Pashen entrepreneurs tell the story of their first year in business, part 1


Raw. Sprouted. Dehydrated.

They're words we usually toss around in the context of sushi, tulip bulbs, and Ronco's Dehumidifying Wonder. But now they're surfacing on packages of nuts, loaves of bread, and plenty of good-for-you snacks--including locally made Pashen bars.

In 2011, sister-brother duo Wendy and Pol Sorquist introduced their products to the Twin Cities and joined the throngs of food companies popping up around the metro.

Celebrating their first anniversary this month, they've invited us into the kitchen to talk about the business and how everything started.


In college, Wendy was a criminal justice major, and Pol studied political journalism. But instead of frequenting courtrooms and the Capitol, they're elbow deep in cacao and cinnamon. "I never thought I'd be making snack bars," Wendy laughs.

But perhaps it isn't too surprising. After all, food is in the family DNA. Growing up in Blackduck, about 75 miles from the Canadian border, Pol and Wendy were kids No. 4 and 5 of Fran and Terry Sorquist. Both their parents were teachers, but their father later purchased a grocery business in nearby Northome. And every weekend the young Sorquists stocked shelves and helped around the store.

Wendy and Pol Sorquist handcraft each Pashen Bar

Wendy and Pol Sorquist handcraft each Pashen Bar

Pol and Wendy's older sister, Lisa Wilson, eventually made food her career. As a certified health, nutrition, and wellness counselor, Lisa became particularly interested in the benefits of a raw diet, and several years ago she hatched the idea for Pashen.

While living in Virginia, Lisa was raising three children and hosting raw food classes in her home. Between work, school, and soccer practices, life was hectic, and she was always on the hunt for fast and healthy snacks for her two sons and daughter. But the options were disappointing.

Lisa decided to take matters into her own hands and created a recipe for between-meal treats--which has since evolved into the Pashen Original Bar. The chewy morsels were an instant hit with her kids, and soon she started making them for her students, too.

Although the bars were tasty and nutritious, crafting them was a tedious process--something not lost on Lisa's clientele. "People would say, 'Lisa, this is so labor intensive. If you just make them, we'll buy them!'" says Wendy. And the seeds for Pashen were sowed.

Pashen bars are organic, as well as preservative- and gluten-free. Plus, they're loaded with superfoods and seeds (like gogi berries and pepitas), as well as powerful sprouted and dehydrated ingredients--including buckwheat, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and white and black sesame seeds.

In the beginning, Lisa was able to keep up with demand. But after a few years she decided to take her teaching to the next level and started the Raw Food Institute in Washington, DC. When Lisa was no longer able to do the day-to-day, Wendy and Pol decided to take over the fledgling company and moved it back to Minnesota.

The first order of business was finding a new name. In Virginia, the bars had been marketed under the moniker ITK ("In The Know"), but they knew an acronym would be a difficult sell for a wider audience. They began playing around with the phonetic spelling of "passion" and fell in love with it when they saw it come to life in packaging.

But they still had a huge problem to tackle: production. Wendy and Pol needed a large space and professional equipment. But where would they get the resources? "It would've cost us a half-million dollars to build a commercial kitchen. There was no way," Pol says. "We were at a standstill."

Then, they got the break they needed. "It was my birthday," Wendy recalls. "It was 10 p.m., I was driving home from dinner, and I saw a woman baking pies." As the woman shuttled pans in and out of the ovens, Wendy watched her through the picture windows that looked out on Broadway--and the next day, she called the number posted on the building.

Join us tomorrow to find out who picked up the phone, and how they helped the Sorquists get Pashen off the ground.