Seven Sundays
Tuesday, April 23, 2019
By Rebekah Tilley

It started with an extended honeymoon in New Zealand. Leaving behind her investment banking job in New York, Hannah Barnstable (BBA04) and her husband, Brady, took to the mountains for unplugged days filled with hiking where they were inspired by the landscape and fueled with a new-to-them meal served at their bed and breakfast: muesli.

After returning to New York City and their “crazy jobs,” Barnstable found herself scouring grocery store shelves looking to reclaim both the wholesome new food that fueled her New Zealand adventures, and the feelings and memories that went with it. But she came up empty every time.

“It was that entrepreneurial moment where you realize there's kind of a gap here,” says Barnstable. “We all know the value of eating real foods, and breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Yet when you really look at the breakfast aisle, it's pretty astonishing what qualifies as breakfast in our country.”

This lightning bolt moment came as Barnstable was in the sweet spot of her career. The small investment bank she joined after graduation had grown rapidly in the six years Barnstable was with the company. And she was growing with it. She was one of the few internal candidates promoted to vice president where she was on the consumer group and worked on a number of food deals, which were her specialty.

“I decided at that point, I'm either going to be a banker forever, or I'm going to do something different,” says Barnstable. “And I had always intended to put my stamp on something in life instead of always working for someone else.”

Barnstable uprooted her New York City life and moved back home to Minnesota to launch Seven Sundays in 2011. Barnstable sourced and developed the original recipes herself working with small, organic farmers for the eclectic collection grains like sorghum, rye, oatmeal and barley, seeds, nuts, and fruits that make up Seven Sundays “modern muesli.”

“Cereal sales have been declining for well over a decade now, and that's a problem for retailers because the breakfast aisle takes up a lot of space and it's not growing,” explains Barnstable. “When I first started the company, it was good timing because retailers were trying to figure out what to put on store shelves for consumers who were sick of the artificial colors and the sugary processed cereals.”

Then Target Corporation approached Barnstable about moving Seven Sundays into their stores within a few months. She needed working capital to close the deal on a tight timeframe so she turned to a small network of people for seed funding. A third of Seven Sundays initial investors were fellow Tippie alumni.

“When Hannah told me she was moving back to Minnesota to build Seven Sundays, I remember telling her, if you ever raise money, call me,” recalls Nicole Cook (BBA04), who invested in Seven Sundays along with fellow Hawkeyes Kate Brennan (BBA02), Sandy Pfeiler Davis (BBA04) and Emily Becker Zanios (BBA05). “When Hannah made that call a few years later, I was ready to invest after having made one other seed stage investment along with Kate Brennan through our partnership, Five Island Ventures. Hannah is one of the smartest and most driven people I'd ever met, and I knew she was on a thoughtful path to building a successful company. Plus, I love Seven Sundays muesli and was a consumer too.” 

Seven Sundays is now available in a number of national retail stores including Costco, HyVee, Kroger, Lucky’s Market, and Jewel-Osco. The company has grown to seven employees including her husband Brady, and three unofficial employees: Louis (6), Emry (3), and baby June. And Barnstable finally re-captured both the muesli and New Zealand feeling she was hunting for in New York grocery stores by creating it for herself.

“When I come back to Iowa, what I always tell students – especially women – is don't select your jobs now based on some sort of lifestyle vision you might have for yourselves 20 years from now,” says Barnstable. “You're all going to kick ass and then you'll create some flexibility for yourselves down the road.”

This article first appeared in the 2019 edition of Exchangea magazine for alumni and friends of the UI Department of Finance.