• Stephen Mills, Times Argus

Big transition for Nutty Steph's

MONTPELIER — Nutty Steph’s has embarked on an epic transition as a company that will include opening a new commercial and retail outlet in the Capital City.

The Middlesex-based granola and chocolate company — also noted for its Ceres on a Stick chocolate promo of a new State House statue last year — has become an employee-owned cooperative.

It will open an additional, new 4,400-square-foot facility in the former One More Time secondhand clothing store on Main Street over the Labor Day weekend.

The company has also rebranded under a new name, Rabble Rouser.

For founder and co-owner Jacquelyn Rieke, the transformation and expansion of the business was a long, progressive transformation to a collaborative enterprise that is expected to be a big attraction in the city.

The $160,000 project involved working with Montpelier Alive, Montpelier Development Corporation and landlord Bill Kaplan to create a new commercial, retail and community space that will include production and packaging of Nutty Steph’s signature granola, chocolate and CBD products. There will also be a retail component selling products and serving drinks and food.

“It’s going to be a big chocolate store and chocolate factory,” Rieke said. “But it’s also going to be a bar with cocktails, beer, wine, espresso, CBD drinks, mocktails and chocolate drinks — a lot of chocolate drinks — and some food, including waffles and cheesecake, so it’s also like a dessert bar.”

Rieke has also brought additional partners into the mix after buying The Hive gift shop next to Nutty Steph’s Middlesex outlet, a candle-making business that will have a presence in the Montpelier location. Also joining the collaborative is Yana Poulson of Regal Flower Design, who has been operating out of her Montpelier home. Jamaican food offerings from Cool Runninz will be also be available.

During the day, a back corner of the new space will serve as a children’s climbing and play space, and at night, it will be used for musical performances, burlesque, stand-up comedy and other entertainment.

For Rieke, the transformation and growth of the company has everything to do with a decision to become a co-op, empowering employees to take the business to the next level that will also serve as a model for future franchises of the company in other locations nationwide. Rieke said she hopes to open the first franchise within two years.

“After about eight or nine years in business, just as soon as I learned what a co-op was, that was what I wanted to do,” Rieke said. “Then I did one round of really deep training that I did with a group, six and five years ago, and we ended spending up over $100,000 on training from a company called Round Sky Solutions in Montpelier.”

Rieke said she had to overcome many deep-seated mis-perceptions about management to realize that sharing control of the company through a co-op was a healthy way to empower employees and build the business.

“More importantly, this process, which we really got right starting in 2017, led us to be profitable for the first year, ever, in 2018 when we had an $80,000 profit,” Rieke said. “It was our first significant profit in the life of the business.

“So, that allowed us to get a bank loan which buys me out — that’s how I’m actually moved out of the power position,” Rieke continued. “I have a one-share, one-vote equal share with the other owners and new owners will rise up. A new owner has to buy in for $2,000 after they’re an employee for two years.

“So, I got my buyout, which was thrilling, and I get my paycheck, which I don’t have to put aside if we’re in financial straits. Beyond all that, I’ve allowed the type of organization that I want to work in.

“So, I’ve set myself up for livelihood for the next 30, 40 years. I’m super-pumped about that,” she added.

The success and expansion of the business has allowed it to double the workforce, from 12 to 24, with new employees being trained in the co-op model. Company profits are distributed among the owners, based on hours worked during the profit-earning year.

Rieke credited the work of contractors working on the project which include architects Stonorov Workshop in Montpelier, which has taken on a key project management role with the selection of furnishings and lighting; builders Stauffer Woodworking in Berlin, which has done a lot of off-site work of interior sections; and Craft Design Build VT in Plainfield, which is doing the interior work.

Rieke also credited landlord Bill Kaplan, who has been instrumental in helping the company reach goals.

“He’s a community builder, who’s exactly aligned with our mission,” Rieke said. “To find him right in the middle of town was such an incredible opportunity.”

As for the name change, Rieke said it would better-define the development, mission and goals of the co-op.

“We’ve done political advocacy around workers’ rights, and just simply being a co-op, we think is an important revolutionary act,” Rieke said.” We feel that Rabble Rouser has a more intentional declaration, but it’s also still fun and self-deprecating.”

Rabble Rouser’s grand opening will be Friday, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 5 p.m.

On Saturday, there will be the first Vermont tour performance of the Puerto Rican ska band, Los Naborius, that was started in 2001 by Rieke’s husband, Rauli Fernandez, from 7 to 9 p.m.

The store’s opening hours will be Thursday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to midnight, and Sunday, Monday and Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. (closed Tuesday).

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