ms. Guest moved into another commercial property with warehouse space, but found she could barely keep up with the demand, even with the help of a high-school student a few mornings a week.

“For every 136 bags I delivered, it would only be five days later that the call would come in, either saying we’re sold out or we need more, and that’s a terrible good problem to have,” Ms. Guest said. “Everyone was saying to me, do you have enough inventory to back the sales? And I’m saying, oh yes. And meanwhile, at 4:30 in the morning, I’m baking.”

The leap from local

She knew she wanted to move her business to the next level and sought information and advice from as many sources as she could. “It was a long struggle to find how to take it to each new step,” Ms. Guest said. “There really isn’t a manual.”

She contacted the regional nonprofit South Eastern Economic Development (SEED) Corporation, which offers technical assistance to small businesses, to help her develop a business plan and figure out funding options.

“When I realized that I had to not only take this to the next level, but also to take a huge jump, I contacted the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank, and they have been delightful to work with,” Ms. Guest said.

Her website,, went online last November. By the start of 2010, she knew she needed yet a larger space.

“Once national companies had contacted me, I realized it was not cost-effective for me to think about producing and storing and shipping from the Island,” Ms. Guest said.

After looking off-Island for three months, she found a warehouse in Pocasset. Although double the size she had in mind, it offered two loading docks and a drive-in bay.

Ms. Guest set up an office and started running her business out of the warehouse in July. “And I never thought I’d say this, but I’m actually tickled at the thought of owning a forklift,” she said.

Her PayPal shopping page is slated to be up and ready for online ordering and shipping by the first week in September.

Ms. Guest will employ about eight people to start. Her warehouse staff will include some adults with disabilities that she plans to hire through an agency on the Cape that also will be working with her daughter. Jillian, age 20, currently attends the Perkins School for the Blind and will transition to a program the agency runs in the fall of 2011.

Ms. Guest said she is not giving up her nutrition practice. She will continue to spend two to three days a week with her clients, and the rest of the week at the warehouse. She sets early mornings and evenings aside for family responsibilities. The Guests’ son, Alex, age 16, is a junior at the regional high school.

“It’s been a long slow road, and I worked three jobs in order to do the funding and make this dream come true, plus keep up with life and my business and my family, as well,” Ms. Guest said. “It may not have happened as fast as I would have liked to have it go, but when I look back from when I launched it on the Island to where I am, and what I’ve accomplished in this last year, it’s pretty incredible.”

By My Guest granola is sold on Island at Alley’s General Store, Cronig’s Markets, Fiddlehead Farm, Reliable Market, Morning Glory Farm, and Soigne, and at Windfall Farm in Falmouth and Jack in the Bean Stalk in West Falmouth.