We had the good fortune of connecting with Leighton Kohlmann and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Leighton, maybe we can start at the very start – the idea – how did you come up with the idea for your business?
I have lived in Colorado for almost seven years and love all things outdoors; in particular hiking and skiing. I have a peanut and tree nut allergy and felt like there were no good protein bar options that were safe for those with nut allergies. I wanted something that was nutritious and easy to throw in a backpack for any adventure. All the bars I found had a bad texture, didn’t taste good, were low in protein or high in sugar. I wanted to create a protein bar that was nut free, nutritious, low in sugar, high in protein, and manufactured in an allergy friendly facility. I reached out to my business partners, identical twins Amy and Emily, who have a background in health and wellness and plant based cooking. Per Emily’s own dietary preferences, she left out gluten, eggs, soy, and dairy when formulating the original recipes. As we developed our product, we realized that there is a whole world of people out there who cannot eat one or more of the top 8 food allergens for various different reasons. We decided to shift our focus from being a peanut and tree nut free company to a top 8 free company.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I love learning about and working in the food and beverage industry, but that is not where my professional journey began. Ever since I can remember, I knew I wanted to be a pediatric nurse. I started out as a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit, where I took care of premature and critically ill babies. For the past five years, I have worked as a pediatric nurse practitioner in oncology and bone marrow transplant at Children’s of Colorado. While watching a child go through a cancer diagnosis can be extremely difficult, I find that oncology and bone marrow transplant is a very special field. Children are so resilient and it’s incredible to see what they can overcome. I always knew that whatever career path I chose, it would involve helping people; it is just something I have always gravitated towards. I continue to work at the hospital, but I have found meaning and purpose in the food and beverage industry as well. There are an estimated 32 million Americans who suffer from food allergies. With KUBEBA, I know that I am helping a different group of people; people who live in fear every day that something they eat could kill them.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Wow this is a tough question; there is so much to do and see in Denver. When they arrived at the airport, I would tell them to take the train to Union Station; it’s so much easier to pick people up at the train station than driving all the way out to the airport. I would take them for a drink at The Green Russell, a speak easy on Larimer with delicious cocktails. On a nice weekend day, I love walking around RiNO and stopping in the local bars, breweries, shops and restaurants. Some of my favorites are Denver Central Market, Death &Co at the top of the Ramble Hotel, Hop Alley, Los Chingones, Work and Class, and Finn’s Manor. The Highlands is also a great area to walk around during the day. I love Forrest Room Five and Senor Bear. My two favorite breakfast spots are Fox Run Cafe and Devils Food. If its nice out, I would take a friend for a walk in Wash Park, and keep going to Devil’s Food for brunch. For Dinner: I love Ophelia’s; great food and hopefully you can catch a live show! I also love Ototo, Sushi Den, and Adelitas! For live music, my favorite spot is The Bluebird Theater; it reminds me of the local music venue in Athens, Georgia where I went to college. Following a show at The Bluebird, I like to go to Sancho’s Broken Arrow. This is a Grateful Dead bar that is the diviest of dive bars, but for some reason I love it! Most of my friends that visit are coming from The South, so I make sure to give them the full Colorado experience and go to the mountains! Herman’s Gulch is a beautiful hike that is not too difficult for visitors. I would also take them rafting, most likely on the Upper C, because the rapids aren’t too intense, but it’s still a fun float! If it’s winter and you aren’t a skier, snow shoeing to Brainard Lake is a blast!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
First and foremost I am so thankful for my amazing business partners and co-founders, Amy Jones and Emily Foster. I don’t know how people start companies by themselves, because I definitely couldn’t do KUBEBA alone. My sister, Charlotte Dales, has been a mentor the entire way. When I originally reached out to her about wanting to start my own company, she didn’t laugh or tell me it as a silly idea; she immediately connected me with the right people, and helped get the ball rolling. Naturally Boulder is a great organization for the natural food world in Colorado. There are so many great educational and networking events!