Raising the Bar
Kate Schade keeps it real
Kate Schade came to Teton Valley to spend a summer with her brother—more than twenty years ago. Since then, during all that time, with the exception of finishing a last year of college and taking a yearlong sojourn to Spain, she has had her roots firmly planted in the Tetons.
Schade’s routine in her early days here was packed with cleaning houses and waiting tables, and spending the remaining daylight hours outdoors skiing and biking. As she enjoyed the life of a ski bum in the mid-1990s, she found buying food at the resorts to be too pricy, and although she liked many of the commercial energy bars on the market, they would freeze in cold conditions. She looked to her own cupboards for a solution: Oats, peanut butter, dried fruit, coffee, and whatever else she could find were packed into a baking pan, thus forming the precursor of the Tram Bar.
As the years flew by, Schade continued to work multiple jobs while supplying friends and coworkers with her homemade energy bars. With each passing year, more and more people prodded her to sell the bars commercially. While flattered by the love and praise her product generated, she resisted being tied down by the bar-making process; after a decade of questions, however, she relented and decided to give Tram Bars a commercial go. A friend designed the label, while Schade figured out packaging. Next, she secured a commercial kitchen space from an employer, Nora’s Fish Creek Inn, over the hill in Wilson. At last, Schade was both willing and able to sell her product legally to the general public.
Nevertheless, she continued juggling multiple jobs. Her workday began early at Cosmic Apple Gardens in Victor, where she did chores and managed farm share workers; it ended late, as she counted tips after an evening at Nora’s. Some days she even sold gear at Wilson Backcountry Sports. In the spare time that she somehow eked out, she delivered Tram Bars to local establishments throughout Jackson Hole and Teton Valley.
When the bar business really began to take off, Schade found herself at a turning point: Stay small and local, or go full steam ahead into the booming industry of energy bars. She chose the latter, and today Kate’s Real Food has eight employees who help produce the Tram Bar, Handle Bar, Grizzly Bar, Stash Bar—and the Tiki Bar, a new tropical-flavored treat.
While they’re distinctly different from her early days of bar production, Schade’s days now are just as busy. Instead of having four or more separate jobs, she has more than four jobs in one. She is not only the head of the company, she also acts as bookkeeper, employee manager, marketing strategist, and quality-control specialist. She still tries to squeeze in skiing: On a good powder morning, she may arise at 5 a.m. to carve some turns on Teton Pass. If no powder is to be had, she’s up at the crack of dawn instead to answer emails and kick-start business for the day.
Next on the agenda: meeting with her team to discuss sales and marketing strategies, which are ever evolving and growing. Then Schade is out the door to meet with customers and make local deliveries. “I love to be out representing our company,” she says. Later, she returns to the computer to finish up the day’s business, often long after the sun has set.
On top of everything else, Schade has bureaucracy to deal with. Because all of Kate’s Real Food bars are Certified Organic and Kosher, she must ensure that ingredients and labeling are in accordance with these certifications. Consequently, she also spends a lot of time sourcing organic ingredients to use in all of her bars.
Ultimately, Schade’s goal is to give back to the “communities” she loves—the organic food movement and the world of outdoor recreation. The saying “Think globally, act locally” is manifested through Kate’s Real Food’s use of organic ingredients and sponsorship of nonprofits and foundations in the greater Rocky Mountain region. Her work at Cosmic Apple Gardens opened Schade’s eyes to the positive environmental ramifications of growing foods organically. After switching to organic ingredients for her products, she says, she and her early customers tasted a real difference.
Promoting play is another cause dear to Schade’s heart. One of her favorite experiences was volunteering with an adaptive sports program. She loved watching kids who could not walk overcome their fear of even climbing on the ski sled, only to burst into laughter as they zipped down the hill. Now, whether sponsoring adaptive sports and bike races or supporting trail crews by providing her products, Schade wants to make sure that people are able to enjoy the outdoors.
The sky is the limit for Kate Schade. This January she travels to San Francisco to the Winter Fancy Food Show, where she’ll introduce the previously mentioned Tiki Bar, which contains mango, cashew, and coconut. With its release, Kate’s Real Food will feature a line of five bars sold through an expanding network of outlets.
When she returns from California, it is doubtful that Schade’s days will be any less busy. If she is lucky, though, there will be plenty of fresh powder days to get her up and out the door early, and into the great outdoors—before she heads back to the office, and the test kitchen.
Who knows what the flavor might be of the sixth bar in the Kate’s Real Food line?