Healthy snacks—the concept feels like an oxymoron. You're either reaching for the produce or an item that claims to be healthy, but really is full of secret fillers. And at the end of the day, when you're snacking, you just want it to taste good.
Look no further than Stellar Granola. Co-founded by Chrissy Camba and Emily Knapp, Stellar Granola is healthy, allergen-friendly granola made with superfoods, nostalgic flavors, and a lot of fun behind the brand—we couldn't stop laughing during our interview with these two. Get to know more about Chrissy, Emily and what makes Stellar Granola so special.
Tell us about your brand—what inspired you to start your brand and product?
Emily: Chrissy and I came up with ideas working together in our other jobs and we became really close. We absolutely just loved each other's work ethic and that’s really what drove the whole thing.
We were snacking a lot at work and we wanted something a little healthier. And Chrissy was like, “I've been working on this granola. We should try it.” We played around with a couple of flavors, Chrissy did all the magic in the kitchen, and we launched Stellar Granola. After a few months of testing things, it was a labor of love between the both of us.
Chrissy is all about the flavor and I'm more about the health-conscious side of things. So we melded it together to create Stellar, where the flavors are all about nostalgia and deliciousness, but the ingredients are all good for you and fuel you throughout your day so that you aren't crashing mid-day after a big snack.
Chrissy: I think I started making the first granolas with nuts and stuff, and Emily is into superfoods. I was just like, “All right, let's fix this up, try and make it light.” Because once you get to adding things, it starts making your product really dense.
It was fun to end up with this product. It’s super light, but nutritious with fun flavors and superfoods, everything that Emily likes. I think what sets us apart from other granolas is it’s crisp, airy and light, which is such a different contrast to the crunchy, hearty granolas.
Tell us a little of your backstory—how did you get to where you are today? Have you always loved food and being in the kitchen?
Emily: I've always loved food. Ever since I was a kid, I grew up watching Food Network and was like, “All right, that's what I wanna do.”
And then I went to college and was still all about food. I did all my food internships, I worked for a chocolate company and a flavor factory, and realized I was wanting to get more to the core of it and actually work in restaurants and learn how the food industry is built and grown. And so I did that and then ended up working at Tovala, and that's where Chrissy and I met. We're both chefs there now and then Stellar grew from there.
Chrissy: So for me, I actually didn't realize this until I was way into being a chef at a restaurant. But my family grew up around food. I didn't think that was going to be my career. I thought I was going to go to med school—I graduated from Loyola as a biology major. But, I didn't go to class. And when I skipped class, I would be cooking. When all my friends would come over to study, they’d ask what chapter we were doing and I’d say, "I don’t know, what do you guys want to eat?” I didn't realize this until one of my friends said all I did was cook.
I'm not classically trained. I never went to culinary school. I kind of taught myself to become a chef. And then you just work really hard through the kitchens and I became an executive chef at some places in Chicago. And then I got burnt out.
What did I do after that? I traveled with Cirque du Soleil on their culinary team around North America. I came back wanting to learn bread, worked at AIA to learn how to make bread. And then I ended up at Tovala.
So speaking of having a unique talent, like walking on a tightrope, what makes your product special? What makes Stellar Granola stand out?
Chrissy: I never realized this because I have no food allergies, and I eat anything—there's a group of people who can't have nuts, sugars or anything gluten, all of the allergens that we don't put in our product, and they enjoy the product. Because we've tried really hard to make it taste so good that you can't tell that it's good for you and that it has all these superfoods in there.
Emily: That's exactly right. We built the product, thinking that not only can kids enjoy this, but also adults, and how can we make it fun for everyone? For both of us, food’s all about joy and we have a blast every day, so it’s about the fun behind the food.
I think we portray that with the flavors, like cinnamon, and our limited-edition flavors, like fudge brownie. Kids love us and they can take it to school because it's allergen-friendly granola, and parents don't have to worry about their kid’s first bites, worried about it having nuts in it. We get so many cute videos of people being stoked for their kids to try granola for the first time and they don't have to worry about it.
You get that indulgence and guiltiness with the food, but it's also so good for you and detoxing.
How'd you come up with the name? Why Stellar Granola?
Chrissy: So I wanted to call it Chunkster. And no one was on board with that, but we wanted clusters.
Emily: So then we went to the drawing board and thought “What would be fun?” What would be inspiring, but kind of funky. I mean, I think we wrote down every single word ever.
Chrissy: Emily actually came up with it. I was like, “Oh my God, that's amazing because we're both Leos.” We're not even that big on astrology.
Emily: We’re powerful women. Cosmic, stellar, it all kind of flows. So that's why the three stars in the logo are the Leo constellation. It's as much of the both of us as it can be. It's the stellar, the healthy, the delicious. It's just me and Chrissy in a bag.
So tell us about your favorite recipes to make with your granola.
Emily: Ooh, Chrissy has a lot of fun things.
Chrissy: Okay. I'll be honest. I really like the crumbs and putting them with oat milk. I like that weird texture, all the crumbly things. If I'm feeling fancy, I'll make the crumbs into a crust for a rhubarb curd, or pretty much anything you could put into a crust. I've been working on trying to figure out how to make a cookie with the crumbs.
Emily: Most of our clients like it “straight to the face.” There's nothing involved, just bag to the face, granola to the face. But we also do like overnight oats. If you pour milk over it, it makes its own overnight oats, you don’t have to add anything to it.
So you gave us the backstory on how it's you in a bag. Talk to us more about the community that you've built around the brand. Who's buying it, who’s this perfect for?
Chrissy: Sometimes my husband delivers the rounds in Chicago. He says the Stellar customers are so nice. And I'm so happy to hear that because I think we're good, nice people. We try really hard with our product and to know that the people we're selling it to are also good and nice people, it’s a very wholesome, supportive community.
Emily: It’s been insane. We don't really do a ton in terms of marketing and it's all been word of mouth. A lot of our customers come from seeing it on a friend's counter, trying it there. They couldn't stop talking about it. So not only are they the nicest people ever, but they're also sharing us with everyone they know. That's been such a cool thing to see. It’s so cool to see how the community has grown. The kids take our mini bags to school and people will send us pictures saying, “It’s the only thing she eats for lunch.” That stuff's been really, really awesome.
So going more into this idea of community in our beautiful city, what do you two think is special about Chicago, specifically about the food community here?
Emily: So far, we've seen such awesome support. A lot is from Here Here Market and meeting so many other creators who want to partner, and they're so excited about what you're doing. And they're also willing to help. I think at first we were nervous to ask people for help. We have these conversations so we can all make it in this space and support each other. If you're successful, I'm successful. And I think that that's been an awesome learning experience. In kitchens, you don't always get that. You're used to it being a little bit more cut throat, and now everyone's like, “Let's do this, we're girls, we're gonna pull through, we're going to own these businesses.”
Chrissy: I love the collaborations we’ve made, like with Monday Coffee. They're so fun and talented, and their product is so good. The fact that you can be brought together somehow to make a product that works and tastes really good. And then do a pop-up together. I haven't seen helping out in the way I do now. It's truly like, “Hey, we all want to rise up, be successful. No one's going to be left behind.”
Emily: I think startups are more like this. I think that restaurants it can be a little bit more of that level of hierarchy. And I think with startups, everyone's so hopeful and there's so much opportunity out there. That's really where the support and the nurturing each other comes from. There's a space for all of us on the shelf.
Chrissy: I think it's also really great because some people have tried to do the granola thing. We just talked to someone who tried co-packing their granola and it was a horror story.
Emily: It's the right questions to ask and the right things to say. When you're doing this for the first time, everything is really brand new. And so getting that extra voice and little bit of support from people around us has been really awesome.
Is there anything in the pipeline that you can share?
Chrissy: We just collaborated with Pretty Cool Ice Cream, a local ice cream shop by Dana Cree. Dana is the best, the store's amazing. She comes from such a big background of being an amazing pastry chef in Chicago.
We're all about partnering with women-founded companies and trying to stay as local as possible. We kicked it off with Monday Coffee, then Pretty Cool, and then we have another one coming in the fall. We'll have to stay tuned on that one.
How can everyone follow you besides on Here Here Market?