Today Laura and Sara are joined by Ellie O’Brien, owner, founder, and creative force behind Hungry by Nature. Launched in 2015, Hungry By Nature is a brand about balance and moderation. According to Ellie, it is about feeding your physical hunger with natural foods and wholesome ingredients, and about feeding your intellectual hunger to learn and to grow. You can find Ellie’s granola all over Andersonville at Ridman’s Coffee, Andersonville Galleria and at our farmer’s market or by visiting her website at shophungrybynature.com.
Listen to Episode 100 with Ellie O’Brien of Hungry by Nature!
- Born and raised in Minnesota, Ellie moved to Chicago after college. She took a job at Northwestern University in the medical school as a Design Engineer, a position she still currently holds. As a creative outlet, she began Hungry by Nature as a blog in 2015.One year later, she was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, and because of lack of options at grocery stores, was inspired to create more food options. Which led her to create Hungry By Nature as a food brand and gluten and grain-free snack company.
- The intention behind the food that Ellie makes is to bring people together through eating. She remembers always enjoying home-cooked meals growing up, something that remains an important part of her life today. And, regardless of allergies, she believes good food should be accessible to everyone.
“I want to make eating good food accessible to everyone, whether they have a food allergy or they don’t, with the intention of connecting with people over shared space, over good food, allowing people to focus on what’s important.”
- In this new creative endeavor, Ellie didn’t necessarily start with the intention to start a business. She first began with her blog, food, and food photography. Eventually she saw potential to turn it into a food business. The first recipe she posted was salted chunk cookies.
- Her experience with Celiac Disease (an auto-immune disease, often hereditary). She had already been diagnosed with Raynaud’s Disease, also an auto-immune disease which heightens her likelihood of an additional diagnosis. Eventually she visited a gastroenterologist and confirmed a Celiac’s Disease. There is a wide-range of severity and symptoms, and several family members are affected. Once cutting gluten from her diet, she almost immediately began to feel better.
- Some resources Ellie turned to were other food bloggers. At diagnosis in 2016, the landscape of information and products had greatly grown. At diagnosis she also began The Whole 30 for the first time, and found a really great community.
- The first iteration of granola began as the first recipe on Ellie’s blog. She made it for herself and posted photos online. People raved about it, and at her husband’s suggestion, decided to sell it.
- Let’s talk granola butter. Sara has always hated peanut butter but loves Ellie’s granola butter! It’s amazing. It is essentially a fancy mixed nut butter, with cashews, pecans, walnut, almonds, sunflower seeds, and coconut. It’s essentially her granola, just ground down. It’s addicting because there’s a little maple syrup and coconut oil added. It’s consistency is drizzly. Ellie’s favorite way to eat it is drizzled on George’s vanilla ice cream, and baked into paleo blondies. It was first tested at the Andersonville Farmers Market last summer.
- Sara mentions that she came across Ellie’s posts while exploring the Whole 30 community on social media, and noticed that Ellie tagged the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce from a networking event she attended for the Chamber. Everything came full circle, from experiencing Hungry by Nature first online, and then in person. “Moving here, and being a part of Andersonville and this community was literally life-changing for the business.” At her first Third Thursday event, Ellie met Rick from The Guesthouse and he placed an order that day, an incredible example of support from fellow businesses.
- Different flavors of granola are now offered, after approaching and working with Whole Foods and their suggestion to elevate visibility through more products. She learned a lot about the complex process of offering food through larger markets. She settled on a citrus lemon-blueberry and chocolate cherry. And of course, her original flavor – maple cinnamon. Hungry by Nature features local sourcing, dairy-free chocolate, and cherries from Traverse City, MI. Listen closely for her “2 minute elevator pitch”!
- Ellie works out of a shared kitchen, renting from another gluten free baker in the city. The space has no gluten at all, and has had a very easy experience. The shared kitchen route has been great for them as a small business.
- Ellie’s week looks like a day job at Northwestern, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Tues and Thurs are in-store demos, phone calls, and fulfilling orders. Sometimes they’re lucky and get into the bakery during the day, but usually 1-2 nights. Also, her husband recently joined the business. They self-distribute and take care of that process as well. There is no standard week.
- Ellie has a strong presence on social media, with a great blend of personal and business. She is very good at it, and she has a self-described “love hate” relationship. It’s a powerful tool, and it’s so much work. “It’s a powerful way to reach more people, the awareness and the way you can spread your brand on social media is unbelievable.” She doesn’t have a detailed strategy, but is planning a “behind the scenes” campaign in March. People might like the food, but so many tend to connect with Ellie and her story as a person. She is the brand. Keep listening for inspiring stories!
- Favorite highlighted recipes of Ellie’s are tacos (could eat them every day. No kidding.) She likes to create recipes simple, clean ingredients, and easy. She aims to create recipes that can be made in 30 minutes or less so she can spend more time with her family eating the food. A favorite cook book and blogger is “The Defined Dish,” and “Spice is in my DNA” with a book called “Eat More Plants.” For fancier meals, Ellie visits “Plays Well with Butter.” Her most trafficked recipe on her blog is an apple-cinnamon muffin recipe (pre-Celiac), that features Kodiac pancake mix. Also popular is coconut and cassava tortillas.
- In free time, Ellie has gotten back to baking and cooking just for fun. She loves to read and is a book club, and just read “No Exit” by Taylor Adams. She also loves doing crafts, making homemade cards. She also loves true crime books and podcasts. If she could trade places with another Andersonville business for a day, it would be two: Lost Larson (because she dreams of being able to eat there), combined with Martha Mae.