Minneapolis nutrition bar startup gains national attention
Can five friends build a company? A look at Five Friends FoodsThis group effort by Five Friends Foods brings national distribution to the Fresh Bar.
By BETH DOOLEY Special to the Star Tribune
AUGUST 10, 2016
Maybe not an entire village, but it took five friends to start a company.
That would be Five Friends Foods, co-founded by Ross Pomeroy, Tom Johnson, Austin Hinkle, Mike Steffan and Will Handke. They are raising the bar for nutritious snacks with their refrigerated Fresh Bars. These high school friends from Mankato reconnected after college, and now their Fresh Bars can be found in more than 150 stores nationwide.
Fresh Bar is the brainchild of Pomeroy, who worked as a fitness trainer in Madison, Wis., while finishing college. He began making snack bars for his clients that were better tasting than the crumbly dry packaged products on the market. His were a hit — soft, chewy and loaded with fruit, nuts and oats.
Soon after graduating, he and his twin brother, Will Handke [Will's parents chose to give Will his mother’s last name, Ross his father’s], launched GudBar and invited two friends to join them in the venture. They leased space in Kindred Kitchen, a commercial incubator kitchen in Minneapolis. However, they were soon threatened by Hershey for copyright infringement (GudBar vs Mr. Goodbar candy).
“It actually helped us in the long run,” said Handke.
For the first three years, the team worked nights on Fresh Bars after putting in full days at their paying jobs. Handke described this as “One eight-hour shift right after another.”