Ground Up PDX: Partners in Pursuit of Delicious
Here in Orewashigonia, as we like to call it, we’re surrounded by a seemingly endless array of ingredients locally sourced from small farmers and makers all around the Pacific Northwest. From farmers to local dairies, inventors, millers, cheesemakers, cattle ranchers and small business owners, we’re excited to bring you their stories. Because their stories are our story. By investing in these people and products we’re able to bring this wonderful bounty to our customers. But even more important, we can keep all these dollars in the region to support those farmers and makers. So, we’re starting this series with our Shake partners.
It’s a gorgeous day as I FaceTime with Julie Sullivan, co-founder of Ground Up, PDX, the specialty nut butter company she co-founded with business partner Carolyn Cesario. Like many of us, Julie’s working from home during the pandemic and it’s her turn to take over the tiny balcony she shares with her spouse. I’m eager to hear the story behind Ground UP, PDX, a company whose very business model is to “spread good” – that’s a little nut butter joke – by providing job training to women overcoming adversity in the Portland area. Sometimes, Julie tells me, destiny can be the happy result of a traffic accident. But let me back up.
Julie always knew she’d be a world-changer. A two-year training program in Uganda helped her realize that for women, the best way out of poverty was through business entrepreneurship. “I saw the power in providing someone an opportunity and what that does not only for themselves but for their family and their community and the ripple effect that has in someone’s life to say ‘yes, yes, I believe in you. I want to give you an opportunity, despite your past.’” She came home determined to create a business that could change the lives of women here.
Casting around for ideas, she quickly lit on custom branded sugar cubes. Yep, that’s a thing. And all could have gone quite differently had she not come to a quick stop while en route to deliver samples. “I went on my first sales meeting and slammed on my brakes at a light and they all became like, one giant blob of sugar,” she laughed. She needed a better plan. Enter Carolyn Cesario.
At the time, Julie was working at Sseko Designs, an ethical fashion brand in Portland and Uganda. When co-worker Carolyn brought in some homemade nut butters for the holidays, Julie was hooked. Carolyn had been selling to friends for fun. A combination of culinary creativity and health challenges led her to make butters that avoided palm oil, added sugars and extra ingredients and weren’t the “same boring flavors” currently being sold. With flavors like “Cinnamon Snickerdoodle Almond, Cashew and Coconut Butter” – that’s one butter, folks – boring, they are not. Julie asked to come over and have Carolyn teach her how to make them. And Ground Up was born.
Today Ground Up offers multiple nut butter flavors and even has a cookbook, not to mention its share of national media. Most important, though is the core mission of empowering women. The 6-9 month training program begins in the company kitchen and ends in part-to-fulltime work with Ground Up or with another employer. In addition to hands-on training, they’re teaching responsibility, confidence, and leadership. They’re able to take women whose gaps in their resumes have made it hard to get hired, and give them work experience and a job reference.
I asked Julie what had surprised her the most about this endeavor. “Community,” she said. It just surprised me how much, without us, the women on our team just come together and support each other…realizing that so many people who join our team are often looking for community, looking for positive role models, and (we are) influencing that being able to come together.” All that, through a little jar of nut butter.
You can find Ground Up PDX nut butters in over 250 grocery stores and retail shops throughout the West Coast and Alaska. And of course in Burgerville’s Hazelnut Chocolate Milkshakes and plant-based Bliss shakes.
Flavor: Hazelnut Chocolate
Fun Fact: They’ve been on The Today Show!