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Getting Real About Real Foods | brüks bars

As the co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer of brüks bars it is important for me to deeply understand nutrition. What started out as a lifelong food obsession has evolved into not one, but two jobs centered around nutrition. My Bachelors and Masters degrees in Exercise Physiology laid the educational foundation for me in holistic human performance, but it has been the three roles I’ve held as a strength, fitness, and performance coach that have honed my skills to applicable real life expertise. As a strength coach and sport scientist for the Seattle Sounders FC everyday I work with elite athletes focusing on what will maximize their performance. Nutrition is a piece that is often overlooked and undervalued, but something I make sure to address on a daily basis with my athletes.

 

We are a real food snack bar company. In this blog I’m going to explain what that actually means and why we feel the need to be different from all the other snack companies. The way we’ve always made our delicious snacks is from whole ingredients in their most natural (read: from nature) form. We use the highest quality ingredients (read: delicious), organic when possible, without preservatives or fillers. This is the thread that has run through our company since the beginning and is written into our mission and vision statements. Our newest and most badass packaging further reflects these beliefs.

Why Define Real Food

Grocery aisles are jam packed with “healthy snacks” that are free-from many allergens and market themselves based off of a select few ingredients. When you actually look at the label there are tons of ingredients that are not recognizable and we certainly don’t want to put inside our bodies. It is up to us (team brüks and our supporters) to raise the bar on the snacking industry.

Much of the western food philosophy stems from the idea that there are good parts of food (protein, antioxidants) and bad (sugar, fat, etc.) and that there are good foods (avocados) and bad (cookies). We believe that food is much simpler than that. Simple because nature creates exactly what is needed for the survival of the entire ecosystem. It is holistic not segmented. Foods that are chock full of phytonutrients and polyphenols (plant based compounds that help the plant eaters fight off diseases) are brightly colored, for instance, which is meant to attract our attention so we eat them and reap the benefits of all those inflammation crushing antioxidants. By eating those foods we are also spreading their seeds, thus keeping both parties alive. Sweet foods found in nature that are high in sugar (i.e., apples, dates, apricots and maple syrup) generally come with lots of fiber (i.e., skin, pulp, shells and bark) to help our bodies more easily process that sugar. Natures holistic approach to nutrition.

We won't outsmart a system that has evolved over thousands of years with the sole purpose of survival. We are a part of a full ecosystem in which every part plays an important role and each piece needs to be nurtured and allowed to flourish. This is why using real food is so important to our team, straight up: it’s better for you in health and taste!

The Whole is Better Than the Sum of it’s Parts

Green tea is widely researched and known to be one of the healthiest beverages on the earth. Yet when some of compounds that help combat heart disease are isolated and taken as a pill they don't work. While controversial, many think this reductionist approach can be applied with Vitamin C and citrus fruits, and synthetic minerals versus those found in food grown in quality soil. The whole really is more than the sum of its parts. And that is not even addressing the idea of food synergy, which is when certain foods combined are greater nutritionally than adding up the nutrition content of each food separately. Some of my favorite synergistic pairings are rice and beans, avocado and tomatoes, oatmeal and orange juice (fresh squeezed of course), turmeric and black pepper, spinach and lemon, and apples and purple grapes. Together these combos pack a far greater health punch than either would if consumed separately.

At brüks bars, we are keeping ingredients the way they naturally grow to allow them to shine and to showcase their beauty and flavor. It's not always easy or cheap but we will never sacrifice that. Our health depends on it. Not only is it important what ingredients ARE in our bars but it's just as important what's NOT in them. Allergen-conscious (gluten, dairy, soy and egg-free) with no preservatives or fillers.

 

All Sugar is Not Created Equal

Many snack bars companies use cheaply processed syrups (brown rice, tapioca, or corn, to name a few) to help with sweetness and consistency. I challenge you to find any of these ingredients in nature. Spoiler alert: you won’t. What that means is that these types of syrups are just highly processed sugars with non-sugar sounding names to try and trick you. Sugar is in every fruit and vegetable, which normally isn't a problem when you eat the whole thing but when you isolate just the sugar and throw a different name on it, it's still sugar. It’s important to highlight the difference and look for it in products you support so we can prevent our bodies from getting bombarded with the toxic known as highly processed/refined sugar.

While we’re not perfect,  we promise that we will keep getting better. We work extremely hard behind the scenes to source ingredients that fit within our quality standards in both in terms of taste and health. In fact, we get non-GMO and kosher documentation from all our suppliers, documentation from those who are organic and we are working diligently to make all four of our bars organic (two are already technically organic). Read about our switch from sulfured apricots to the delicious unsulfured ones we use now here. The mission is and always will be to highlight whole food ingredients in a delicious and convenient way so we can “provide the fuel for YOU to change the world, one bite at a time.”

Coach/Chef Sean

30 and Beyond | brüks bars

My Twenties - where I've come from:

Wow. Time really flies, but being totally honest I couldn't be happier to be entering my 30's. The 20's were hard. They were a time of self-discovery, learning, tough lessons/truths, fun times, adventure, and stress. However, I spent most of my 20's in survival mode. My food sensitivities certainly didn’t help.  

I graduated college in 2009, seven years ago. It's gone fast and slow at the same time. Fast because in those seven years I've lived in seven major cities spanning the country and one internationally (read more about it here). Slow because while the first big move from Chicago to Washington DC was the scariest, it never gets easy or fun to pack up and move. It's stressful, complicated, and unpleasant. It puts you in survival mode. 

In those seven years I've gone back and forth trying my hardest to live through, and around, my food sensitivities (gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, sweet potatoes). The times that I fell off the diet wagon were the hardest on me, as they wreaked havoc on my body. Moving across the country for a two-month long unpaid internship, for instance, has a way of changing your priorities real fast. I was less concerned about eating clean and increasingly more concerned with having enough money to pay my rent, which of course put my body in survival mode because my next meal wasn't always guaranteed. 

In those seven years, I quit a job in New York City to pursue a Master’s degree (in Miami, FL) and follow my dream of working in elite athletics. (You can read about my move to the 2016 MLS Cup Champion Seattle Sounders here). I could not have done any of that without the financial and emotional support of my wife Brooke. In addition, for me it also meant working a full time job, finishing a two-year Exercise Physiology program in ten months, riding my bike to work/school because we shared a car, and starting a business with Brooke. Back then twelve-hour days were the short ones. Following my passions is the only way I know how to live. I did what I set out to do at the time.  But it was hard -  I was consumed with the mindset that I had to prepare for the next job, or city, to get "there" - the elusive yet very real dreams. Constant survival mode was magnified by my food sensitivities.

Degree in hand, Brooke and I moved again and got married. Positive - she married me and I landed a wonderful job in UNC Charlotte. Negative -  we were clear across the country from our families and didn't know a single person when we moved. We both gain our energy and life from being with our loved ones. Yet we were alone, together. My food issues deepened my loneliness and isolation.

We launched our business selling real food, allergen-conscious snack bars because it felt like right thing to do. We needed to do it. To share our lives with others. To share our struggles and lessons. Anyone that has followed our business knows it's not always rainbows and butterflies. This shit is hard. By far the most rewarding thing we've ever done... but hard. Survival mode. Every. Damn. Day.

My Thirties - where I am going: 

As I turn 30 and I don't want to just survive. I want to THRIVE! I'm tired of always being in survival mode and doing the best I can, given the circumstances. I want to live optimally. I've got one life and you better believe I'm going to make it count. I spent my 20s gaining experience, learning about myself, learning about life, and exploring. I know what I want now. I want to thrive!  Okay Sean, that sounds cool and all but how? The only way I know how... taking it one small step at a time, starting with healing myself.

Real food isn't the problem. I'm the problem. Food is neutral. It just grows and lives in the ecosystem around it. The relationship you have with food is up to the individual though. I've been sick internally for a long time. But once I heal myself, my physical body, the food will still be neutral and ready for me to eat it. I will be able to fall in love with foods all over again or some for the first time. Hello fried egg sandwich with bacon, avocado, arugula, and tomato…we’ve missed each other but I’m coming for you!  And just to be clear, I'm talking about real food - not the processed, isolated “nutrients” made of chemicals no one has ever heard of. I'm talking about the real food that our great grandparents would recognize. 

So how do I go about healing myself? I'm going back to The Source. The man that got me started on this path 13 years ago. Dr. Tom O'Bryan. Using The Autoimmune Fix as a guide to reverse the damage that has already been done and using blood work with expert guidance I am working to bring my body back to homeostasis. A large part of this will be accomplished by fixing my gut and all the little critters that make me who I am, my microbiome. The book covers the nitty gritty details necessary to heal my gut and I will be keeping detailed notes and sharing my experience with everyone that's interested. I'll be keeping a food and photo journal as well to track my progress. 

I'm in this for the long game. I want to thrive! In college I developed a personal mantra that has helped keep me grounded and refocused when I needed it. Right now, as I embark on the hardest journey of my life (to shift away from survival), it seems more necessary than ever to bring it back. Take Back The Power. TBTP. That is how I will thrive in life, by changing my relationship with food, and in the process, healing myself. Let me explain. 

Food has been at the center of my world, but that's not to say we have always had a healthy relationship. In fact, it's been quite the opposite. Because of my food sensitivities I've despised certain food groups because they made me feel really bad. At times I’ve viewed food as simply calories.  When I gained 15 pounds of muscle mass for my wedding, all I cared about was my daily calorie content. When in new environments, my mentality was to eat as much as I could in one sitting so I would not have to panic about what my next meal would be. But that's not right. That kind of thinking removes so much of the value food has. It’s social (to be shared with people), it's emotional (smells/flavors can act as a time machine), it’s comforting (try telling me you don’t want a glass of red wine and some Theo chocolate while you sit by the fire on a chilly winter night or some ice cold lemonade and mango slices in the summer) and it can teach us life lessons like patience, persistence, and time management skills (think gardening, cooking, and grocery shopping when busy).

No more. I. Love. Food. It brings me joy to cook and eat. To learn about food. To share a home cooked meal with people I care about. To get to know the people I'm getting my food from. To connect with the world that is providing me fuel and joy.  I am now making a commitment to change my relationship with food. I am making a conscious effort to not view grocery shopping and cooking as a means to my supply of calories. THEY are as much the reward as the delicious meals they produce. The prize is the journey not the destination. 

My twenties helped me discover who I am, and what brings me joy in this world. I am dedicating my thirties and beyond to live fully and make the changes necessary to live in joy.  Exercise. A lot. But because I love how it makes me feel (energized, positive, happy, alert, alive) and not because I want to be a certain weight or look a certain way. The journey. 

Time with my family. As frequently as possible. I no longer live across the country from my people. In fact, very soon I will be sharing a roof with two of my favorite people in the world. My sister and her soon-to-be husband. Playing with my niece and nephews every week. Because while sometimes I just want to be a grumpy old man and sleep, it's about the journey. Being an active part of their upbringing and not just bearing the fruit of their wonderfulness when they're older. Talking to my parents every week. I can't imagine where I'd be without their influence on my life. They continue to amaze me every day and fuel me with love. 

Continuing to develop long lasting and deep friendships. Connections with people I admire and respect and whom feel the same way about me. For as much as I'm an introvert and need my alone time, I also need people. We are social creatures who are most successful in groups. I know that and need to dedicate the time to fostering those relationships because it's important to me. Yes, Pete I will keep beating you in FIFA along the way.

Quality time with my wife. We often spend time together as business partners because that's easy. There's always more work to talk about as being an entrepreneur is a 24/7 job. But adventures with my wife and best friend: that's precious and priceless. No phones, no distractions, just being present. Because she is the person I am most myself with. And I like being me. I like having fun with her. And while our goal is over 50 years of marriage, I want to enjoy the journey not the destination. 

So here I am. I'm 30-years-old and I have never been more excited about the prospects of the future... and the right now. 

TBTP,

Sean

Coming Clean - A Note from Brooke

No matter what side of the fence you were on for the 2016 presidential election, I think we can all agree at the very least, the pot has been stirred a LOT recently.  

This note is not about the election though. It’s about a conversation I had with a new but good friend who reminded me how important it is to be open and real, especially during times like these. Because the only way to a future we believe in is to stop showing our social-media-ready selves, and show the world our true selves instead.

I believe in doing the same with brüks bars. In sharing not only our successes, but our struggles. When Sean and I started brüks bars, being authentic was easy. We were the brand. We were the bakers, the cleanup crew, the event marketing team. Although our team is still small, I have struggled to find a voice for us at times. Why? Because I’ve been afraid. I’ve been afraid to share too much “personal stuff” about our story without enough substance about the quality of our product, or to share too many of our struggles and seem smaller than we are.

I’ve always done my best to embrace fear in other aspects of my life and use it as fuel to grow, to become better, to push forward and create the life I want. But for some reason, the idea of figuring out what to share about our small but growing business, how much to share about our struggles, has left me paralyzed at times.

Well, today I’m coming clean. From this day forward, I give you my word that we will be sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly. We are going to TBTP, “Take Back the Power” to show you who we are and what we are working hard on every day at brüks bars. Because the truth is: I am so proud of what we’re doing. And also, it’s hard as hell. 

Getting REAL Real


To me, it still feels surreal when people tell us they see the bars we made in our kitchen a few short years ago “everywhere.” I am so proud of our team, and of what we’ve accomplished. But behind the scenes, we are feeling growing pains. And we’re far from perfect: Our bags are still hard to open (new bags coming REAL soon!), we’re not 100% organic (but we ARE making great progress – our average organic ingredients/bar will be between 70-80% early next year!), and it seems almost every week our team has really high highs and some low lows. We are humans creating a brand from scratch. We are imperfect. That is OK.I have held us back as a brand. In some ways and not purposely, but because of my own fear. Fear that no matter how hard we work, we are not perfect yet. Fear of showing flaws that alter the image of a perfect, fast-growth startup. The balance between building a brand that not only represents and stays true to us, but also represents all of you and showcases our joys and struggles. Now that is a tall order…Any perfectionists out there who can relate?

I can’t promise we will ever be perfect, and for the sake of our team and myself, I have to stop striving for perfection.

A Promise to You

What I will promise is that these growing pains are coming from a place of goodness. That what makes a business like ours hard is not a lack of places to sell bars (though we do love selling more bars), but by refusing to waver from our core values. To use ingredients that are not cut with additives or preservatives. To refuse ones that are cheaper because they are filled with syrups or GMOs. What really matters to me, and our team, is to fight the good fight, for the things that matter. GOOD. INGREDIENTS. MATTER.

For Example

There are very few suppliers in the country that supply Granny Smith apples that don’t have additives. We found them. We’ve been pushed recently to use cheaper bulk ingredients from suppliers that are cut with “anti-stick” agents. When people try to push away from our core values, we find new suppliers, or request that they send us the ingredients straight up. We did a honey tasting to determine the exact type of honey/flavor we want to embody our bars. Same for cherries, cranberries, flax seed – and the list goes on.

We will never give up on fighting the good fight for: Real. Good. Food. We know this is what makes brüks bars different. Our Vision statement isn’t, ‘Fuel for YOU to change the world, one bite at a time’ for nada. This is our mission. Every day we’re hustlin’…for good food. 

In my life, I’ve always done my best to embrace fear. To use it as fuel to grow, to become better, to push forward and make the life I’d wanted, happen.

Fear can embolden us, or stunt us, it’s all in how we choose to harness it. 

To deliciously good health,

Brooke & Team brüks

 

 

Onwards and Westward!

For those that don't already know, on July 11th 2016 my life changed like it never has before. Monday, July 11th, was officially my first day of work as an Assistant Strength Coach/Sport Scientist for the Major League Soccer team, Seattle Sounders FC. A week before that, I got an unexpected call (the kind that people in my field dream of) that the Sounders had a job opening and they wanted me to interview for it. The person I look up to most in my field, Dave Tenney, called to ask if I’d be interested in working with him and his staff. A quick conversation later and the wheels were in motion. You know what they say about success, equal parts luck and opportunity. Well, here was my opportunity, so it was time to take a risk and jump into the unknown of professional sports and West Coast living.

(photo credit : Joe Wolf)

Brooke and I have lived in Charlotte for the last three years. Three of the happiest, most satisfying, and hardest working years of our lives. Our business was born there. We've identified with being adjunct Charlotteans. But now the West Coast and the job of a lifetime literally came calling. What makes this so attractive is for those who know us, know family is everything. And as fate should have it, both my brother and sister have relocated to Seattle for work in the last two years. For the first time in any of our lives, all three of us siblings (and our spouses/children) will live in the same city. For people as ambitious, driven, and with vastly different careers as us, this was something we could only dream about. And now it's happening.

 

brüks bars is one of the things in my life I am most proud about being a part of and being associated with. There's NEVER been a day that I wished Brooke and I didn't start it. I love this business and getting to share it with all of you. To know the small but powerful impact we are making on people's lives makes me smile no matter how long the days are. This business is a source of strength for me and not simply a way to spend time or an area that sucks energy. Because this business is so tied to my identity, and Brooke's as well, there was never a doubt in our minds that despite my sudden move to Seattle, brüks would forge on even stronger. In fact, we continue to grow quickly and are on pace to more than double in size this year (just like we did last year).

So I moved to Seattle and my beautiful wife/business partner is staying in Charlotte. This means that we've had to spend our first wedding anniversary apart. We've had to spend someone's very special birthday apart (I won't say which number for fear of the repercussions). And the hardest part of all, we don't know yet when we will be living together again. But if you ask either of us, there's not a second of hesitation that this is the right move for me, us, and our business. We are keeping our roots in the Queen City, but using this opportunity to expand to the West Coast. We want to be a nationally known and respected brand that is genuine, local, and full of life/passion no matter what city you find our tasty treats in. So onwards and Westward. We embrace this challenge. Because after all, the only difference between a piece of coal and a priceless diamond is the amount of stress it has endured.

To quote one of my best friends, whom I think you all already know...this is what chasing a dream feels like!

To deliciously good health,

Chef/Coach Sean

 

BONUS -- A Day in the Life of an MLS Strength Coach

6:15am - Alarm goes off with the message “Start your day with a meditation. You deserve it!”  
6:30am - Meditate for 10-15 minutes

6:45-7am - Usual hygiene stuff, take Fish Oil and Probiotics, and get the morning cobwebs off (I'm NOT a morning person)  

7-7:45am - Drop my brother off at work in downtown Seattle, continue on to Starfire Sports  complex, and call Mrs. Muldoon

7:45-8:30am - Make “Power Shake” (see recipe below) and grab an OG bar for breakfast, prep player GPS vests and HR monitors for training, and prep for performance staff meeting

8:30-9am - Meet with performance staff to discuss injured players and prep for daily/weekly training

9-10am - Catch up on emails

10-12:30pm - Team practice

12:30-1pm - Download training data and eat lunch

1-1:30pm - Set up gym for lifting session

1:30-2:30pm - Individual and/or team lift

2:30-5pm - Put together training reports that get sent out to all coaches

5-6pm - FaceTime with Brooke. Talk, laugh, cry, and just generally miss each other. A LOT

6-7pm - Work out. Mostly just lifting weights at the moment but will shortly add in some sprinting workouts

7-7:30pm - Shower and make sure everything is set for next day (gear in laundry, technology plugged in, equipment put away, etc.)

7:30-8:15pm - Drive home and listen to a podcast

8:15-9pm - Eat dinner and play with my niece and nephews

 

9-9:30pm - Play FIFA soccer on PlayStation with brother Mickey

9:30-10pm - Nightly hygiene stuff and write in journal

10-11pm - Read a book in bed and/or watch the Olympics

11pm - Pass out smiling because I know how lucky I am and that I get to live my dream everyday


Sean's Power Shake

  • 1 Banana
  • 2 scoops of Orgain Plant Based Protein Powder (chocolate)
  • 5 grams of Creatine Monohydrate
  • Heaping tablespoon of peanut butter
  • Double espresso shot
  • 10oz of Vanilla Almond Milk
  • 10oz of Dark Chocolate Almond Milk
  • A few ice cubes
  • Handful of baby spinach

 

This is What Chasing a Dream Feels Like

The brüks bars leadership team after an exhausting day at the kitchen.

As often happens when “chasing a dream” life and business got in the way of posting this blog in early April when it was written. Fortunately/unfortunately this blog still rings true today. Enjoy! - Pete

***

It’s 2:30am. This seems like a good time to write the blog post I’ve been meaning to write for the last three weeks. When will my brain ever be more honest than now, staring into the darkness to get a clearer view of the past few months of business, relationships, and of life? I let my first thoughts slip past: “I am exhausted. I can’t believe I’m not sleeping. I wonder if the sleep app on my iPhone knows I’m awake.” My next thought brings a smile to my face: “This is what chasing a dream feels like.”

March was brüks bars’ best month ever. By far. We did nearly 20% more volume than January 2016, which was previously our best month ever. By far. We averaged sales of 266 bars…per day. In one month, we sold 8,243 delicious, real food snack bars, each one carefully prepped, baked, packaged, and shipped or delivered by our committed team. Every apricot (now organic!), every sticker, every taped box, all done by hand with a pursuit not of perfection, but of love and passion, for you, our customers, our team, and our vision: To Provide the Fuel for YOU to Change the World, One Bite at a Time.

I read our vision statement to a customer at a food show recently, and she replied, “Wow, that’s a bold vision. Do you really think your bars change the world?” I thought for a minute before replying, “No, our bars may not change the world. But if you eat one and feel energized, healthy, and vibrant, than we know YOU will change the world.” She smiled and bought a box, before calling over her shoulder, “Keep it up and keep setting your goals high. You never know where this will go.”

Since that glass of champagne toasting to “a dominant 2016” on New Year’s Eve, we have sold over 21,200 snack bars, over half of our entire 2015 total. We have hit a new high. This is exciting, but as we have learned over and over again in life, the highs can only be fully elucidated by the lows. Life’s way of keeping us balanced and honest.

We spent last Wednesday morning having one of the best meetings imaginable, receiving incredible praise on the creation of the business, the passionate pursuit of healthy snacking, and the way we conduct ourselves as people and as business leaders. We closed the meeting and Sean raced to his full-time job while Brooke and I scrambled to get to a health and wellness event in Uptown, giving out samples and chatting with people until our knees buckled and our eyes began to blur. Brooke left the event to buy kitchen supplies and I slapped our business magnets on the side of my car to deliver bars to the Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The car magnets were no match for the highway, and Brooke and I spent the next hour walking up and down the interstate looking for our prized possessions, without which we cannot deliver to the airport. I raced across highway traffic in my business shoes and dress slacks to salvage the remains with Brooke yelling, “It’s not worth it, Sean will be so mad if I let you die this way!”, getting to the airport just in time to drop off the order.

After rescuing a "team member" from the highway. No man left behind around here!   

The next day we announced to our kitchen staff the incredible month we were closing. Highs, highs, highs. I turned to seal another boxed order and heard the sharp crack of metal being ripped apart. The very expensive Hobart paddle had shattered halfway through mixing our batch of Cherry Espresso. This was the second splintered paddle in three weeks. Lows, lows, lows.

Saturday came and we hadn’t had a day off in as long as we could remember. Why start now? We packed supplies the night before, and Sean woke up early to work the Gluten Free Wellness Event in Charlotte. I traded places with him around noon so he could get his UNC-Charlotte soccer team ready for an evening game. We had two Johnson & Wales college students helping us out, stocking samples and chatting with people while we tried to remember whom we had already spoken with and if there was a chance in our delirium (a very high chance, in fact) that we were repeating the same lines over and over again. Brooke headed out to Williams Sonoma for an exciting four-hour tasting event with other enthusiastic local food businesses. Sean closed the day with a soccer game. I heard him come home around 11:15pm, 15 hours after the day had started, but I was too tired to open the door and nod goodnight.

We are exhilarated. We are exhausted. We are succeeding. We are stressed. We know what each other are thinking before we think it. We disagree. We laugh. We cry. Then we laugh again about the fact that we are crying.

This is running a startup business. This is the life we have chosen, the mission to which we have devoted ourselves. And honestly, despite all of the highs and lows, the late nights and early mornings, the stressful meetings and painful phone calls, we wouldn’t change a thing. This is what chasing a dream feels like. We are so proud to share it with you.

To deliciously good health,

Pete

The sad post-rescue look of our car magnet to make deliveries to the airport.                          Our second broken mixer paddle in one month. It was a doozy.


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