Like so many millions of people, Tom Bannister developed a new hobby during the pandemic. But Bannister didn’t opt for sourdough baking or weaving. Instead, the advertising executive started experimenting with baking homemade granola for his wife—who happens to be former beauty editor Eva Chen and his “granola muse”—and their three kids. After a few months of experimenting with his recipes and sharing the results on Instagram, he began to receive DMs from followers asking if they could buy his granola. He wasn’t anywhere close to selling—nor did he even have intentions of doing so—but he realized there was a huge demand. His social media presence grew and Bannister, who was affectionately known as the “Granola King” among his followers, eventually found a commercial kitchen in Queens that he started renting so he could test his recipes on a larger scale.
He mixed and matched dozens of different flavor combinations, with the first success story being “Ginger Zing,” which is granola made with ginger-infused Vermont maple syrup and candied ginger.
Once he nailed the recipe, he officially launched Tom’s Perfect 10 (originally named Tom’s Granola). Bannister began to fulfill hundreds of orders off of his waitlist and that's when he realized the pressure was on. “It was really nerve-wracking to send out 200 orders of Ginger Zing. I thought, ‘what happens if people hate it?,’” he told me in an interview.
The Community Method
Tom’s Perfect 10 (originally named Tom’s Granola) has a strong community-oriented model. Bannister deeply values what his followers and taste testers think. He reads all of their comments, both the good and the bad. With every granola purchase, customers receive a scorecard where they can rate Bannister's granola based on appearance, aroma, texture, taste, creativity, and addictiveness, each on a scale of one to ten. The goal, of course, was to get a perfect 10 out of 10 in each category. He also left room for additional thoughts, tips, or advice, which was almost always returned with constructive feedback:
"Super tasty. I would have liked more clumps, I kind of want this in bar form.”
"Love the clusters. Flavor is great. Texture still needs work. Quite soft"”
"Although this is a ‘classic’ flavor, every bite has a different surprise (chocolate chips, cherries, raisins). That’s why I gave it a 10 for creativity. I got big crunchy clusters. The flavor is nicely balanced and just the right amount of sweet.
"The savoriness was a nice surprise! She’s very...chewy, but at least the clusters are enormous. We will still eat the whole bag, crunch or no crunch.”
The feedback made Bannister consider every element of what makes a good batch of granola. “What attracted me to granola was that it’s a very versatile, creative food. It’s an endless blank canvas and there are unlimited ways to make it,” he said. His biggest mission was to learn how to get the granola crunchy and clumpy (two characteristics his customers deeply valued), and how to ensure that its texture stayed intact during shipping. What ultimately helped Bannister fine-tune his recipe were all of the baking and shipping tips shared by his loyal followers. Here are the ones that had the biggest impact:
1. The Crunchier, The Better
One of the biggest critiques Bannister received was that his granola was not crunchy enough. From the depth of the granola in the sheet tray (a wide, thin layer of granola is ideal) to incorporating different ingredients like crisped rice and sorghum meal, Bannister has nearly nailed the secret to maximum crunch.
2. The Perfect Ratio Is 6:1
Most granola recipes are made with a combination of oats, seeds, sweeteners, dried fruit, chocolate, spices, and liquids. So how do you balance all of those ingredients? So far, Bannister has found that the ideal ratio is six cups of dry ingredients to one cup of wet ingredients. But that’s not always enough. For example, he learned that dried fruit contains lots of excess moisture, which can cause the granola to become soft once it’s shipped. Bannister has since changed his packing materials and tweaked his recipe to ensure that the added moisture doesn't take away from the crunch.
3. Creativity Is Key
Less of a critique and more so a challenge, the Granola King has been encouraged to develop more and more new flavors. His customers have recommended everything from hot honey to macadamia crunch with tropical dried fruit. So far, Bannister has created Baby Blue (marshmallows and dried blueberries), Bitter Sweet Banana, Blackberry Chai, Chocolate Blueberry, Ginger, Flaming Chocolate, Horchata Fig, Last Tango, Lemon Blueberry, London Fog, Mangonada, and Piña Colada...just to name a few (oh yes, these are just a few).
4. Stay Away From Anything Too Funky
Raisins, marshmallows, and anything super spicy didn’t go over well with his audience. “I never expected this, but I also would have never learned this without receiving their feedback from my scorecards,” he said.
4. Efficiency Will Save Hours of Prep Work
When making granola on an industrial scale for hundreds of hungry customers, Bannister learned that grating 300 lemons on a carrot peeler was not the most efficient practice. Ditto for cutting 100 pounds of candied ginger by hand. His followers sent him hundreds of suggestions for how to expedite his prep work, such as using a power drill to peel lemons.
Anyone in the United States (and soon, Canada) can purchase Tom's Perfect 10 directly from his Instagram page or via Shopify without signing up for a waitlist. Die-hard granola fans and Bannister's most loyal customers can also subscribe to a flavor-of-the-month club, which will include an exclusive flavor and the beloved scorecard, so that they can provide feedback directly to the king. “We also plan to launch one always-available flavor per quarter next year. These will be the highest-rated from the flavor-of-the-month,” he says.