Behind the Scenes

Tillie's Kitchen owner takes an unconventional path to entrepreneurship

By her own admission, Julie Van De Mark has done things a little differently than the average food business client working out of The Commissary. For starters, she launched her business much later in life. 

“I’m quite a bit older than the other folks who are there,” Van De Mark says. “But The Commissary has been such a good match for me.”

Van De Mark was nearing retirement age and still working full-time in her career of 35 years when she made the leap and started Tillie’s Kitchen about two years ago. She sells her Tillie’s Kitchen Granola at the Merion Village Farmers Market and the Southside Farmers Market, as well as through word of mouth.

“I’ve always wanted to do this,” Van de Mark says. “I’ll be 60 next month and, at this stage in my life, I’m kind of pursuing my bucket list.”  

Her hope is to retire from her day job within the next few years and be free to work full-time on Tillie’s Kitchen, named after her grandmother, Matilda.

She’d made her signature almond-cranberry-and-coconut granola for years in her home kitchen and gave it as a gift for birthdays, holidays and hostess gifts. Eventually, she realized she had a hit on her hands. Recipients would tell her they were rationing out their granola until it was gone. They’d tell her, "oh, you have to make this professionally!"

Everyone’s path to launching a food business is different but, in general, most paths begin with lots and lots of research. Once again, Van De Mark did things a little differently in this regard. She immediately launched into commercial production of her granola, and only after she'd been cooking in our kitchens started doing market research and working out production and marketing issues. 

“Someone commented recently, ‘It’s so great the way your business is growing organically!’ she says. “I would actually say it’s more accurate to say it’s growing slowly! I’ve really been making it up as I go along. But I’ve been learning so much along the way and making connections with other makers at The Commissary.”

Van De Mark recently partnered with Chef EV to provide granola packets for the personal chef’s prepackaged meals, and may provide something similar for Bentos Go. Those are exactly the kinds of collaborations between clients we love to celebrate here at The Commissary!

For more information on Tillie’s Kitchen or to order granola, visit tillieskitchen.com or email tillieskitchen@gmail.com.