Crunching for a cause: A mother launches granola business to keep her family healthy

As the mother of three children, Amy Witzigreuter is always looking for nutritious, tasty snacks to feed her children. But when her youngest son, Paul, was diagnosed as an infant with severe gastrointestinal and liver issues, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and other health concerns, healthy eating became a priority.

 

In September 2005, at just eight months old, Paul underwent a liver transplant (Witzigreuter was his living donor) and in July 2013 at eight years old received a kidney from his dad, Dan.

 

Amy Witzigreuter, owner of Witzi’s Raw Granola“My youngest son was really ill and had liver issues and serious GI issues,” she recalls. “I read about differed food issues and things to avoid, and we had to avoid gluten, dairy, eggs, and corn. And prepackaged snacks were just the worst.”

 

So, Witzigreuter turned to her homemade granola as a healthy snack for her entire family. “I was on a mission to come up with a healthier snack,” she recalls. “I started playing with soaking nuts and seeds. There were a lot of fails, but the granola came out pretty good.”

 

Witzigreuter came up with a tasty, grain free, easy-to-digest granola packed with nutrients.

 

The granola came out so well that she started thinking about leaving her job in healthcare sales and business development and starting her own granola company.

 

Then, in May 2018 Witzigreuter took a chance and launched Witzi’s Raw Granola out of the Lakewood Community Kitchen. “I just decided to go for it,” she says. “I always had it in the back of my mind and I thought, this could work.”

 

Witzigreuter mastered her recipe and process—soak the nuts and seeds overnight (which breaks down the hard-to-digest layer of the seeds), add spices, and add the fruit before tossing the whole mix together in maple syrup and toasting it on sheets in a 120-degree oven.

 

“[The oven] never really bakes it, which is disruptive to the nutrients,” she explains. “There are no oils—the only oils are the natural oils in the nuts. It’s really raw food.”

 

She first sold her granola out of Rego Brothers Lake Road Market in Rocky River in the summer of 2018, after the deadline to apply for the local farmers markets.

 

“I talked to Jimmy Rego and he said, ‘bring it in,”” Witzigreuter recalls. “It was really helpful to get direct feedback. I was affirming my thoughts that people were ready for this. People liked it, so I’ve kept going.”

 

Two years after launching, Witzi’s comes in five different flavors—original, banana berry, golden granola, savory spice, and pumpkin spice—and she is now operating out of her own kitchen space on Stanard Avenue in the St. Clair Superior neighborhood.

 

Despite the variety she now makes, Witzigreuter says the original, hands-down is her favorite. “I love the blend of nuts—almonds, walnuts and pecans—but I especially love the flavors—apple, cinnamon, and a gentle citrus background,” she explains. “It’s also the recipe I’ve been making for 13 years, [the one] that started it all. It was really for my kids—a healthy snack with no junk.”

 

Aside from Paul, who is now 15, Witzigreuter has a daughter, Eve, 21, and son Luke, 19.

This summer, Witzigreuter is selling her granola at six local farmers markets—in Hudson, Seven Hills, Shaker Square, Van Aken, Cleveland Clinic, Crocker Park, and Pinecrest.

 

Lake Road Market continues to carry Witzi’s, as well as Heinen’s and Fresh Thyme stores across the state of Ohio.

 

Amazon now carries Witzi’s, and the granola is part of Perfectly Imperfect’s Perfectly Cleveland boxes and Kudos Boxes (Lunch Owl’s pivot business during the pandemic).

 

All Witzi’s products have a blue puzzle piece—the symbol representing Autism Speaks—to recognize Paul’s ASD.

 

Before COVID-19 hit, Witzigreuter was working with the Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner School for Autism to develop a vocational training program for students to learn to assemble, seal and label Witzi’s products.

 

That program is currently on hold because of the pandemic, but Witzigreuter says she’d like to see it start again when it’s safe. “We are not officially working with [the Clinic], given COVID, but we have had discussions and are very excited about further developing this aspect of the business,” she says.

 

Witzigreuter has no plans of slowing the Witzi’s company growth any time soon. She says she has more flavors she’d like to create.

 

I love the idea of lemon/lavender or lemon/raspberry,” she says. “I’m also dying to incorporate macadamia nuts. I’d like increase the product line too—with bars and butters.”

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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