Meet Jess Cerra, the founder and CEO of JoJé Bar; Jess made the first bar in 2010 at her home kitchen in Encinitas, California, striking the perfect balance between delicious and nutritious. Born and raised in the mountains of Montana, she grew up embracing the outdoors and an active lifestyle that led her to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Exercise Science in the University of Montana. After that, she went straight into completing a Master’s Degree in Exercise Physiology at San Diego University, where she got introduced to mountain biking, quickly falling in love with the sport.
Long story short, Jess is a highly accomplished cyclist and triathlete, a profession and lifestyle that set her on a long search for the perfect ride food, until she decided to take a crack at it herself . . . And so, this is how JoJé was born.
JoJé Bars are energy dense, easy to digest, gluten- and dairy-free bars (with the exception of the White Chocolate Coconut Blondie) with a soft, cookie-like consistency. Created by a professional cyclist with the science of performance in mind, but for all to enjoy. Made with wholesome, real-food ingredients these bars are naturally mildly sweet, packed with energy and flavor.
Please enjoy the following Q & A, where Jess Cerra tells us a little more about her quest for flavor, how COVID19 has impacted her business, and her advice for all the new cyclists out there.Q: How did JoJé come to be and what do you think has made it successful?
A: JoJé started as a homemade, healthy cookie project to satisfy my personal nutritional needs in my competitive cycling and triathlon career. Amazing fresh taste and proper macronutrient profile seemed to be mutually exclusive and I wanted to change that. We tout that JoJé is ‘simply the best tasting bar’ as that is how we stand out and where our success stems from.
(On the left, Jess at her home kitchen in Encinitas, CA 2010. On the right, Jess supervising production at an industrial kitchen in recent times.)
Q: We love the packaging of your bars, please tell us more about it!
A: The packaging was a crazy idea I dreamed up on a bike ride! I wanted to show customers the real-food ingredients that make each flavor so special. I visualized stacking the ingredients up showing this visual on the wrappers. Zach Heffner, a photographer friend, brought the idea to life. We actually bought these ingredients, stacked them up, and Zach made the picture magic happen.
Q: Which is your favorite flavor at the moment?
A: Can you really ever go wrong with peanut butter and chocolate?Q: Are you working on any new flavors you can share with us? Do you have a dream flavor combo? And have you had any failures?
A: We do have a seasonal flavor, Salted Chai with Chia, that is my riff on all pumpkin pie and gingerbread craze. Unfortunately we won’t be producing it this holiday season as we are focusing on stabilizing after Covid kitchen shut-downs. I do have some other dream flavor combos that I have tested, many are savory and completely uncharted territory in the energy bar market. But, I have to keep these ideas a secret for now. With that said, we haven’t had any flavor failures, but often scaling up requires recipe adjustments.Q: How has JoJé Bars been affected by Covid19 and/or the #bikeboom we are currently experiencing?
A: We have been affected, in ultimately a good way. I think anytime you encounter new challenges as a business owner, you come out the other side stronger. While one challenge was negative, a production kitchen shut-down due to state health mandates, I learned a lot about the loyalty of our customers and how to budget our emergency fund. Uncertainty is a very hard thing to deal with as an athlete, and I’m learning it’s equally hard in business. JoJé decided to focus on hosting a food bike/drive-thrus during this tough time. My thought process was to swing in a positive direction and help the community in an area where it was struggling. This kept our spirits high and when our kitchen reopened we uncracked a world of eager new outdoor enthusiasts, plus loyal customers who were anxious put JoJé back in their handlebar bags! We have seen growth in most of our sales channels because we are an outdoor, on-the-go brand.
A: I got a little excited and mentioned this above. The short story is that I grew up in a low-income family that faced food insecurity issues, at times. I think this led me to having a special connection with food and to become a chef and owner of an energy bar company. This also created empathy in my heart and dedication to helping end childhood hunger. I become an ambassador for Chefs Cycle|No Kid Hungry in 2017, when I completed the fundraising and participated in a three-day riding event with chefs from around the country. Immediately I wanted JoJé to be involved. We offer a $1 donation option at checkout which we match and several times throughout the year we do quadruple matching. As the pandemic swept through the country we were seeing an unprecedented number of kids out of school, meaning they couldn’t access the programs funded by No Kid Hungry. Even moreso, families, elderly, shelters, and domestic violence shelters were experiencing a shortage of food donations. So we dove in and decided to change that. Union Co-work, a shared workspace, was also closed and wanted to help us. We used their locations and several staff members to organize food drive/bike-thrus that met health and safety standards. Feeding San Diego and the Encinitas Community Resource Center were on board promoting and marketing the events. The mayors of San Diego and San Marcos, the local school districts and the local news also promoted. In the end we ended up raising almost 3,500 pounds of food! Plus, my 2020 all-female Chefs Cycle team kept fundraising and completed a virtual three-day ride event.
As an athlete and business owner, I feel I need to be an influencer in my community.Q: Do you have any advice for the new bike owners/riders out there?
A: Find your tribe! There are so many great resources and organizations that make cycling approachable and inclusive. Within your community, try to find like minded groups or clubs that you can ride with. For example, if you are a woman there are often rides just for gals. If you are looking to be competitive, you can join a club-team that races and provides support. Don’t get too overwhelmed with fancy and expensive equipment at first, just start where you can and find the area of cycling that brings you joy.
Many people I know get started as commuters. This is a great way to break up the day and incorporate some fresh air and exercise into your work schedule. Po Campos bright colored bags are a great way to be seen on the bike! Adding lights or reflective tape to your bike or skin is another great way. Before JoJé participated in this campaign, some of my best advice has always been to BE SEEN!Q: What do you think is the greatest benefit or take away people can get from cycling? That being recreational, for competition, or for practical purposes.
A: You will meet lifelong friends and learn a lot about yourself. Cycling opens doors to some many wonderful friendships and connections. There is nothing quite like a bike ride and chat with a friend...an hour can soar by just like that! No matter the purpose of the bike, I always find it as a tool to learn and empower myself. There is something about putting power on the pedals and being in the fresh air. And there is something wonderful about how bikes can fit into a busy lifestyle. Cycling provides me energy, lifestyle balance, purpose, and confidence that I can take care of myself while also running a business. Yay bikes!Q: As a chef, can you share with us one of your favorite recipes to make at home? Especially when in a hurry!
A: Pancakes! Always Pancakes! We have a pancake routine in the morning and I affectionately named them QOMCakes (Queen of the Mountain). I need real food to start my day or I get grumpy and compensate later in the day.
Here is the recipe and a video on how to make them:
Well, that is all the time Jess Cerra had for us! We hope you enjoyed her story, her insights for new cyclists, and that you try the QOM Pancakes recipe at home. You can follow JoJé Bars on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, and shop online at www.jojebar.com .
Article written by Rosael Torres-Davis
When she is not out riding her road bike or working on her bread-making game, Rosael manages Social Media & Content for Po Campo.