Sweet Life

A hobby baking turns into something of sustenance for Kris and Karie Boesiger

Karie Boesiger bakes a mean cookie.

As a child, she spent summer days with her grandmother learning to bake. Those summers stuck with her. “To this day, I just love to make people happy through baking,” Karie says.

So in 2005, she decided to make a job of it with business partner (and mother-in-law) Kris Boesiger, whom she had previously worked with on a line of locally made mustards called Mom’s Mustard.

This time though, they went after something a little bit sweeter.

They kept it small, starting with baking a few dozen cookies out of Karie’s house for coffee shops and salons around town. They’d personally deliver the treats to businesses on consignment.

People fell in love. So much so they began requesting the obvious next level of baked goods: a healthy — but still tasty — cookie. People wanted a cookie that would go well with their morning coffee, while also providing enough sustenance to tide them over until lunch.

Impossible? For Karie and Kris, not necessarily.

“We started with a breakfast cookie. And then immediately we realized the round shape of the cookie was really hard to deal with.”

The round cookie left spaces in the pan, spaces that could be filled with more cookie.

“So, we put it in a pan and made bars,” Karie laughs.

They called it the Everything Good Cookie, a rectangular bar made of various nuts and fruit, wrapped and stuck with a bright pink sticker of a fairy queen — their mascot — based on Karie’s “magical” reputation for baking.

The cookie was dense and crumbly like a brownie, but healthier and more filling. They produced two versions: wheat-free and gluten-free. For most of their customers, the cookie was exactly what they wanted.

Demand for the Everything Good Cookie increased exponentially. Their trips to Winco to buy nuts and dried fruit from the bulk section became unsustainable. “I’d be pushing one cart [of ingredients] and pulling another through the store,” Karie said. And the need for more consistent ingredients pushed her to source the ingredients from farms and distributors around the Pacific Northwest.

Baking out of their home was out of the question. Needing a commercial kitchen compliant with the latest food standards and regulations, they went to the University of Idaho Food Technology Center. They had used the center in the past for Mom’s Mustard.

“We [now] have consistency between bars. We know exactly where our ingredients come from. We built a better process,” said Karie, quick to point out that they were still the ones mixing, baking, packaging and delivering each and every cookie.

As the process for the Everything Good Cookie changed, so did its audience.

“The men, the hunters, the fisherman who were eating the [cookie] told me they weren’t going to carry around this cookie with a pink label and a cartoon fairy queen on it.”

Unbeknownst to Karie and Kris, the cookie was popular with the outdoor crowd because it didn’t melt or dry out in the heat. The cookies became a mainstay in the trunks of Harley riders and in the backpacks of soldiers. “We even took them to the river to see if they’d float and resist the water. Sure enough, they did,” Karie said.

“We realized we needed to grow up a bit,” Karie said.

Her brother-in-law had been bringing the cookies with him on ski trips on the mountains surrounding Sun Valley. After a session of skiing, he grabbed a cookie from his coat — and it wasn’t frozen or crushed. While enjoying the bar and his surroundings, he thought of the name: Backcountry Bar.

Backcountry Bar in the grass

The Backcountry Bar name stuck, leading to redesigned packaging and a change in focus. Idaho-based supermarkets Winco and Albertsons, Whole Foods and regional co-ops and coffee shops began selling the Backcountry Bar. “On our original bake days we were so excited if we could make 500 bars. Yesterday had an output of 5,200 bars to keep up with demand.”

The change was also big for Karie personally. “… I realized I had to start doing things that were better for myself. Exercising more, eating better,” Karie says, “I’ve become a runner, I’ve done four half marathons. Before starting Backcountry Bar, I didn’t run at all!”

The flexible hours of the Backcountry Bar lended itself to a lifestyle Karie wanted. Along with running, she started cycling, and today she’s an instructor on the side. “It supports my lifestyle,” Karie smiles.

Karie and Kris produce the bars twice a month with the help of family and friends she hires to help make the bars. “Nothing is automated, it’s all hand done. From prepping and baking to packaging, all done by people,” Karie says. “The bars taste handmade because they are. We never want to lose the integrity of that.”

The future? More. Karie and Kris plan to increase production to handle the entire United States, and have began working on plans for 7-10 new varieties to round out the product line. “If we’re going to grow and expand even further, we’re going to have to find someone to outsource it to. When that happens, instead of 5,200 a day, it’ll be 50,000, [but] we won’t compromise on the handmade taste.”

Eleven years in, Karie is still motivated by the surprise when people find out she’s the one that created the Backcountry Bar. “It’s so fulfilling. I’ll keep doing this because there are people out there that love it and enjoy it,” Karie says.

“I feed them and they feed me.”

Note: Find the Backcountry Bar at Boise coffee shops or online at backcountrybar.com.