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UP CLOSE: Adirondack Mountains inspire nutrition bar

January 5, 2018
By GRIFFIN KELLY - Staff Writer ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - Cartoony, silhouetted forest critters such as bears, moose and bobcats all with wonky eyes are the first thing you see when you pick up a DAK Bar.

These whole food protein-based snacks are the product of Adirondack entrepreneur Susie Smith, of Essex. For the past eight years, she's been mixing ingredients like peanuts, sesame seeds and dried cranberries into a homegrown alternative to big, brand name bars.

"I'm not trying to bash any competition," Smith said. "I just got tired of eating bars with processed protein isolates."

Article Photos

Susie Smith, of Essex, works at the Green Goddess concession stand at the Mount Van Hoevenberg Cross Country Ski Center where she sells her DAK Bars.
(News photo — Griffin Kelly)

The problem with eating large amounts of protein isolates, without balancing a diet with alkalizing foods, is that it can lead to metabolic acidosis, a condition in which the body's cells become too acidic.

"When you eat whole foods, your body can digest it easier," Smith said. "More energy is sustained and you feel better."

Growing up in Duluth, Minnesota, Smith and her siblings stayed active in the outdoors.

"We didn't travel a lot," Smith said. "We didn't watch a lot of TV. My brothers and I would ride our bikes to the local pond and go fishing."

Smith lived in Colorado for a while where she first made the nutritious bars and worked in office management at Craig Hospital in Englewood. She adored the natural beauties of Colorado but decided to move to the Adirondacks after Colorado started growing.

"It was getting too busy in Colorado," Smith said. "Denver was exploding, and they were putting up huge houses by Red Rocks.

"I fell in love with the [Adirondacks] because it was protected land. We can always go back to Colorado for a visit, but now the 'daks are home."

After graduating from SUNY Plattsburgh with a degree in aquatic biology, Smith gave birth to her son, Wyatt, in 2005. She became a full-time mother and just couldn't find the time for outdoor adventures. She started producing DAK Bars on a larger scale to combine her love of nature with her talent for crafting delicious snacks.

"I started living vicariously through my bars," Smith said. "It felt good feeding people doing those activities."

These days, Smith is back enjoying nature firsthand, only this time she brings Wyatt along with her. They often hike at Indian Head and Fish Hawk Cliffs and go paddling at the St. Regis Canoe Area.

Smith makes her bars at the Hub on the Hill, a communal kitchen and center for local agriculture in Essex.

It's website says, "The Hub on the Hill works with the farmers and small food businesses of the Adirondack-North Country region to transform the region's bounty of fresh produce into value-added shelf-stable and frozen products."

Smith said there are normally two or three other businesses in the kitchen at once. She describes it as social and helpful environment.

"If it wasn't for a place like the Hub with shared resources, I'm not sure I could do this right now," Smith said. "To make a living up here is never really that easy. Me and a lot of other entrepreneurs have more than one job. Business grows a little slower, but we get to do what we love."

In the summer, Smith works three to four eight-hour work days at the Hub, cooking, sealing and labeling the bars. Within eight hours, she converts 250 pounds of nuts, grains, fruits and other healthy whole foods into 288 DAK Bars.

It's a process with some local ingredients. First she mixes all the ingredients by hand, gluing together the mass of proteins and carbs with either warm honey from Northern Orchard in Peru or maple syrup from Reber Rock Farm in Essex. The warm honey and syrup hardens yet remains chewy enough for a good texture. Next she spreads out the mix out on a steel tray and goes over it with a roller that both measures and cuts the bars to the correct size.

Sometimes Smith has two part-time workers contracted through the Hub help her in the kitchen. Other times, Wyatt helps her.

"He's my little labeler and sealer," she said.

Smith currently sells her bars in about three dozen stores and businesses throughout the Adirondacks including the Whiteface Mountain Ski Center in Wilmington, Green Goddess Natural Foods in Lake Placid and The Mountaineer in Keene Valley.

Being an entrepreneur in the North Country has it's difficulties, according to Smith

"It's challenging," Smith said. "The population base is not as high as in the city or the Albany area, but there's a culture in the Adirondacks that really values local products."

Smith currently works a seasonal position at the Green Goddess location at the Mount Van Hoevenberg Cross Country Ski Center, where she also sells her bars. She'll be done in March before she goes back to working full time at DAK Bar.

Despite some hardships and the amount of work, Smith stays positive and looks forward to seeing her business grow.

"I'm at the point where I want to expand the business and hire at least one full-time employee," Smith said. "I've been doing it for eight years. It's required going into debt to keep it going. I keep chugging along. The growth may be slow, but it's happening. You don't get to make a lot of money, but you do what you love."



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