Living an active lifestyle, Ivan Sultan has been eating snack bars most of his life. One day, while eating a Larabar wellness snack, he had an epiphany.
“I felt like they finally had something that was both tasty and nutritious without a ton of additives, but after a while I realized I could make that same thing in my kitchen fairly easily,” he said.
Sultan began experimenting with flavors at home, and this May quit his job as a rehabilitation manager at Columbia Memorial Hospital in Astoria to run his new snack company, The Columbia Bar, full time.
Sultan creates small snack packets of between 250 and 300 calories using dates as a binder, along with nuts, other dried fruits, cacao nibs, teas, vanillas and other natural ingredients. The snacks are sold at several local vendors, including the Astoria Co-op Grocery, 3 Cups Coffee House and Good to Go, and through his website, thecolumbiabar.com. He also has an agreement to supply the Warrenton Fire Department.
For the past 15 years, Sultan had been a practicing physical therapist, but hadn’t seen it as a path to a decent retirement, he said. He still works part time with the Astoria Parks and Recreation Department, but has launched himself full time into building his snack company.
“It’s tough to go from a regular paycheck to, ‘I don’t know what’s coming next,’” he said.
Sultan is working with Clatsop Community College’s Small Business Development Center and the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network, taking trainings and reading up on entrepreneurship. The key to making it is slow, steady growth, while establishing his product with consumers and vendors, Sultan said.
“My plan is to stay local, in the Pacific Northwest to begin with, and to expand very slowly,” he said.
Selling fewer than 500 snacks a month, Sultan is far from many of the federal requirements, such as posting the nutritional information about his bars, but said he plans to do so on his website to help build trust with consumers.
For production space, Sultan rents the kitchen at 3 Cups Coffee House. He hopes to one day open a commercial production kitchen other microproducers can also use, and to one day attract investors, similar to when cereal giant Kellogg acquired protein bar-maker RXBAR for $600 million.