Lafayette woman finds recipe for success in healthy snacks

When Adele Gronner was growing up in Lafayette, her mother’s annual blintz party was legendary. Her mother still does it every year, making more than 200 blintzes by hand.

Her mother baked cookies, too, and sold them from her home.

One summer, when she was 21, Gronner helped out.

“I went out and got her some customers,” she said. “I sold [the cookies] to the federal building in San Francisco, and traded them for fruit with a fruit stand. I thought, ‘I can do this.'”

Eventually, Gronner decided to go into business for herself. But unlike her mother, she had in mind bigger things than a kitchen-run operation.

She made her first cookie in 1982, and called her business Joy of Cookies. But Gronner was not after some ordinary cookie. She was a Californian, after all, and wanted to produce something healthy, without preservatives. In 1994, she created A Better Oatcake, a wheat-free, dairy-free product flavored with fruit and juice. “It was a natural cookie, or more of a healthy snack.”

Gronner, who became a bat mitzvah at Congregation B’nai Shalom in Walnut Creek, pointed out that all of her products are kosher. Her foods also appeal to those with food allergies, she said, though “fruits and grains are good for everyone.”

Coming up with the right recipe takes a lot of experimentation, she said. “I’m more of a cook than a baker. I don’t follow recipes, and I do the same thing in baking. I just put in good ingredients. I feel like a chemist sometimes. I try again and again. I waste a lot of ingredients.”

Though Gronner relies on one of her employees to help her taste her products, “I’m a really good taster,” she said. “Even if I won’t eat it, I think I know whether other people will eat it.”

At first, she limited her distribution to the Bay Area.

In 1999, the oatcake became known as California Suncakes, and Gronner expanded to the East Coast.

A few years later, Heart-Thrives was released. The medical community has embraced the lower-calorie vegan energy bar, Groner said, especially for diabetics and heart disease patients.

While motherhood has her spending most of her days at home now, Gronner still visits the factory and office on the Oakland/ Emeryville border. “I’m the owner/creator,” she said.

But she plans to work on creating a new product soon.

“I would like to make a healthier, wheat-free, dairy-free cookie. A lot of people are allergic. It’s hard to make a really delicious cookie without the wheat and dairy.”

Gronner’s products are sold in health food stores and chains like Whole Foods, “or wherever we can get in so that people can eat healthy,” she said, adding “people thank us for being in their lives.”

Many customers prefer to buy cases of the snacks on the Heart-Thrives Web site, When customers buy online, they will soon be able to donate part of their purchase to a number of selected charities. While the company already works with health-related nonprofits like the American Heart Association, it plans to add Jewish organizations to the mix soon.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."