Name: Tom Ashkenas
Age: “Old enough to know how to make good granola”
Occupation: Owner of Tom’s Best Ever Granola
I was a general contractor until last November; I’d been making granola for many years. It started with family and friends, and then they began giving it away. Everyone loved it. I kept making bigger and bigger pots at home. Everyone said, “Wow, I wish I could get this more regularly.” I thought about it for a while — the contracting for a while there was slow. I was going to do both, but the granola just got too big for me to be able to do both.
I rent a commercial kitchen in Richmond, and I just hired two people part-time to help me. It’s been taking off. I started at 40 pounds a week, and now I’m at 120 pounds a week and rising. It had pretty much universal acclaim and everybody loved it. It’s a little bit more expensive than a lot of other granolas, but it so much more stuff in it that’s more expensive to make. … Some people eat it by itself. Some people use it more sparingly. They use it on all kinds of things like yams, fried rice (laughs) — all kinds of things.
Which farmer’s markets to you go to now? I go to , Mill Valley and Corte Madera right now.
Is there one granola that you sell? I only sell one style. Most people make a bunch of different things; that’s not what I’m doing. I’m just hoping I can make it work. I have two sizes: the full pound and the half-pound size as well.
You can’t ignore a name like Tom’s Best Ever Granola. I didn’t know what to call it all this time, but this does get people in; it does catch their attention once they taste it.
And what is your background? I went to school in undergraduate at Cal. … After that and in grad school in journalism, I was doing construction and handyman stuff to help pay the bills. I did various things, but I still did construction. It was much more financially rewarding for sure, as much as I love journalism and still do.
What is your history in the Bay Area? I first came out here when I went to Cal. I love it. I went to grad school in Oregon. My brother and I bought a house, and it was a total mess when we bought it. It cost us $30,000, and we didn’t have any idea how we would find $30,000. And the mortgage was $204 a month, in Berkeley, in 1973. We didn’t know how we were going to come up with that. We were starving students. We got help from my folks. That was the start of my business in construction. … I do design as well (for houses).
What are your hobbies? I love veggie gardening. I have a very extensive garden. Raspberries, blackberries, tomatoes — basics — apple trees, persimmon and a guava, which is really good, the squirrels love it but I fight them for it.