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10 Questions for a Food Entrepreneur: Kate McAleer of Bixby

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There was a chocolate emergency when this Examiner called to interview Kate McAleer. “10,000 pounds of chocolate just arrived at our door! We expected it next week but it just showed up… All is well now.” Bixby & Co. is a two-and-a half-year-old natural candy company about to launch nationally.

This interview is part of 10 Questions for a Food Entrepreneur for Examiner.com.

Q: What was the seed for what is now Bixby?

A: At NYU I played varsity women’s golf. Candy is prevalent on golf courses, but it’s all mainstream stuff. When I looked for healthier options, I couldn’t find anything and started to see this whole area of natural candy to be reinvented. After 6 months of pastry school, all on chocolate, I decided I wanted to reinvent the candy bar from the inside out – using chocolate (not high fructose corn syrup) as the base.

Q: What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome?

A: Finding the right manufacturing facility. We make all of our bars ourselves, and have since Day One. We started in upstate New York and then relocated to Maine where we landed in a food incubator in Belfast. It was a great concept, but proved to have a lot of financial woes. So after a few months we had to look again, and landed in a century-old ice factory in Rockland that we’ve repurposed into a chocolate factory.

Q: How do you define success?

A: For me there’s personal success and business success. Personal success is pursuing the opportunity to control my own destiny. Professional success is being a young entrepreneur who’s had to learn a huge amount on the job – including things I didn’t know you could need to know! With a lot of help along the way, Bixby is about to embark on a national endeavor that I’m feeling very good about.

Q: How do you manage failure?

A: Running a factory, a lot of “wrenches” are thrown at you. Machinery goes down. There are complications. Facing tough circumstances and knowing that you will overcome them and learn from them for next time is how I manage.

Q: How do you cope with pressure?

A: My recent mantra was to get back on the golf course, as a way to try to relieve the stress. I’ve played five rounds of golf so far, which is five more rounds than I’ve played in the last two years!

Q: What are you going to do next?

A: We’re launching nationally with the largest natural food distributor in the U.S. and a broker network that can represent us, literally on the ground, across the country. Up to now, I’ve managed all of our sales in addition to trying to manage the factory with the help of my family.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received in the past year?

A: In some of the more challenging moments, mentors have said: “In the end these struggles will make you a better business person.” It was hard to hear at the time, but ultimately I believe they were right.

Q: Give us your advice for aspiring food entrepreneurs… in 6 words or less.

A: Let your passion drive your work.

Q: You win the Oscar equivalent for your industry. When you take the stage, who will you thank and for what?

A: My parents because they were the first believers and came out of retirement, rolled up their sleeves and became partners to help me.

Q: What about Bixby most feeds your soul?

A: Feeling myself grow as a person and a professional. Before this, I had a lot of academic experience, but there’s no textbook for starting up a chocolate reinvention business.

It’s been a busy year for Bixby: Kate received a grant from the State of Maine and loan from Whole Foods Market to fund her packaging redesign and equipment (to date, every Bixby bar has been wrapped by hand); her new website is up; and this fall, you’ll start seeing Bixby bars all across America.

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