In a former life, Alison Bailey Vercruysse, baker and founder of granola company 18 Rabbits, worked at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago—not quite the world of honey and cinnamon sticks. But like many other mid-career born-again-chefs, she found herself dissatisfied in her line of work and searching for something meaningful.
“At the time, I felt numb inside, like I was in a cage,” Vercruysse reveals. “I had this dormant creativity that just ached to get out…I didn’t feel fulfilled. That was until I took a food writing class. I couldn’t shut up about food…I never thought it was a legitimate career.”
Ask any mid-career professional turned chef, or baker, or food writer, and you will typically get a response similar to this. Once people discover that they can make a living out of food, they dive right into it. And that’s exactly what Vercruysse did.
“I decided to jump right into the frying pan and start crackling…I apprenticed at Citizen Cake and found that I was joyful at even the most menial tasks such as cracking 500 eggs and juicing a crate of oranges…After a few months, I decided it was time to start my own business.”
Her first pastry shop sold organic scones and muffins with inspirational messages tucked inside each package, reflecting Vercruysse’s personal happiness found in her new life. It was during this period that she began connecting with local growers of food, and here that she developed a commitment to sourcing locally that still permeates through 18 Rabbits. But the shop was stationed at an unsafe location with work hours that ran well into dawn, and after a year it was time for a change. They say it takes only one million-dollar idea to make it big, and that’s exactly the idea Vercruysse ran with: her perfected granola formula.
And what about the name, 18 Rabbits? One visit to the company’s website and you will find the story of its origins, citing Vercruysse’s childhood when rabbits reproduced prolifically outsider her family’s house. Yet there is even more meaning behind that cute nugget:
“When I was 7 years old, my mom was diagnosed with one of the ten worst documented cases of asthma in the United States. She spent months at a time in the hospital. I had four brothers and sisters–all of us were really sad. So my dad brought home a rabbit to cheer us up. Our pet rabbit mated with a wild rabbit and made a rabbit family of eighteen. They lived right outside the kitchen where my mom made her granola.”
The sincerity behind Vercruysse’s past imbues her product with depth and spirit—a quality that has no doubt played a role in its success. 18 Rabbits stands out from other granola products as a small business that relies on local ingredients, organic foods, and sustainable practices—yet still manages to reach the masses with two thumbs up. Google headquarters recently voted on its favorite granola, and hers was selected as the prize winner. Virgin America, the award-winning airline, has also hand-selected her product to be highlighted on their limited (and first-rate) menu.
Anyone who’s ever experimented with the oaty snack at home can recall at least one incident of burnt, blackened, or downright failed granola. What’s the trick behind getting granola just right? “Bake it a low temperature–275 degrees,” Vercruysse shares. “Use just enough liquid to coat the oats, seeds and nuts. You don’t want to see any liquid on the tray.”
And if you still can’t perfect it at home? “Many people tell me that when they don’t have time to make their own granola, they buy 18 Rabbits.”
But don’t take Vercruysse’s word for it. Open my kitchen cabinet and inside you’ll find two bags of 18 Rabbits granola.
590 York Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Disclosure: 18 Rabbits sent us complimentary products to try out for this review. No other money or compensation was received.