2014 Coastal New England Rising Stars Bennett Coffey and Kyleen Keenan of Not Your Sugar Mama's
Not Your Sugar Mama's
32 Winter Street Edgartown, MA 02539
Martha's Vineyard, MA 02359
Holistic nutrition and finance majors aren’t often at the same power networking lunches. Fortunately for fans of Not Your Sugar Mamas, Bennett Coffey and Kyleen Keenan were on (sort of) colliding paths. After graduating from college and spending some soul-searching time in Hawaii, Coffey earned her certificate as a holistic nutrition counselor from the Institute for Integrative Health in New York City. Keenan, meanwhile, had earned a finance degree and was working abroad in Argentina with young entrepreneurs from around South America, which helped her develop an interest in sustainable business practices.
By the time they met, Not Your Sugar Mamas was almost inevitable. Coffey was ready to produce raw and health-conscious chocolate and chocolate bars, and Keenan was ready to build a business with a conscience. And while the business didn’t happen overnight (they started with a small shop in Coffey’s parents’ kitchen), they now have two retail locations and a dedicated audience vibing off the delights of raw chocolate and cookies—goods that are available at 85 locations across New England, New York, and as far west as Oklahoma and Iowa.
Interview with Coastal New England Rising Star Concept Winners Bennett Coffey and Kyleen Kenan of Not Your Sugar Mamas – Martha’s Vineyard, MA
Antoinette Bruno: So what do you guys do?
Bennett Coffey: We take our little world of chocolate…
Kyleen Keenan: and create a high vibrational chocolate eating experience through different products. We started with chocolate bars that have, well they’re not just chocolate bars, they’re all raw, organic, free of refined sugar, dairy, gluten, and they have different superfoods.
AB: What’s a superfood?
BC: A superfood is a different class of food that has a really high nutrient content so there’s just a lot more nutrition packed into the food itself, so it’s healthier food to consume than let’s say a Snickers bar. I always compare it to a Snickers bar, I don’t know why I’m bashing them so much but, you get the idea.
KK: And the raw foods themselves, they preserve the phyto-nutrients and the enzymes and minerals that are otherwise lost in the heating process or a cooking process, so even a raw chocolate powder compared to a traditionally roasted Dutch processed cacao powder is a completely different food. It’s a health food, it’s a superfood, it’s the highest anti-oxidant food on the planet and has a whole bunch of different properties like Magnesium, a source of mood elevating vitamins and minerals.
AB: Mood elevating, I like the sound of that. I like the names of your products, too.
BC: I think that the inspiration behind that started when I went to Cafe Gratitude—I think they have a bunch of locations in California, but I went to their San Francisco location—I was living out in California a few years ago and everything on their menu was called, let’s say there was a kale dish, “I am beautiful” or “I am” this, “I am” that. They actually make you order that way so you’re ordering this healthy food and giving yourself a positive affirmation at the same time. So, when we started out and we only had three chocolate bars, I didn’t want to make it the same thing ,so I used “Be” instead, so we started with “Be Original”. These were the three original bars “Be Original”, “Be Cool”, and “Be Sexy”. And the original was just kind of like the base formula for all the chocolate bars. And then the Sexy was called sexy because there’s a love potion in it and extra maca, which is a superfood that increases your libido and gives you a lot of energy. And then “Be Cool” was called “Be Cool” because it has lavender and peppermint, so it just had that sort of calming, cooling effect on the palate. That’s how that all began. And then from there we just expanded the line.
KK: We like to have fun with it.
AB: Let’s talk about your source, cacao, do you source the beans?
KK: We source the powder and the butter and we source that directly from an association of farmer’s in Santiago, Peru. They’re members of the fair trade union. We started selling in June 2011 and we formed that partnership by February, and so we buy direct from them and then pick it up at the airport. And because they produce such a high quality product—they get the beans, they ferment them, air-dry them, sun-dry them, and then they cold press them at low temperatures and then they separate the powder and the butter and that’s the form that we buy it—they can charge higher prices. They’re a really good example of a growing community, and ethically sourcing it from them, makes a difference in that part of the world.
AB: Do you ever think you’ll get into actually buying the beans and doing the processing of the beans yourselves?
BC: Maybe down the road, but right now for the facility that we have and kind of what we’re working with, we’re skipping that step and just going with the powder, but that definitely could happen down the road.
AB: So let’s talk about the products you’re making. You started with the bars and then what did you get into?
BC: We started with the bars and then we slowly started making the smoothie mixes. When we began, I was just making everything out of my parents’ kitchen in Edgartown. So, I was thinking to do a ton of smoothie mixes and we had to experiment a little while, they were selling a little bit more slowly because we weren’t advertising those as much, but then when we got this space in Vineyard Haven to produce the chocolate bars, it was sort of the perfect setup to have a retail location. We decided to expand on our product line. We created more smoothie mixes, then I started making baked goods like the cookies and brownies, stuff like that.
AB: So let’s talk about those cookies because they were delicious.
BC: The cookies are delicious. I was kind of looking around and just getting an idea of how people were varying cookie recipes and making them a little bit healthier and just from all the different recipes that I’ve read, created a really simplified version using oat flour, gluten-free oat flour, gluten-free oats, coconut palm sugar, coconut oil, vegan chocolate chips, and sea salt.
AB: So why did you decide to go gluten-free?
BC: I personally found that I felt better when I wasn’t consuming gluten. It’s a process that I discovered when I was in nutrition school. I eliminated gluten from my diet for two weeks and, some people notice something and some people don’t, I think I actually have a gluten sensitivity so it was like night and day to me. I couldn’t believe I’d been feeling so lethargic and fatigued after eating wheat and not realizing it. I stuck with the gluten-free thing and decided that why not, even if you don’t have a gluten allergy, why not just consume more gluten-free foods.
AB: Let’s talk about the scones
BC: Since we’ve hired Elizabeth--she’s our head baker now—she has helped create more baked goods, but specifically more breakfast items like the scones and they’re just amazing, people love the scones.
KK: And they’re really unique flavor combinations that people really get excited about.
BC: She dreams about them and makes them the next morning.
Elizabeth (Head Baker): I did! My favorite thing about the scones is that you can change them so easily. You can come up with really amazing combinations that get people really excited about eating something and I think they can really easily relate it to breakfast pastries and a lot of people love eating breakfast pastries. I know I do. And so I just feel great when I know what I’m eating has know butter and sugar and it’s still a breakfast pastry that tastes amazing, but it’s free of all refined sugar and flour it’s awesome!