From Rags To Riches

IT’S THE CLASSIC rags to riches story, with a Montclair twist. In 1990, Gary Erickson was like a ship without a rudder. At least that’s what his dad thought. At the age of 33, he had no real job and was living in a garage in Berkeley. This is not to say that Gary was lazy. He was an avid bike rider, and this is how the story begins.

On a marathon ride one day, Gary was wolfing down energy bars like they were going out of style. But with 50 miles left on his 175-mile ride, his energy level was crashing and he couldn’t choke down one more Power Bar. It was then, that he had an epiphany. “I can make a better product than this,” he thought to himself. So he went back to his mother’s Montclair kitchen and the Clif Bar was born.

The fact that Gary’s mom was an expert baker didn’t hurt. “I grew up in this great Greek family,” Gary told me, “and every holiday we were always cooking.” In fact, Gary shocked his teacher, one year, when he brought in 100 buttery croissants that he’d made from scratch. His mother’s cookie recipes were equally delicious and were the foundation for the first Clif Bars, sans butter, oil and sugar. He used naturally processed rice syrup instead.

The Clif Bars took off. They were selling so well, that in the year 2000, Gary was offered $120 million for the business he owned with just one partner. He was tempted to take the money and run.

Then he had what he called “big epiphany number two.” “I was just two hours from walking away and having the money wired to my account — when I left the office, went around the block, and decided not to sell the company.” Gary and his wife, Kit, bought out the partner and have never looked back.

“It’s not just about the money,” he said. “I didn’t want to see all the work that I’d done become unraveled. As a private company, we do so many unique things, and go overboard for our quality.”

Indeed, a mega-corporation might be tempted to cut costs for the sake of its stockholders. But Gary and Kit are increasing their bottom line. They’ve gone all organic with the Clif Bar and hope to do the same with their Luna Bar and other products.

And how does Gary’s father feel about all this? He’s as proud as can be, and not just because of his son’s success. Gary’s dad’s name is Clif — and now, everybody knows his name.

(Gary’s new book is called “Raising the Bar: The Story of Clif Bar Inc.,” and is available online at

Neighborhood alert

I’m getting reports, again, about door-to-door magazine solicitors in the hills. These are typically young people who are driven here in a van and dropped off in neighborhoods to make their sales quotas. One resident tells me a solicitor came back so many times, it felt like harassment.

If you have reason to believe that there’s any suspicious activity (last year a solicitor was arrested on an outstanding warrant), call the Oakland police on the non-emergency line at 510-777-3333.

Outstretched hands

What do wealthy Moraga and inner city Oakland have in common? They are linked by a volunteer-reading program that started six years ago at Saint Monica’s Catholic Church. The Moraga parish wanted to help a struggling Oakland Catholic school, so they chose Saint Anthony’s on East 15th Street.

Not only do volunteers help young students read, they bring them socks, shoes, uniforms and other clothing their parents may not be able to afford. If you’d like to help, contact Maureen Graf at 925-376-7226.

Birth of a car pool

Here’s a trivia question for you. How old is the car pool? Hills commuter Carol Van Steenberg says she was actually in one of the first carpool lines back in 1985 when a photographer from “Newsweek” came by to take a picture.

“The photo, taken by James D. Wilson (of) ‘Newsweek,’ shows me and a guy getting into one car, with another person about to get into the car behind us,” she says.

Back then, the carpool pick-up spot was on Park Boulevard, across from Corpus Christi Church (not down the street as it is now). The Dec. 16, 1985, article credits the kindness of strangers for cutting the 45-minute San Francisco commute time in half, not to mention the 75 cent toll it saved the drivers. Oh, how times have changed!


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