Crunch-Worthy: Kristin Zak (’18) and Cayuga Crunch
Far above its namesake’s waters, Cayuga Crunch turned what was once a few friends baking granola in Donlon D3 into a successful business opportunity. Cayuga Crunch makes all-natural granola using healthy and locally-sourced ingredients, and is self-described as “Ithaca’s OG soulfood.” The company prides itself on maintaining a fun atmosphere and, above all else, energizing people to pursue their passions.
Cayuga Crunch granola is sold in six locations across Cornell’s campus: Mac’s, Terrace, Temple of Zeus, Manndible’s, Fork and Gavel Café, and CTB. With creative names like Monkey Business (banana, coconut, chocolate chips, and chia seeds), Aztec Energy (cinnamon and chocolate), and Crumble Rumble (maple, cinnamon, and pecan), it’s no surprise that Cayuga Crunch is already a well-known name on Cornell’s campus.
Cayuga Crunch is owned by Alex Strauch and run by a team of sophomores and freshman. One of the reasons behind Cayuga Crunch’s success is Kristin Zak: a sophomore studying Applied Economics and Management. Kristin serves as Cayuga Crunch’s product and marketing manager, where, among many responsibilities, she sails “Cayuga Lake in search of the source of the CRUNCH!” Kristin took a break from her search to share the story behind Cayuga Crunch and her lessons from entrepreneurship below:
What makes Cayuga Crunch granola the best on the market?
What I love about Cayuga Crunch is that it’s locally made. When you buy Cayuga Crunch, you’re not only doing something good for the Cornell community, but you’re doing something good for yourself. There are a lot of granola brands out there, but they are heavily processed, filled with sugar, and don’t fuel you through your day. Cayuga Crunch is good for you, and tastes better because of that.
What goes in to developing a flavor?
We are inspired by things that surround us. Maple Cinnamon Pecan, for example, is the classic granola flavor, and it reminds me of Ithaca. Even the orange packaging is reminiscent of the classic upstate autumn foliage. The first granola produced was actually produced very close to Ithaca. But more than anything, it’s about having fun with it. We have a bunch of new flavors coming for the more adventurous granola lovers—honey barbeque, ginger cashew. I am excited for our customers to try out something new on their yogurt.
What does Cayuga Crunch mean to you?
Food has always been very important to me. When I came to Cornell, I was struggling to transition to dining halls and find healthy food that would get me through the day, without it being inconvenient to get. You can take Cayuga Crunch to class with you on your way out the door, grab it between classes, and keep it in your bag all day. It’s not only good for your body, but also your soul. It reminds me of the treat my mom used to make me. It reminds me of home.
At what point would you say Cayuga Crunch is a success?
At the point where Cornell students are going to automatically pick up a bag of Cayuga Crunch when they need a soulful snack or fuel for their day. It gets me upset when people buy a Clif Bar or Nature Valley Bar instead of Cayuga Crunch, because Cayuga Crunch is healthier for you and it tastes better. I want to see the Cornell community well-nourished. So, when I see somebody buying Cayuga Crunch, it makes me happy, and that’s already a huge success. At the end of the day, we want to inspire other Cornellians to pursue their passions. We want to fuel those late night study sessions, power mid-day meetings, and propel people to thrive on the slope, not just survive.
Have you considered expanding your product line into something like granola bars?
Maybe down the line, but what I love about our product is its versatility. It is naturally snack food, but you can add it to yogurt, ice cream, or salad. If you check out our Instagram, you’ll see it’s good on everything. It’s also not just a single serving; you can take it with you on the go, eat a bit, and then the bag zips to save for later. You can’t say that about a granola bar.
What has been the most important step you’ve taken to advance Cayuga Crunch?
Rather than a single thing, I’d say it’s an attitude. We love talking about granola because it’s so engrained into our lives right now. That has really helped us to get the word out in the Cornell community about who we are. We live and breathe Cayuga Crunch.
Do you think the right time to start a business is when you’re at Cornell?
So many people take classes on entrepreneurship. If they’re interested in entrepreneurship, go out and do it. Experiment, fail, and try again. That’s exactly what we do. We hope to encourage other entrepreneurs to go out and start their own businesses.
Is there a particular class that has helped you in working on Cayuga Crunch?
Right now, I’m in marketing, and I’m in charge of marketing for Cayuga Crunch. Every single marketing lecture is so interesting to me because as I go through class, I’m thinking, “How can I apply this to Cayuga Crunch?” We’re also in eLab, which connects Johnson School professors with startups on campus to serve as mentors, and that has been really helpful.
How do you recommend Cornell entrepreneurs market their products?
Think of who your customer is, and market it to them. At the end of the day, I’m always thinking about how is this going to benefit the customer, or how is this going to get someone to try Cayuga Crunch? How is this going to fuel them and make them feel good?
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
Balancing classes and running this business. At the end of the day, we’re students, but at the same time, we’re passionate about this, so we don’t mind. We don’t view this as work. It’s about having fun together. That’s why we spend our Sundays baking granola rather than studying.