In the year 2000, Lara Merriken had a problem. After being diagnosed with a wheat allergy in college years before, she’d become deeply passionate about nutrition and the role of natural foods in people’s health. After leaving a career in social work, she decided to go back to school for naturopathic medicine. She believed, passionately, that helping people to make healthier, more natural choices would be her life’s work.
But Merriken ran into a roadblock. The role of naturopaths was narrowly defined and strictly curtailed by local laws and regulations. She felt she wouldn’t be able to accomplish her goals and help people the way she wanted to by following that route.
So she took a hike with her best friend. On the hike, while casually snacking on homemade trail mix, inspiration stuck. Why not make an indulgent-tasting snack food that was easy to pack and was also good for you? A snack food that tasted like, for example, cherry pie but was made from real ingredients instead of processed fillers, refined sugars, and unhealthy oils that you could put in your pocket or bag?
After all, if it were easy and convenient for people to make healthy food choices, more people probably would, right?
And that’s how the idea for what would become the LÄRABAR was born.
Merriken knew that she was going to start this snack food business, but she had very little idea of how a business like that would actually work. Her education was in psychology, her job experience in social work. And besides all of that, she still had bills to pay.
As fate would have it, the very first Whole Foods in Denver, CO, was being built at about this time. Merriken made the decision to take a job at that Whole Foods to earn a little money, yes, but also to learn the ins and outs of the food retail industry.
She worked at that Whole Foods for two years—learning the retail business, making connections—before LÄRABAR made it onto shelves. If she hadn’t made the conscious decision to step back, take what her peers considered to be a menial job, and put in the work to learn the industry, LÄRABAR would not be the 30-flavor healthy-snack mainstay that it is today.
Sometimes a Great Career Starts with a Horrible Job
None of this was glamorous. I wasn’t doing exciting work on prestigious projects, I wasn’t paid well or even treated particularly well, and I didn’t have much ownership over anything I did.
But I was learning, and that’s all that mattered to me.