About six years ago, Ahwatukee resident and corporate trainer and coach Dena Patton seized on what became a popular holiday gift to give her friends and colleagues.
She made her own granola.
It wasn’t just any old combination of nuts and what-have-you, but an all-natural concoction of nuts, real vanilla and other all-natural ingredients that merge into a not-too-soft and not-too-hard snack or, with milk, breakfast.
But this year, Patton’s friends will be getting something else for Christmas.
Because that granola – along with an all-safe canine version – has evolved into a business for Patton and her 12-year-old daughter Alli, a seventh grader at Kyrene Altadeña Middle School.
It started as a result of the pandemic, Patton said.
“When you’re in the middle of the quarantine and you have a daughter that’s an only child and all the sports and all the camps and everything were canceled, you know, we’re sitting around twiddling our thumbs and we thought, ‘You know, how could we change this time for good – for good for us for good for others? Like what could we do that’s quarantine-safe?’
“And we thought, ‘You know, we make that granola that everybody loves and can we turn that into a business?’”
Alli – whom her mother credits as not only a baking whiz since she was 5 but also a gifted artist – got busy working up a logo and labels for jars while her mom secured the necessary city permits to operate a cottage food business.
But Alli also is deeply involved in making the granola – the result of many months six years ago of trial-and-error to get the right combination of ingredients that become a treat that’s not too salty and not too sweet, Patton said.
Alli has loved baking since she was in kindergarten and even attended summer baking camp two years, learning “all about measurement and precision and baking and ovens,” her mom said.
They adopted the trade name Soul Granola – inspired by a remark from a colleague of Patton’s after he tasted her concoction and declared “it had soul.”
Mom and daughter also decided to make their product especially meaningful by adding a note with each jar.
“This is such a hard year,” Patton said. “We always add an encouraging note. It sounds small but I think it’s the small things that make a difference right now.”
Patton is all about encouragement as well as granola making and corporate training. She is one of four founders and the CEO of a nonprofit called Girls Rule Foundation, which aims to empower girls’ leadership skills.
As the mother-daughter duo plunged into their micro business, the pandemic inspired them to get a puppy, a goldendoodle they named Archie.
And like any red-blooded canine, Archie got pretty interested in all that bustling in the kitchen – or rather what emerged from all that bustling.
“He’s very food motivated,” Patton said, explaining that because dogs should not be given salt or sugar, another light bulb went off for her and her daughter.
“I thought, ‘maybe there’s something here’ and Alli said ‘why don’t we turn this into treats for him?’”
Alli and her mom got to work, staying up all night one night on their laptops to research healthy food items for dogs so they could begin experimenting with a treat that Archie liked.
They settled on two kinds of “dog-nola” – one with the flavors of a Christmas-special pumpkin cranberry and the other a peanut butter and banana.
Archie loved them both – and so did his fellow canines at the Pecos Park dog park, where Alli and her mom had four-legged visitors taste-test their recipes.
Indeed, the dog-nola even carries a label saying “Archie-approved.”
“Pumpkin and cranberries are supposed to be very good for dogs,” Patton said. And so are bananas – Archie’s favorite treat.
Making all that granola and dog-nola is no easy feat.
Patton said that it takes as long as eight or nine hours to whip up enough for about 125 jars.
Then there’s the time it takes hunting down healthy ingredients – like real vanilla, not some imitation stuff. Patton thinks that’s one of the ingredients that makes Soul Granola taste special.
But turning those ingredients into Soul Granola isn’t the only outcome of their work.
“I don’t know what’s more fun – creating a new business or watching my daughter,” Patton said.
“As a mom, it’s just been really amazing to see her. She’s very, very artistic and we’re a good match because she’s artistic and she has that precision baking and I have the business side.
“So, when it came to building the website and getting the permits and all the logistics and ingredients and the pricing and all of that, I could step in and do that. She has that whole creative side, doing the logo and the names of everything and how the jars look.”
There are two ways people can check out Soul Granola and the Archie-approved dog-nola.
People can go online to soul-granola.com.
And for the next three Sundays, they can go to the Ahwatukee Farmers Market at 4700 E. Warner Road, where mom and daughter will be offering it for sale.