ELY — Before Andrea and Brian Strom ever considered mixing a single organic grain, let alone five, with a dried fruit, they had a silly idea born of bathroom humor. What if, Brian Strom joked, there was a cranberry and apple flavored granola and it was called Crapola.
It was funny enough that they purchased the domain name — and it was funny enough that they felt the need to act on it before the domain name expired.
“That’s how a joke and a name became a business,” Andrea Strom said last week from Crapola Granola World Headquarters in the hours before the company celebrated its 10th anniversary with a beer tent, food trucks, face painting and music.
In the past decade, the Stroms have developed a handful of flavors, landed on regional supermarket shelves and in September moved into a larger kitchen and bakery space in a historic building downtown.
They sell granola as well as products made from the granola, like cookies, bars and parfaits, not to mention a lot of Crapola swag.
“For the first three years, we thought we just had a hobby,” Andrea Strom said, while filling a sheet pan with Kissypoo cookies.
Crapola World Headquarters, as it says on the side of the building, is located in the heart of downtown Ely. It’s unclear whether the smell of baked things, which fills the block, comes from the granola bakery or from Northern Expressions, the ice cream shop across the street with homemade waffle cones. Maybe it’s both.
There is a full-sized window at the Crapola, where passersby are able to watch the baking, mixing, batch-bagging process.
Andrea and Brian Strom both have a background in environmental education. While neither has ties to northern Minnesota — they met in Wisconsin — it’s where they decided to buy land off the grid and build a home, a farm and a family. Their first batches were crafted on their own wood stove.
First, they sold the cran-apple granola — packaged with a riff of American Gothic on the front and cheeky puns on the back — at a local farmers market.
Then, by word-of-mouth, they gained a following.
“We knew we made it big when Zups called,” Andrea Strom said, referencing a northern Minnesota grocery store chain.
Last week, the local Zups had all four flavors on the shelf with a sign indicating: Made in Ely. Down the street, at Piragis Northwoods Company, Crapola is also noted as local.
From there, other chains and co-ops — including both Whole Foods Co-op in Duluth — followed. It’s available at Kowalski’s, Byerly’s, Lunds and more in the Twin Cities area.
This week, Brian Strom will take it to a food show in New York.
“We’ll take it on the road and see what the rest of the world thinks,” he said.
Two years ago, the Stroms launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $38,000 to move from the small out-of-the-way house where they had been making Crapola into a more central location. They easily exceeded the goal.
Julie Houle was one of 310 contributors. The Ely-ite, whose favorite flavor is Kissypoo, brought a crew of kids to Friday’s anniversary party.
“I really believed in their mission,” she said. “They are kind, involved people in giving back. I feel amazing pride in what they’ve done in this fantastic old building in the heart of Ely.”
Crapola granola is made with organic grains, dried fruits, sometimes nuts and sweetened with maple syrup and honey. The Stroms use locally sourced, organic ingredients when possible, and the granola is all made within a few steps this way and that in the bakery’s kitchen.
Andrea Strom said fans say they like that the sweetness of the granola is very subtle.
The granola is mixed in a bucket that resembles a small cement mixer, then baked. The dried fruit is added and it’s portioned out into 12-ounce bags. They make a couple thousand pounds of granola per week, Brian Strom said, depending on demand.
“My whole thing is that I didn’t know anything,” he said. “I tried to make a product that I, the theoretical customer, would like.”
And he does, both the punny marketing and the flavors.
“I like them all,” he said. “I have some almost every day. My body hasn’t rejected it after 10 years.”
In true Strom form, they had a name for their second flavor before they had a recipe. Number Two has cranberries and oranges and is nut-free — which was a request from granola fans. Kissypoo is chocolate and raspberry and was released around Valentine’s Day.
Blueberry was a special edition tied to Ely’s Blueberry Festival. The Stroms tried to play the name straight, but it didn’t take. Red, White, and Blueberry just didn’t resonate, Strom said, so they changed it to Colon-ial Times and made it available year-round.
The Stroms are popular among northern Minnesota mates. By midafternoon Friday, there was growing activity in the beer tent. Bean bags, floor hockey, oversized Jenga and a song by Modern English on the sound system.
Betty Knott likes Colon-ial Times — and the addition of the bakery.
“The cookies, too, are delicious,” she said.
Tom Omerza was in the tent making brats and burgers, a fundraiser for Ely’s basketball teams. He said he likes the original flavor best.
“It’s an alternative for breakfast in the morning and a healthy munchy food,” Omerza said.
With a name like Crapola, the Stroms have to keep the marketing a little cheeky. The product promises to make weird people regular. They sometimes wear T-shirts that say: “I had a crappy morning.” There are bumper stickers for sale next to the cash register, including the very direct “I pooped today, thanks Crapola.”
Hats, mugs and a fishing lure called a “crapala.”
In a child-friendly area of the bakery, there was a stack of picture books. “Everyone Poops” was on top. It was a gift — one Andrea Strom said she couldn’t believe they hadn’t bought themselves.
“Of course, we have to have that,” she said.
Crapola’s keepers pride themselves on the puns and have found little pushback.
“About one in a thousand doesn’t like it and has the guts to come back and say it,” Brian Strom said. “I get a lot of fan mail. And sometimes we have to explain the humor.
“We like fun. I feel like laughter is the best medicine. The humor in our brand — I feel like we’re putting good things into the world.”
• What: Crapola Granola
• Where: 16 N. First Ave. E., Ely
• Online: Crapola.us
• Where in Duluth: Cub Foods, Duluth Pack, Super One Foods, Whole Foods Co-ops