Mosaic Stories

    Luis Rivero

    Hůga is about celebrating and sharing life. Hůga is good company and unhurried time. Hůga is the love and traditions you’ll taste in these bars, which are inspired by recipes from family and friends around the world.

    Hůga, the phonetic spelling of the Danish word “hygge,” refers to moments borne of good food enjoyed with good people. This word, though, embodies so much more than a definition for Luis Rivero - it encompasses his brand, his company, and his purpose.

    Luis moved from Caracas, Venezuela to the United States in 2003 to pursue a master’s degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After two years in North Carolina, he moved to Philadelphia to work for DuPont. Six years ago, the he was relocated to St. Louis, and he has been here ever since.

    Luis has been a nutrition bar consumer since he arrived in the United States, as they were convenient and healthier than some other snack alternatives. One downside he perceived, though, was that the flavors were not very good. A few years ago, he thought to himself: “what if we can make a healthy nutrition bar that was flavorful and delicious, and had some of the flavors that we grew up eating? What if we could bring new international flavors to the bar category?” While he was working at DuPont, the idea of creating such a nutrition bar was always in the back of his mind. He kept his entrepreneurial spirit at bay until last August when decided to leave his job and work full-time to start up his own company, Hůga Bar, to produce such a product. He had already fallen in love with St. Louis, so he decided to stay in the city to start and grow his newfound business.

    The ideas for Hůga bar flavors were all inspired by international recipes, each with its own unique background. The first flavor, almond and honey, was inspired by a road trip through Spain: “One afternoon I was having delicious paella, sitting under a tree outside with a bunch of people having good conversations, good food, and good moments. At the end of the meal they passed around a delicious turrón (a traditional Spanish almond brittle) for dessert. I thought to myself...what if we can make this delicious treat into a healthy bar?” This experience, he explains, really epitomizes what the Hůga brand is all about. “The whole idea of being outside with friends, eating a fantastic lunch, having a good time for hours...and even lunch is over and you still stay there having good conversations, that is what represents our brand. Hůga is about gathering with good friends, good food, good conversations...being together.”

    Hůga has tapped into a strategic niche in the nutrition bar market. While the international flavors of the bars do appear in other foods sold here in the United States, they are unique to the nutrition bar category. Not only are Hůga bars is packed full of flavor and nutrition, each one is gluten free, kosher, and GMO-free, thus appealing to a wide market of consumers. “One of the reasons why we wanted our bars to be gluten free is one of his co-founders, Luisa Mendoza, has celiac disease,” he explains. “Two of our flavors - Dulce de Leche Oat & Walnut Hazelnut & Chocolate - were actually inspired by the Luisa’s family recipes.”

    The process of physically crafting the perfect healthy nutrition bar was multifaceted. Luis and his partner first made the desserts inspiring the flavors, and brought them to a food expert who knew how to mix and use healthy ingredients to create a delicious flavor by and substituting components like sugar for much better ones like agave and honey.“With the help of the expert, we put together a few bars,” he explains. “We then took them to nutrition bar companies on the West Coast that have access to the best ingredients - nuts, dates, honey, and agave - and also have the capability to make them gluten free.” To sum up the process, Luis says they “took their recipes, took out some of the bad stuff you see in desserts, and added in some good stuff. The end result was a flavorful and nutritious bar.”

    Even though the company entered the market in early 2015, Hůga is already experiencing local success, and Luis cites the St. Louis Mosaic Project in playing a key role in helping his business grow and develop in the region. He first learned about the Mosaic Project through social media at the beginning of 2015, and he reached out to Executive Director Betsy Cohen to discuss the initiative as well as his own goals. “The power of networking is phenomenal,” he says. “I loved the project, and it is absolutely true that immigrants are a vibrant force of entrepreneurship and economic development.” Since then, the Mosaic Project has been a fantastic resource for Luis and his company. “It might have taken months for us to connect to key people in the city and to learn about resources,” he explains, “and the Mosaic Project has been able to make those things happen for us in a matter of days. It is really a privilege to have an organization like the Mosaic Project at our access in order to launch and grow a business.”

    Luis raves about the St. Louis region as a wonderful environment to both live and work. “The city has a very vibrant entrepreneurial community with significant and very useful resources, and people living here love to support local businesses,” he says. “The success that we’ve had in order to get into local grocery stores shows this - we have only been in the market for a couple months, and we are already having great feedback from local consumers, grocers, and retailers.” He also cites the importance of St. Louis as a centrally located city, for if you need to visit customers or stakeholders in different locations in the country, flights are only a few hours to virtually anywhere.

    In addition to being a great place to start and grow a business, Luis is also very fond of the people he has encountered. “People in St. Louis are just fantastic - very welcoming and very open,” he says. “You have so many neighborhoods that are diverse and different, so when you’re moving in, you have so many places to choose from.” He also loves the familial feel in St. Louis, as with so many generations of families living in the area, he is reminded of the feel of growing up in South America. “St. Louis is a great city to raise a family,” he says, “and we have five kids!”

    Luis is truly grateful for the resources and opportunities in St. Louis that have helped make his business dream such a successful reality. In fact, Hůga bars are on already on the shelves of several St. Louis stores including Dierbergs, Straub’s, Schnucks, Lucky’s Market, Smokehouse Market, and Alpine Shop. In the future, using St. Louis as a launching pad, Luis aspires to expand the reach of Hůga bars to be sold in other parts of the country, thanks to the phenomenal feedback thus far from consumers and local retailers. As for the city of St. Louis in general, Luis would like to see the city grow faster in population growth, and is excited about the prospects. “We need to bring more people to St. Louis,” he says. “Population growth will give us more diversity, more economic growth, more people buying and renting residences, more people visit restaurants, more people buying Hůga bars...I would like to see all of that growth happen in St. Louis.”

    If you are interested in purchasing Hůga bars online, you can order them by clicking here.