By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor
Melissa Rakvica remembers living in Calais, France between the time she was 2 and 7 years old, and eating olives, beets, capers and other foods that would have been foreign to lots of kids in the U.S. back in the 1970s.
Rakvica, 43, a former Amherst elementary and middle school teacher who lives in East Amherst, thinks the experience of her younger years was key to this stage of her life. She owns a mostly organic food catering business, Fit-n-Fresh, which is making a name for itself in the local food community.
“If you can get a kid eating really healthy, in a broad range of foods by the age of 5,” she said, “then you’re kind of set for life.”
It’s too early to tell whether the Fit-n-Fresh Energy Bar, which she first baked in her kitchen almost four years ago, might take off on a large scale someday, but she’s seen plenty of growth since she started selling the bar, along with wraps and salads, to salon workers in the Transit Road/Main Street area. She’s branched into holiday cooking, cooking demos and other catering jobs. For more info, visit fitnfreshcatering.com.
“Running is hard, at least for me,” she said, “so I wanted to make sure I was putting good fuel back in my body.
“I was eating a lot of the commercial energy bars and one time I took out a box of the energy bars and said to myself, ‘Why am I doing this to my body? They’re high in sugar, they’re high in salt. I can do better.’
“So I went to my kitchen and researched good nutrition for your body after a run, like organic oats to help with muscle regrowth, almonds for protein and dried fruits for good carbs, and the unsweetened coconut for metabolism and also chocolate, because I’m a girl and I have a sweet tooth; but it’s dark chocolate and it does have antioxidants.”
Rakvica mixed her ingredients together and baked her bars at a low temperature. They quickly became hits in the Amherst and Clarence salon trade, and among her friends and fellow runners.
As the operation took off, a local church allowed her to use its commercial kitchen to cook the bars – and the owner of the Clarence Center Coffee shop discovered the bars during a hair appointment, and has offered it for sale since.
Farmers & Artisans, Omega Deli and Squeeze Juicery in Amherst also offer the bars, and, as of last week, so does Orchard Fresh. They’re in the trail mix aisle in the Orchard Park store and sell for $3.99.
It takes about 90 minutes to cook 20 bars.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a low-calorie food, but I would say that it has a lot of fiber and it’s better than something old, and processed,” she said.
Rakvica has parlayed the bars and healthy lunch business into catering jobs and some work as a personal chef, and she credits the success of her business to her growing client list and strong support of her husband, Steven, and their children, Nate, 9, “my budding taste tester,” and Emma, 12, “my budding chef.”
“Food to me, first and foremost should taste good,” she said, “and it should be healthy.”