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MONKEYING AROUND IN NYACK

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by Mark Lungariello

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It’s an age-old question, facing mothers everywhere:  Where can you find a nutritious snack for your kids, but one they actually want to eat?
 
  Concerned Nyack moms, Lisa Coates and Robin Rarrick, were tired of “monkeying around” looking for an answer. So the two decided to go out and bake the treats themselves.

   In 2001, Coates and Rarrick launched Monkey Muffins, producing muffins with no additives or preservatives.  A year later, they were up to a few hundred orders. Now? The company ships around 40,000 orders a year. From small outlets, they’ve moved on to large. The Food Emporium and Mr. Green’s Natural markets now stock the product in locations through New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.  And the two were recently featured on ABC’s Good Morning America.

   There's no monkey business involved with the product’s healthy ingredients — mainly fruit or vegetable, not flour or sugar as is common with most treats.  But most importantly, it hits the spot.  “It’s a product that tastes good,” Coates says.  “It’s a healthy alternative to other snacks.”

   “We’re extremely proud of how far we’ve gotten,” Coates adds. The two moms admit they might have been able to push the product even further.  But, they explain, while dedicated to their business, they have their priorities set on the original kids they were looking to feed: their own.

  “We’re still at-home moms,” Coates says.  “Families come first for both of us.”  In fact, it was their families that first brought them together.  Coates has a son, 12, and a daughter, 8; Rarrick has an 11-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter. Before there were Monkey Muffins, the children of the two hit it off, and soon the parents were arranging playdates.  A mom friendship developed.  Meanwhile, Coates, an avid baker, was caring for her children and also the children of a friend daily.  The seeds for the business were planted when she got the idea to have the kids help her bake, a fun exercise and one that would produce a healthy snack.

   The muffins were a hit with the kids and with friends.  Soon after, Rarrick approached Coates with the idea to start their own business.  They discussed several options, one being Coates’ banana muffin recipe.  Rarrick developed a business plan and the two decided to bring their snacks to the public.  They named the brand Monkey Muffins, because “monkey” had been a pet name for kids that Coates’ mother often used.

   It was a bit of an intimidating task at the onset. Coates was a fine arts major and full-time mother.  Rarrick was working part-time for an optician. It took time and research and a determination not to get discouraged.

   It wouldn’t be easy, especially with young children.  But support from Coates’ husband, John, a contractor, and Rarrick’s’s husband, John, a P.R. professional, helped it work.  As the moms’ schedules became more complicated, and business trips were sometimes required, the two Johns were more than willing to help the endeavor.  “It always works out,” Coates says now.

   At first, the muffins were made by hand.  Not just the mixing and baking, but the labeling and packaging as well.  As the demand for the product increased, the Monkey Muffins operation has become more machine-based to increase output. 

    Currently, they offer three types of muffins — banana, chocolate chocolate chip, and pumpkin.  This fall, they plan to launch a new product — apple cinnamon, which will also be the first vegan-friendly product Monkey Muffins offers. 

    It hasn’t always been a barrel of monkeys through the years.  Sometimes, pressure mounted and the business partners became discouraged.  But they always found comfort in each other.  “We sort of kept each other going,” Coates says.  “If I was down, Robin picked me up; if she was down, I picked her up.”  It’s that type of drive and persistence Coates believes is important for any mom starting a business.  “Don’t get discouraged, and take your time and write down information people give you,” she urges.

   A list of Monkey Muffin retailers is available at the company’s website www.monkeymuffins.com.  Online orders are also available.

Lisa Coates (left) and Robin Rarrick are the owners of Monkey Muffins


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