In an effort to get to know our neighbors and introduce our members to the local businesses around us, we periodically conduct interviews with business owners in our community. We recently sat down with Jess Cerra and John Abate, co-founders of JoJé Bar. Their passion is undeniable and we couldn’t be more proud to have them as a part of our community. Not only are their bars nutritional and delicious, they also help to fuel amazing charities like No Kid Hungry. Read on to learn more.
Co-Founders and close friends, John Abate and Jess Cerra, are athletes with a passion for racing bicycles, being active outdoors, and eating healthy and delicious food.
During the beginning of her athletic career, Jess noticed that there were very few energy bars that combined both great taste and had the key nutrients our bodies need to perform well. So she took to her kitchen with one goal in mind: make a delicious tasting bar that people want to eat that simultaneously offered a sustainable energy source.
And here they are five years later, with the most delicious tasting bar that you’ll unwrap, guaranteed with just one taste.
Jess: Technically, I’m the CEO and he’s the janitor, just kidding. Really, he’s the President and I’m the CEO but we have a running joke of who’s the janitor and who’s in charge.
John: Actually, she started off as the dishwasher and then got promoted. Those make the best CEOs, you know, people who start from the bottom up.
Jess: But seriously, John comes from a long background in Sales and Marketing and Business Development. He really drives the bus! And my background is a Masters in Exercise Physiology and I’ve been a personal chef and athlete for 10 years, so my expertise is in the development of the flavors, the nutrition, and that sort of thing. Essentially, we’re both learning to do everything since it’s just the two of us but my boyfriend Sam is helping out with social media and demos as well.
John: We’re 50/50 partners who call ourselves co-founders.
Jess: Before I knew John, I was racing XTERRA and my coach and good friend, now a three time world champion was diagnosed with Lyme Disease and needed to go on a gluten free diet. That was back in 2010 and at that time, there wasn’t really a GF trend. So I started tinkering around in the kitchen, making GF cookie bars that made sense from a nutritional standpoint. Some of the hot research background was that endurance athletes needed bars that were higher in fat, and all the bars out there were super loaded with carbs and sugar and nothing else. So, that’s why I created the product. My friend actually came up with our white chocolate coconut blondie flavor. I wasn’t a big fan until I made it and then realized, okay, we have something unique. People were ordering from me left and right.
John: Jess and I were friends through cycling and I became very interested in what she was doing because I loved her bars. She would bake them in her kitchen, cut them up in these big squares and wrap them up in aluminum foil, and they just took off. People loved them! So I said, listen, let me write you a business plan and let’s see if we can make this a little company and give it a go. It was from demand more than anything. I started taking them around to bike shops and Jess would come to do demos and be the face of the brand, which she still is. But we knew we had a company when people continued reordering and shops requested us. Ironsmith Coffee was one of the earliest shops who would carry our bars and they were just wrapped in foil at that time. We kept doing that for a couple of years and then in 2016 we formed an S Corporation called Harmony Bar. But there were some conflicts with trademarks so rather than fight it, our teammates came up with this great idea of calling it JoJé, which is a play on Jon and Jess. So once the name was decided, we came out with a design, packaging and all that good stuff which set us in motion.
Jess: We talked to some of my personal chef clients who introduced us to a co-packer and what a co-packing facility does, which helped bridge the gap between the home kitchen and that is what needed to happen. Had we went into a commercial kitchen first, tried to get equipment and do it on our own, and rent space, I don’t think it would have really worked.
John: We both live and work here, our office is right down the street, we’re on Coast Highway and we’re by the beach! This community is the most unique community I’ve ever lived in and I’ve lived in several states and so has Jess. We lived in really cool places like Colorado and Montana and I’ve lived abroad for a short time, but I think Leucadia is the most unique community, as far as the people. It’s active, it’s healthy, it’s vibrant and there’s amazing art and great music. It’s really everything you want in a community!
Jess: The fact that it’s such a great community within a city, you feel like you’re in a small town, seeing the same people and families throughout the neighborhood. It’s solely my favorite part of living and working here.
Jess: John and I both are people that really love being in the outdoors. He grew up in Connecticut and gravitated to Colorado, where he went to college, and I grew up in Montana. And I think for us, our inspiration comes from being outside and from our love of good food. My private chef skills still come into play when I do some catering parties and I do a lot of cycling and triathlon camps as well. When you’re feeding people who are hungry and training all the time, you get inspired. Because to those people if they have one of our bars they are great, if they have one of our bars when they’ve been out riding for two hours, they’re like, whoa, this is really great! It’s different and inspiring.
John: I think the inspiration comes from a couple of things. Making a product that we really are proud of and the the integrity of the product itself. We are really proud of all the effort that goes into our bars. Also, just knowing that people are really stoked to have something that’s unique and different. When people are happy it gives you all the motivation to make further strides in your business and to try to make sure that every email gets answered, every phone call gets answered and inspires us to be involved with the community as much as we can. We’ve been doing so much outreach to not only build the brand but to give back when we can. Jess has been able to coordinate with a lot of her connections through the professional cycling world with an organization called Chef’s Cycle for No Kid Hungry.
Jess: Yeah, I was raised by a single mom who was a cleaning lady with a very small budget and often times the food we would get would be from the condos that she was cleaning, so spreading love to people that I can relate to on a very personal level is amazing. As a professional athlete and as a business owner, making a really high quality product and being able to make a contribution to our community and to causes that we care about is what we are most concerned about.
John: And inspiration leads to motivation. We go to work every day knowing that there are new orders to fill, there are new customers to reach out to and that our bars do well in a lot of different places. But at the end of the day, at least from a business perspective, I’ve found that as long as you believe in what you’re doing and it makes you really happy and you see other people happy with what you’re doing, then everything else falls into place.
Jess: No, for me, definitely no. I was never one of those entrepreneurial people, that just wasn’t in my wheelhouse. I thought I was going to have a Ph.D. in exercise physiology and take a really scientific route.
John: I always knew I wanted to have a business, but I never knew what it was going to be. I’ve always been in a business setting, so I personally I thought that I would always work a corporate job and I was happy with my previous corporate job, which is the irony of it all. I left a job that I really, truly loved. I really enjoyed it, but it took me 30 plus years to get there and it was a risk to step away from it for sure. But there’s a certain amount of pride in owning a business that I always felt like I wanted to experience.
John: Oh my goodness, my very first job was when I was 13 years old and I made pizza at a Greek pizzeria in Clinton, Connecticut. And they called me Yonny, Yonny with a Y. My name was John but to them, I was Yonny from Malacca. They paid me cash under the table and I got a free pizza every night. And I would bring in my little 13 year old punk rocker friends and we’d drink beer.
Jess: You’ve never told me that story. I can totally see that, you were such a rebel, haha! Well, I would help my mom with cleaning houses and that led me into doing a couple of other cleaning jobs. I would clean condos at a mountain resort and I also became one of the head maintenance people at a golf resort. My jobs were all cleaning and maintenance related, which definitely motivated me to go to college and to not do that kind of work because it’s really hard. You work so much harder than what you get compensated for. So yeah, it’s also made me realize how hard my mom had been working her whole life.
John: We’re launching in REI and that’s a really big step up for us. We grew out of cycling community, but we’re not just a cyclists only bar. So being in a place like REI is going to be massive for us. We can now reach the rock climbers, backpackers, the campers and hopefully create some new flavors, but no promises. One thing that we want to continue to do is to try and be innovative and we have some ideas that I think will be pretty revolutionary or at least very compelling.
Jess: I think the best advice that we were given is not to grow too fast. And it seems so generic to hear that but you can get fooled into spending too much money or trying to do things where you get too far ahead of yourself. I think that reigning it in and being practical and having a really good plan is key. People told us that over and over again. We had opportunities to do things and we didn’t, and now looking back, those opportunities probably would have been a mistake.
John: Do what you love! But I also think, to thy own self be true. And that’s with everything in life; whether it’s personal or business, really believe in what you do and your personality will come through in your business. Follow your instincts and really just be true to yourself. It’s important to understand what your business is here for and the reason you’re doing it and keep that vision.
Jess: This is what I would be doing, even if it wasn’t a profession. Biking, cooking, yoga, hiking.
John: I love to ride and I still race competitively and do yoga in the offseason. And I try to get to the mountains as much as I can. Some things that I love, like surfing, I haven’t done since my accident but I hope to get out there soon for a little bit. I Just try to keep moving, you know.
The next few questions are a series of rapid fire, don’t-think-too-much, one-word responses to see how people think on their feet. They usually provide some pretty interesting insight!
Jess: Yes, spiders are my biggest fear. A paralyzing fear!
John: Impatience (hopefully my business partner will get that little connection)
Jess: Slow left lane drivers
John: A really good noodle dish, like ramen. You can’t beat that.
John: This one! Or maybe a sharecropper in Italy or something, an olive picker?
Jess: I honestly think I’m living it. I mean, I wish I was making money but I honestly feel like I have life made right now.
Do you work for, or own a business in Solana Beach, Leucadia, or Carlsbad? Contact us to set up your own interview and feature!