Hippie Chick Granola is Built on Love & a Fresh Start
It is hard to know where life’s road will lead. It is harder to know if you have the courage to follow it. Take Oak Island resident Ilene Evans. She never thought the road was leading her to be a successful small business owner in a North Carolina beach town.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Mark Steelman
Evans is a native of New Jersey and just a few years ago was living outside of New York City, married, a mother to three children and working as a marketing professional. She had never set foot on Oak Island.
But 2012 was a year of change. Evans separated from her husband, her father passed away and one of her children was hit by a car (she has fully recovered). With three children to support and the rising costs of living in her hometown, Evans knew she had to make some big changes. So when a friend offered her an Oak Island rental property until she was back on her feet, Evans moved with her children. Thinking it was a short-term arrangement, she brought only what they could fit in their car.
“I sold my house, I sold all of my furniture,” Evans says. “We got here and I really had no idea what I was going to do for work. I was going to give myself a few weeks to decompress and then try to wrap my head around finding a job. I was going to give myself a few weeks to go to the beach and relax, because it had been a rather tumultuous year.”
She never left the island. She found a permanent place to live and enrolled her children in school.
Today, Evans is the sole proprietor and baker at Hippie Chick Granola Co. in Oak Island.
Granola has always come easy to Evans, which has surprised those closest to her as she herself admits that she is “the worst cook.” Granola is her one culinary talent and she has embraced it.
Back in New Jersey, Evans began selling granola to her friends and family around the holidays out of the trunk of her car. Most of her customers used the specialty food as gifts. But when the new year started, the demand for her homemade granola didn’t stop. Customers asked her to keep baking. When she moved to North Carolina, they asked her to mail the granola. They promised they would keep buying if she would keep baking.
So when Evans found her family unit suddenly settled on Oak Island, she began to ask the big “what if.” What if she could make a business out of this granola?
“I asked myself, ‘Do you want to do this to get a little money on the side or do you want to make a living from it?’” Evans says. “After having a really honest conversation with myself I said, ‘You know what? If those people back in New Jersey said that I made the best granola they had ever tasted, maybe others will think it is the best granola they’ve ever tasted, too. Find a place, open a business, let’s give this a try!’”
Evans incorporated in late 2013 and opened the doors to Hippie Chick Granola on April 11, 2014.
It turns out that there isn’t a secret recipe to the granola, so don’t search for one.
“Hippie Chick Granola is a preservative-free product,” Evans says. “The signature of the product is the light, crispy texture, which comes from the combination of rolled oats, olive oil and brown rice flour.”
But Evans is constantly playing with blends and flavors, rotating seasonal granolas in an all-star lineup. The grains she uses are light and fluffy. One of her best-sellers is Fiona’s Blend, a cranberry-almond creation.
All of the granolas are named for women (the “chicks”) who have been integral in Evans’ growth throughout the years.
“Every flavor of Hippie Chick Granola is dedicated to somebody who is important to me or has inspired me or who has been instrumental in my journey in some capacity,” she explains. “Selfless friends, my daughter, just people who have touched my heart in different ways. These women are a testament to my strong conviction that human beings need each other and that we will all rise together.”
This echoes a major tenant of Evans’ business philosophy: using granola to build relationships. A certified yoga teacher who teaches in the off-season at various Oak Island locations, Evans firmly believes in the power of community and connection.
The Hippie part of the business name is because, “I have a hippie heart,” Evans says. “What that means is love always comes first.”
Her love for her community is evident. She greets customers by name, asking about their families. She is proud that her granola is still hand-baked and hand-mixed, saying that to her it signifies love and respect. The retail space of Hippie Chick Granola is primarily decorated by gifts from her regular granola fans.
“People ask me all the time, why don’t you consider moving here or there,” Evans says. “I love the fact that when my customers walk in the door I know them by name, I know their children by name, I know where their kids go to school, I know who is expecting grandchildren, I know who has just adopted a dog … What makes my business so special to me is that I know their joys and their sorrows. I get to share all of that with them. And that’s the beauty of having a business in a small town.”
Throughout her two years of granola making, Oak Island has supported Hippie Chick. But lately Evans has found it challenging to balance quality with demand. Evans’ business has been growing at a phenomenal rate, especially for a specialty food store in a primarily tourist destination. She has seen retail demand for her granola increase. The Hippie Chick logo can now be found not only in her storefront on East Oak Island Drive but also in locations such as Tidal Creek Co-op, Shops at 424 North Howe, Maritime Market on Bald Head Island, and Chetola Resort in Blowing Rock.
Hippie Chick Granola was never intended to be mass-produced, Evans says. When looking for space on Oak Island to start her business, she just wanted a kitchen to bake in, planning to sell her products through an enhanced website and ship them. But the space she found was perfectly outfitted for a storefront and she embraced it.
Understanding that retail is happening whether she planned it or not, Evans recently auditioned for a spot on the popular television show Shark Tank in search of investors for her next step. Although she did not get a call back, it seems to be a pivotal moment for the business owner. It forced her to define what road she wants to follow with her granola.
“I try to drive the point home that it is a specialty food product, more so than a breakfast product or a big-box store product,” she says. “The product belongs in the specialty food and gift space.”
Whatever road she goes down next, this petite powerhouse of a woman knows that granola lines her street. And she wouldn’t have it any other way. Granola has been the vehicle through which she has been able to make a difference.
“I am so proud that people eat [my granola],” she says. “I take what I do very seriously and with a lot of care and love. I enjoy what I do and there is no greater gift. My fulfillment and joy now outweighs anything I received in my former corporate life. I get to do this really cool thing and even make a living at it.”
Want to go?
Hippie Chick Granola Co.
6402 E. Oak Island Drive, Unit C, Oak Island