Retiree’s ‘divine’ granola inspired a small business

David Allen’s ‘hobby’ barely makes him a profit, but he enjoys the process.
Tuesday, September 23, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:39 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

David Prentice Allen is not on a mission from God. His intentions, though, are divine.

He moved to Columbia three years ago and decided last year to transform his favorite breakfast food — granola — into an entrepreneurial experiment.

Eight years into retirement, Allen, now 61, started his new solo granola business last summer following a 30-year career teaching public policy for the federal government.

“When you’re retired and looking for something to do, I think it’s important to do something that makes you feel good,” Allen said.

He calls his new product David’s Divine Granola, because it was the “church ladies” selling the breakfast treat at his church’s bake sale who coaxed him into producing it commercially.

For more than 30 years, Allen baked his own granola in his kitchen oven as a nonsugary breakfast alternative. He said he’d frequently donate some to his church’s bake sales and give away the rest as Christmas presents.

“I told the ladies at the church I was going to call it, David’s Devilishly Delicious Granola. But that was just a joke.”

Today, Allen produces nearly 30 pounds per week using the commercial ovens at the Root Cellar, a specialized grocery store at 21 N. Providence Road. Wearing a self-designed David’s Divine Granola T-shirt, Allen mans the cash regster one day per week in exchange for using the store’s ovens.

Today, Allen produces eight flavors, including Original “Sinnamon,” Bran Bonanza and Flaxseed Stampede.

“It’s explosive stuff,” he said.

Columbia granola-lover Suzanne Oro said her family of six devours about 10 pounds every month.

“It’s almost embarrassing how much we have,” she said.

Oro said she buys it because it’s a healthier alternative to boxed cereals.

“It’s an identifiable food source that hasn’t been manipulated by corporate food handlers,” she said. “So much of the food you buy anymore has been processed and handled.”

Allen said he has sold at least 1,000 pounds since he began producing his granola commercially about 15 months ago.

These days, he’s struggling to keep the shelves stocked.

“I’m maxed out,” he said. “I bake here once a week, and it’s not enough.”

Even so, he’s not making much money.

In a little more than a year’s time, Allen has grossed about $3,000, he said, which amounts to a mere $200 to $300 profit.

Allen said he nearly called it quits earlier this year when he realized how little money he was actually making.

But it’s not about the money, he said. Maintaining the granola business is about staying busy and enjoying retirement, he said.

“For me, this is a hobby,” he said. “I’m making a product that people really like. And I enjoy doing it.”

Allen’s granola experience has given him a new appreciation for small-business owners.

Potential new entrepreneurs should do their homework by researching their chosen market, by evaluating up-front costs and by taking a course in small-business administration before diving right in, Allen said.

“You’ve got to know what you’re getting into,” he said. “Anyone who runs a small business probably works a lot harder than I do. I really have a profound respect for business people now that I’ve tried to do this myself.”

David’s Divine Granola is sold in one-and-a-half-pound and 14-ounce bags.

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