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Fitness maven, drumming aficionado, wildly successful entrepreneur, committed philanthropist, mother of six — one might wonder if there’s anything Jennifer Maxwell can’t do.
“I don’t look at limits. I look at possibilities,” the North Bay resident said recently in describing herself.
Maxwell, 56, launched her second business in September, 35 years after she and her late husband, world-class marathoner Brian Maxwell, made a name for themselves with the introduction of the PowerBar.
Targeting competitive runners and cyclists at first, the high-protein, low-fat snack became so popular that Nestlé USA paid an estimated $375 million for the employee-owned company when the Maxwells sold it in 2000.
By the time Jennifer Maxwell began developing another energy bar around 2016, however, multiple brands of these convenient sources of quick nutrition crowded store shelves.
Even so, she envisioned an all-organic version that was better-tasting and more nourishing than the competition.
She began experimenting with organic fruits — strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries — as well as innovative sources of protein such as sunflower, quinoa seeds and sorghum, ingredients that had not been widely available in manufacturing-size quantities when PowerBar appeared on the market.
Her new product also includes cashew butter, whey and peanut butter. Sweetness comes straight from Mother Nature, not by converting the starch from brown rice or tapioca into syrup. JAMBARs, available in four flavors — and Maxwell’s developing more — contain pure honey, maple syrup, condensed and unrefined juice from dates, as well as sugar from grapes.
“I call myself sugar conscious — not sugar phobic,” Maxwell said. “I do like the carbs for the energy, but if I’m going to eat sugar I want it to be the real shebang.”
Maxwell found a 1970s-era bakery in San Rafael that once housed a recording studio for the Grateful Dead and converted most of the building into her JAMBAR factory, where she oversees a dozen or so employees.
Sold online, the bars are also on the shelves of 70 brick-and-mortar outlets around the North Bay and beyond. Locations are as far-flung as Key West, Florida; Portland, Oregon; Ketchum, Idaho; and Ontario, Canada. The stores range from small groceries and health food markets to a musical instruments store, a mountain bike shop and a health club and spa.
As JAMBAR’s name recognition and marketplace presence grows, so does Maxwell’s giving. She has pledged to donate half of the company’s net profits to organizations that promote the causes she personally has embraced: Music and recreational sports, as well as other outdoor activities.
Maxwell began drum lessons in 2007, drawn by the energy and healing they offered following the death of her husband, as well as by the similarities between the instrument and running, her first love.
“Drums are a natural for an athletic person because you’re using all your limbs,” she said, adding that, like running, drumming is characterized by a steady rhythm.
Maxwell studied on a Gretsch drum set for 10 years, during which she started jamming informally with various bands; she began performing professionally with the jazz band Good Karma about five years ago.
She still spends around a half-hour each day practicing the rudiments of her art, which she also shares as a member of an ensemble that performs standards and Latin jazz at the California Jazz Conservatory, a private music school in Berkeley where Maxwell takes classes.
Between work and drumming Maxwell makes time to run, a discipline she adopted as a teen when she took up the sport with her mother and discovered she excelled at it.
One of the first members of Tamalpa Runners, she started competing with fellow club members in 1978.
Although she doesn’t do marathons anymore, Maxwell still laces up her Sauconys or Nikes every day and jogs a few miles on one of Mount Tamalpais’ trails near her home in Ross.
“It’s freedom — I love it,” she said.
In addition to running with friends, on her own or before work with her 5-year-old American Eskimo dog, Maxwell bikes, swims laps and hikes around Marin County.
Her secret for staying active
She asserts that she gets enough sleep despite her full schedule, adding that one of the keys to squeezing so much into her waking hours is not having a single personal social media account.
“I don’t have time for that!” Maxwell said.
JAMBAR’s name reflects her appetite for staying on the go.
“It came from … my love of music and sports — ‘Get your jam on’ is our slogan,” she said.
To share those pleasures with others, Maxwell donates to an ever-growing list of nonprofits. Among them is a San Rafael organization that provides free after-school music lessons on orchestral instruments for youths and a bicycling advocacy group that organizes rides and works to make the North Bay more bike-friendly.
Recipients aren’t all in the Bay Area, either. JAMBAR sales support a mountain biking association in Wisconsin that develops and manages a trail system encompassing a national forest; they also enrich the education of impoverished children in New Orleans and Haiti with technology.
Those who know Maxwell say she gives wholeheartedly without seeking accolades.
Giving back wholeheartedly
“She could easily be one of these … people who has tons of money (and) might give philanthropically but they’re not emotionally attached,” said JAMBAR publicist Sally Newson. “Community is everything to her.”
Generosity has a way of inspiring more of the same, which is what Fairfax resident Mario Guarneri envisions with JAMBAR’s help.
Having spent his career playing the trumpet for movie soundtracks and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, he knows how difficult it can be for freelance musicians to pursue their craft when they have no guarantee of a fair wage. They often earn little more than what a tip jar or a percentage of proceeds from the cover charge or bar provides.
Guarneri founded Jazz in the Neighborhood to supplement that pay; the nonprofit solicits donations, secures grants and uses most of the ticket sales from the bi-monthly concerts it holds so it can guarantee the musicians it hires for those gigs at least $200 per performance.
Since he launched his effort, Guarneri has helped about 500 musicians throughout the Bay Area.
Maxwell has been a regular contributor to that cause since she met Guarneri and some fellow musicians playing in a bookstore; he returns the goodwill by regularly passing out free JAMBARs at concerts that small professional jazz ensembles put on in San Francisco parks.
Paying it forward
“She’s really performing quite a public service putting forth the concept of putting back into the community 50%,” Guarneri said.
Now Maxwell has invited him to submit a grant proposal, funds that would enable him to invest in more musical groups, he says. His thoughts turn to the Oakland Public Conservatory of Music, which provides one-on-one, low-cost classical and jazz music lessons to low-income children.
“It’s kind of like passing it on,” Guarneri said.