A note to our customers from our founder, Chris:
(A version of this note went out to our newsletter subscribers/customers on 6/22/22, but I thought rather than just shutting the website down, I would post that letter - it better explains the journey of Together Bar and what led to the decision to cease operations.)
Together Bar was a passion project for me. After a decade recovering from childhood trauma, I had learned that the right diet was an important tool for my sustained recovery. Specifically, whole foods, with antioxidants, fiber, quality animal and plant proteins, and omega-3s. As part of my diet, I had been making energy bars that had much better and more functional ingredients than other bars on the market. The more I made them, the better they tasted, until eventually, I let others try them. It was that rush of excitement, that reaction, that pushed me to start the business.
So, In September of 2019, I decided to leave a perfectly good job working for the Commonwealth of Virginia, helping Veterans start their own businesses, to see if I could start one of my own - an energy bar company that would raise awareness and funds for non-profits supporting trauma recovery.
I didn't do this without having any skills. I'm an MBA, with years of experience at top marketing and advertising firms, helping build brands for Fortune 500 clients. I also had dabbled in a few of my own ventures, with little long-term success, but I had learned a lot along the way.
By winter of 2019/2020 I was rolling, selling out at farmer's markets. People loved my "Anxiety and Mood Superfood" bars, and they loved the mission. But, at several points that winter, I had alarming conversations with some customers. Time after time, people wanted to know how many they needed to eat, and how many their kids needed to eat, to lessen their depression and anxiety symptoms. That wasn't what the bars were. The bars were supposed to support a holistic approach to mental-healthy eating, not single handedly change how people feel.
I realized then that I had to change course. In consultation with the FDA, I landed on new messaging that was food-benefit focused instead of mental-health-benefit focused. I knew that this took some of the power away from the product, but I didn't feel comfortable creating confusion or providing false hope for people who were suffering with mental health challenges. The bars were still good, and I was still donating to worthy causes, so I forged on.
On March 1, 2020, I signed a lease at Hatch Kitchen in Richmond, VA to begin production for a push into retail and online.
That was unfortunate timing.
After 15 months getting our kids through the pandemic lockdown and all of the adjustments, my wife, Ellen, and I agreed I should give it one last shot - after all, I had come so far.
In Summer of 2021, a bit weary, I got the business going again.
The second half of 2021 went really well for the business. I had expanded Together Bar into 14 stores and gyms in Virginia, and I had e-commerce customers in over 30 states. I was also profitable. Granted, I wasn't paying myself, but I was in the black.
By February 2022, it had become 100% clear that, while the business was profitable, it couldn't afford the employees necessary to take the next step. I couldn't rely on volunteers and I couldn't keep going at this rate myself. I either needed to hire a co-packer, which meant I had to adjust the recipe, change the ingredients to be more "scalable", or I needed to hire a production team and self-manufacture.
Either way, I needed investors. Investors that surely would want to scale, and understandably, see a return sooner than later.
Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) is a tough business, with very slim margins. In order to make it, you need resources. In the absence of a lot of cash or investors, at the very least you need very savvy co-founders and volunteers to grow organically as quickly as possible. But even then, you'll lose a lot of money.
For the past several months I've gone through the process of evaluating what that means, and how the growth of Together Bar fits into my life and what's good for me and my family. Could I let others have some control over my little business? Could I take on significant financial risk? Could my family support what it would take for me to scale the business properly? With my wife working full time and in graduate school, who would help out with the kids? Who would be raising our kids? Probably not me.
After much consideration, it turns out, I'm the type of person who enjoys growing a business organically, and not with other people's money. I'm also the type of person who wants to be close to my wife and kids. That's just my personality and I'm proud of that. CPG and the machine that drives it isn't for everyone.
Together Bar was a blast. I learned so much. I raised awareness and thousands of dollars for trauma-related non-profits that I care about. I showed my kids what entrepreneurship looks like, and I showed them that stepping away from something you love is also sometimes the right thing to do in life.
I always hear the quote "businesses only fail because the founder gives up" or something like that. Startup culture is so ridiculous sometimes. It's a perfect quote for Instagram as a way to feel tough or as a motivator for someone as they're grinding it out. But, what is failure? I definitely don't feel like I've failed. I also don't feel like I've given up. I feel like I made a prudent decision for a lot of complicated reasons.
That said, I will miss interacting with my customers and getting emails from some of you who had such nice things to say.
Thank you for reading if you made it this far, and thank you for being Together Bar customers.
My best to you as you continue on your healthy food paths, and for some of you as you continue on your journey of recovery and wellness.