Sweet Deal

Helped by administrative staffer Justine Hottendorf, left, Ally and John Murphy are growing a new kind of energy bar. Tim Robison

Trail snacks are getting fancy. Nowadays, hikers nurse boutique coconut waters and nosh on habañero-cherry beef jerky, making gorp — “good old raisins and peanuts” — a distant memory. Just ask Ally Murphy, founder of Ally’s Bar.

“I’m a big believer that food should be exquisite and packed with rich flavor,” she says from her home kitchen in Horse Shoe.

“And paired with a bike ride,” her husband John adds. He’s hand-washing baby bottles while Ally bounces their 6-month-old son, Liam Blaze, on her knee. Besides a coir doormat printed with a fading bicycle pattern and an offhanded comment about pear smoothies, the Murphy residence doesn’t scream “pro athlete” or “foodie.”

But they’re the real deal. John cycles for South Carolina’s Holowesko-Citadel and Ally has pioneered a pretty tight niche in an otherwise flooded snack market. Her recipe is the first commercial trail bar with a sweet-potato base. Most on-the-go heath food is stuffed with brown-rice syrup, but Ally wasn’t satisfied with disguised sugar. So, she began experimenting. “I made it up as I went,” Ally says. She subbed dates for added sweeteners, quinoa for oats, and root veggies for fillers. Then it clicked. “John said, ‘Write that recipe down,’” she remembers.

The result is comparable to a Lärabar, at least in texture. Dried fruit adds chew, nuts and dark cocoa give crunch and depth. The sweet potato provides an earthy, almost savory tang: think home-style candied yams minus the toothache-inducing sweetness (and the guilt).

Ally released the flagship bar, Original Sweet Potato, back in 2013. Two more flavors — Sweet Potato with Apple Carrot Ginger and Sweet Potato with Pistachio Cashew Pumpkin Seed — came later. Each one weighs in at 220 calories, give or take, with four grams of protein. Thanks to the tubers, they’re also high in Vitamin A.

“Sweet potatoes are the best fuel for an athlete,” Ally says. “They offer sustained energy: no highs or lows.”

Though pregnancy put the kibosh on her own six-year elite biking career (Ally rode for Stan’s No Tubes), she hasn’t cycled back her competitive tenacity. Her bars are produced at a facility in Oregon and then shipped to 250 stores, big-box and mom-and-pop, from Southern Appalachia to Northern California. She says she’s selling 10,000 a month, navigating a possible expansion into all Ingles locations, and setting eyes on an international market.

“We’ve raced across the whole world,” John says. “It would only make sense to take Ally’s Bar across the world, too.” Meanwhile, Ally’s treating the business venture like a fierce ride, gears turning. “Faking it until I make it,” she says.

For more information or to find store locations, visit allysbar.com.

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