[Photo courtesy Katelyn Sornik]
There’s something about the nature of the internet that makes the physical world around us seem that much smaller. So, I shouldn’t’ve been surprised when, on a trip into downtown DC to have tea with my mom on Mothers’ Day, that I ran into Kate Bakes Bars, a local snack bar company whose instagram account I started following a couple of weeks prior. Always in search of vegan snack foods and more than eager to support local businesses, I picked up a couple. Little did I know that I would absolutely fall in love.
Other than being vegan, the bars are made from organic ingredients (when possible) and free of refined sugars, gluten, preservatives, and high in protein and fiber. I know, I know, they sound like they should taste like cardboard, but they are, without a doubt, some of the best snack bars I’ve ever had: soft and chewy, and absolutely bursting with flavor. After trying the chocolate coffee, I said it “tastes like the best brownie ever,” and the banana cinnamon oatmeal flavor rivals any banana bread I’ve ever had. Positively swooning, I knew I had to get to know the girl behind the bars, Katelyn Sornik. Vegan and gluten free for health reasons, Kate Bakes Bars were borne out of Katelyn’s need to have food she could eat while on the go. I talked to the 30-year-old New York native about dropping out of Seton Hall Law School, cold-calling restaurants and vendors, her creative process and essential DC eats.
When did you formally start selling your bars? I know you went to law school, so you’re obviously ambitious, but did you always have an entrepreneurial spirit?
I started selling the bars in 2012, but I don’t know how ‘formal’ it really was! I decided to start the business on my own and sort of figured everything out as I went along. Sales only made a huge jump when I made Kate Bakes my full-time job last fall. I feel like in the back of my mind I’ve always toyed with the idea of starting my own business, but until I dropped out of law school, I didn’t really have the opportunity – whether it be with time or an actual product/service. After law school, I started a food blog about vegan and gluten-free cooking and baking. It was then that I came up with the recipe for my first bar and it seemed like the perfect chance.
How did you end up in DC? And, how has reception been to your product?
I went to UMD-College Park for undergrad and a lot of my friends stayed around here after graduation. So after law school, I basically decided I wanted to be back down here with my friends! DC is a pretty health conscious and fit city, so a product like mine is generally something a lot of people have been interested in, so overall the reception has been pretty great. A lot of people have even been kind enough to reach out via social media to let me know how much they’re enjoying them, so that has been really encouraging and nice to see.
Where do you produce your bars?
I bake at a local restaurant when they are closed. When I started, [kitchen incubators] like Union Kitchen weren’t around, so I basically cold-called restaurants until I found one willing to rent to me. [Ed: How ballsy is that?]
I found your bars at MENU/MBK downtown. How has the process of getting your products placed at retail outlets been?
Getting into local stores and markets has been an interesting process. Lots of cold calling and emailing (notice a trend?), then lots of follow up. Usually, once people try the bars, they are sold, so that part is easy (thankfully!) but it can still be a lot of work and coordination. All worth it though, of course!
I’ve tried both the chocolate coffee and banana cinnamon oatmeal, and they’re both fantastic. What’s your creative process like when it comes to developing flavors?
Thank you so much! It means so much to me when customers really enjoy the bars and flavors. The creative process is actually pretty simple. I basically think about what I want to eat and go from there. The last bar introduced, Cardamom Date, came about because I’d gone on a cardamom smoothie kick and thought it would be great in a bar, too. Cardamom is totally underrepresented in the protein bar world! I was deciding whether to pair it with ginger or date, but ended up trying it with date first and knew it was the winner. I try not to over complicate things. The Chocolate Coffee recipe is actually exactly the same as the very first test batch. If it tastes great, I don’t mess with it!
What do you think about the DC food scene? Essential restaurants/dishes?
I think the DC food scene is amazing. It gets a lot of flak and any statement that it’s not as good as NY is like nails on a chalkboard to me, and I’m from there! You have to be willing to try new things. Sometimes, I think my limited diet helps me in this way. I’m forced to navigate menus in ways most other patrons don’t have to. But, my point is, if I can do it and still eat some of the best meals I’ve ever had, I can’t even imagine what it’s like with no restrictions! Rasika is the definition of essential. If you haven’t been, make a reservation right now. I’m also a huge fan of Oyamel – there is a lot I can eat there and Jose Andres never, ever disappoints. I don’t know how he does it!
Kate Bakes Bars can be found in at Menu/MBK in Penn Quarter, both South Block Juice locations (Arlington & GWU’s Campus Fresh), Muse Cafe in the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and Cibo Express in Terminal A of Reagan National Airport starting in June, and online through Relay Foods, Washington’s Green Grocer, Hometown Harvest, and KateBakesBars.com.