Jesse Thomas, MBA '09
By UO Student Lili Wagner
While Lauren Fleshman, a two-time USA 5k champion and five-time NCAA champion; and friend and teammate Stephanie Rothstein Bruce, a professional marathoner, were stuck at home with injuries they began experimenting in the kitchen. To keep their minds and bodies occupied, the two women started creating energy bars to satisfy Fleshman’s husband Jesse Thomas MBA ‘09’s insatiable appetite as a professional triathlete (and picky eater.) What Lauren and Stephanie produced—the Picky Bar—is gluten-free, dairy-free, easily digestible, real food fuel.
Now stocked in more than 150 running and cycling shops, in addition to REI and some grocery stores, and with a huge subscription base online, Picky Bars have grown from a kitchen operation to a full enterprise.
“The main reason we started the company was to subsidize my Picky Bar eating habits,” Thomas joked. “All three of us got hooked on it.”
The Picky Bar boasts of a 4:1 carb to protein ratio and is soy-free, in addition to being free of gluten and dairy. The bars now are offered in a variety of flavors including Blueberry Boomdizzle, Need for Seed, Cookie Doughpness, All-In Almond, and Smooth Caffeinator—names that Thomas rightfully warned would light-up spell-check. “From a product standpoint, how we position ourselves, it’s the best of both worlds: an all-natural snack and world class performance fuel.”
The company, based out of Bend, Oregon, has grown to include six full-time employees and three part-time workers, including Patrick O’Neil MBA ’12, who serves as the vice president of operations.
O’Neil says, “I love that we’re growing and adding cool jobs that people get to work in Bend, making good wages and being a part of something they’re passionate about.”
The company’s dedication to its employees is one of its greatest commitments, alongside its devotion to to helping customers.
“The second one is huge. Inspiring people. We get stories all the time of people. Someone lost 50 pounds from eating Picky Bars as snacks,” O’Neil shares.
“Along the lines of this supporting and encouraging people to do awesome stuff we have just now launched a complete redesign of our packaging, and it’s super unique," Thoms said. "We are now taking customer and fan-submitted Instagram photos on our packaging.” By posting photos with the hashtag #lifepoints on Instagram, Picky Bar enthusiasts can potentially appear on the wrapper of their favorite bar.
“No joke, half of these people teared up on the phone,” Thomas said of the first round of contestants selected to be on the wrapping. The woman featured on All-In Almond was even able to attend the recent release party.
And in the midst of the chaos of growing a company, Fleshman, Bruce, and Thomas remain competitive elite athletes. Fleshman and Bruce are teammates running for Oiselle. Thomas, a four-time Wildflower Champion, continues to compete in triathlons.
“It’s honestly a crazy balance," he said. "It’s pretty clichéd, but it's about putting out the biggest fires of the day. Each day I wake up and prioritize the day; I’ve got two or three workouts, I have to come in for a Picky Bars meeting, and I want to spend time with my son, Jude. Using your brain and using stuff, it provides necessary balance. Competing is a break from Picky Bars and Picky Bars are a break from competing.”
Born as Fleshman and Bruce sought to find equilibrium between mind and body in the face of injury, the Picky Bar is a well-composed nutrition bar meant to provide stable energy. The project has required patience and careful prioritization on the behalf of its creators. All around a celebration of balance, in nutrition and life.
In the words of the Picky Bar website, “It’s freaking science, dude!”