She was 15 when Bertrand first introduced us.Her hair was in two French braids, she hugged her father (“Hi, Daddy!”), shook my hand and ran off with her 12-year-old brother Luke to play a game or read.
I won Luke over as soon as we met, thanks to a game of hangman over dinner one night; I guessed his favorite hockey player’s name (Lundquist) early in the game. Astrid, on the other hand, took her time. “Hi, how are you?” I’d get, as she’d pass by, calling back to her dad, “Homework!” or “I’m going to Julia’s!” It was during our first vacation four months later that I mark the shift from friendly cordiality to love. I’ll never forget the moment. We were walking across a restaurant parking lot and she put her arm around me. I nearly cried.
Our relationship is like Fraulein Maria and Liesl in “The Sound of Music”, except there never was an “I’m TOO old to have a governess” moment, much less an un-Austrian “YOU’RE NOT MY MOTHER!!” one. I am like their older sister, even more so now that they’re adults and our time spent together is more like friends than parents. Of course, we still are asked for guidance in many realms, but one place we’re on an equal playing field is in the kitchen. Luke has brewed beer, overseen dinners at his dining hall and he makes better pizza and pesto than Bertrand does, and Astrid has a protein bar business.
Not long after she graduated from college, she and two friends created Phi bars. They realized how crowded this market is, and that point of differentiation was vital, but they also knew theirs were different. Specifically, their bars are for different situations.
It makes perfect sense. Think about it: The sustenance you need after climbing a mountain isn’t the same as what you need for that afternoon office lull. Phi bars are about that. Their first, the unambiguously named Office Bar, is a low-carb/high-fat treat made of dark chocolate and macadamia nuts, binded together with almond flour and coconut.
“Muscles at rest prefer fat as a source of energy,” she explained to me. “That’s why Phi Office Bar is high in healthy fats.” Carbs, on the other hand, are best when you use them for that hike, but not so great for a body at rest. And protein? “It’s essential for building and maintaining muscle, but it can tax the liver when it’s consumed in excess,” explains Astrid (Did I mention she’s smart?). “Phi has just enough protein to maintain muscles, be a complete food, and satiate.” Finally, their spartan ingredient list is at the core of why they got started. “We promise that our customers will be able to pronounce and recognize every ingredient in Phi Bar–if they can read English.”
Their early formulating days were tons of fun–for us tasters, at least. She, Heather and Nick would play with ingredients and juggle measurements, then wrap up samples and ship them off to us. Luke, Bertrand and I would then stand around a tray of the various incarnations, tasting and jotting down our favorites to report back. Fortunately, they chose to make the one we loved best.
Why the name Phi? Omega was already taken. “It’s a watch brand and a yogurt,” sighed Astrid. Not to mention those popular fatty acids…So they moved on to their next favorite Greek letter. “Phi is still scholarly, but it’s also a connotation of balance, as it represents the golden ratio,” she explained. “A perfect marriage of ingredients, flavors, and nutrients.”
It is a perfect marriage of ingredients. I could eat these bars all day, and don’t think I haven’t. One of my fondest eating memories involves Phi bars. We were driving Astrid up to the Berkshires late after Thanksgiving dinner two years ago. I sat in the backseat, so I could nap. Instead, Astrid passed a Zip-loc bag back to me, packed with broken pieces of the bars. Bite by bite, occasionally vowing in vain that the next one would be the last, I downed its entire contents. Satiated, indeed.
This week, I’m in Florida for a magazine industry conference. While it’s customary for magazines to give gifts to the heads of beauty companies we meet with (a logo-ed towel or water bottle, a cute tote or sarong), we took a more personal route this year, thanks to my colleague Risa. She asked: “Why don’t we give some of your latest ‘Addictions’?” (my page in W is called Jane’s Addiction)
I liked where she was going. “We could include your daughter’s protein bars…”
She saw me well up with tears and smiled. “Right?”
The bars are still in beta, and others are in the works (Travel Bar, Study Bar), but you can pre-order if I’ve tantalized you (www.eatphi.co). I’ve connected Astrid with Whole Foods and some foodie friends have said they’re ready when she, Hilary and Nick are. As you can see above, they even have the professional packaging ready once they find the right manufacturer. Personally, I’ll always prefer the homemade ones that require her in our kitchen, sleeves rolled up, chopping away. I’m selfish that way.