Dwayne Tawney needed more calories.
He was doing a high-protein diet to fuel his weightlifting regimen, relying mostly on “chalky” energy bars and protein shakes made from powder mixed with almond milk, flaxseed, bananas and berries in a blender.
“It was pretty laborious and messy,” said his older brother Dave Tawney, who figured he could find a better way to give his brother an energy boost.
When he developed the baked round of oats, seeds and nuts last summer, he was trying to help his health-conscious brother become even healthier. He didn’t mean to make it his business.
But, “Everything sort of aligned,” he said.
Dave Tawney, originator of Protein Puck, got the idea on a weekend in early August. By the end of the month, he was making and selling the vegan, gluten-free snack or meal substitute in his Browne’s Addition coffee shop, Caffe Capri.
A year later, all-natural Protein Pucks, held together with peanut or almond butter and sweetened with agave, are sold at some 2,000 retailers in eight states and available for national distribution.
A new flavor – the second – debuted in July. And Tawney – although he wouldn’t give a figure – said he expects volume to double within the next three months.
“We sort of just organically let the product talk for itself,” he said. “The reception has been amazing. Everyone was immensely supportive.”
The 37-year-old began making Protein Pucks by the dozen. Now he sells them by the pallet, or 3,584 at a time.
The original flavor is Peanut Butter Almond Cranberry. Almond Butter Dark Chocolate launched a couple of weeks ago.
At 3.25 ounces, they’re about double the size of the average energy or protein bar – one puck is two servings.
Tawney, who admittedly doesn’t work out as much as his younger brother, eats one almost every day and carries them with him wherever he goes.
“They have a rich, chewy texture,” he said. “I always have samples with me in the truck.”
Production started small. Tawney began putting his Protein Pucks on countertops at his two Spokane coffee shops – he owns a second Caffe Capri on the South Hill – without fanfare or promotion.
They were made in the commercial kitchen at the Browne’s Addition shop, wrapped in cellophane sealed with a heat gun, and identified with a homemade label.
“I didn’t have a cookie cutter. I balled ’em up and pressed down,” Tawney said. “We didn’t want them to be thin and brittle.”
The result “looked like a hockey puck,” he said. “It’s not the shape of a classic bar. We didn’t want to call it a bar – or a cookie. It isn’t for dessert.”
The pucks’ popularity spread by word of mouth, and soon they were selling out in other local coffee shops.
“Once we saw people like them the natural step was to find more places to sell them,” Tawney said.
Six months later, the demand had grown so much that his coffee shop kitchen couldn’t keep up. He hired a local company to manufacture and package the product. The certified gluten-free co-packing facility is located in the Spokane Business & Industrial Park in Spokane Valley.
Now they’re baked in “the mother of all ovens,” which holds 60 sheet pans – or 1,200 pucks – at a time, said Glenn Ward, who owns BumbleBar, the organic nutrition bar company that manufactures Protein Puck. BumbleBar moved to Spokane Valley from Tacoma in 2004. It turns 20 next year.
Protein Puck officially turns a year old in September. It has no employees other than the owner, a 1995 graduate of Mead High School and 2000 graduate of Eastern Washington University, and his wife, Brande Tawney, 35.
Brother Dwayne, 32, backs off his hard-core workout routine in summer, his busiest work season. He owns Junk-N-Dump, a Spokane junk removal service. Like his brother, he graduated from Mead High School. He’s also a 2004 graduate of Whitworth University.
Before his brother invented Protein Pucks, Dwayne Tawney made his own protein bars, “but they didn’t taste very good.” He also used to buy them but stopped “because they are so gross.”
Protein shakes didn’t pan out, either: “It’s very messy, and you have to have all the ingredients.”
Plus, they can be time-consuming to make. With two kids – a 7-month-old and 3-year-old – he doesn’t have extra time in the morning.
These days, he has a Protein Puck four or five times a week, or “almost every morning. They are delicious. I don’t think they would have taken off if they didn’t taste as good as they did.”
Protein Pucks are available in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Iowa and Pennsylvania.
They’re carried by Fred Meyer stores in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene – as well as 16 stores along the Interstate 5 corridor from Seattle to Portland.
Other local retailers that carry Protein Pucks include Zip Trip convenience stores, Huckleberry’s Natural Market, Pilgrim’s Market, URM stores – such as Cash & Carry Wholesale Grocers, Trading Co., Rosauers and Yoke’s – and other coffee shops, juice bars, gyms, golf course snack bars and mountain ski areas.
Dwayne Tawney calls the fast-growing popularity “astonishing. It’s pretty cool to think about how far it’s gone already,” he said – “and how far it’s going to go.”