Former NFL punter lives the sweet life
By Katie Scarvey
Tommy Barnhardt is hoping that his new business venture won’t be pie in the sky.
He’d rather his pie win a spot on grocery store shelves and ultimately, on your table ó and he’s confident you’ll like it, because it’s the sort of pie that won’t make you feel guilty about indulging in dessert.
Barnhardt didn’t achieve his fame as a businessman or a cook but as an athlete. It all started in 1971 when the 8-year-old Barnhardt began tearing up the field in the Punt, Pass and Kick contest, making it to the national semi-finals in Dallas, Texas.
Barnhardt went on to play quarterback for South Rowan High School and was named offensive player of the year for the county in 1980. After playing for a year at East Carolina University, he transferred to the University of North Carolina, where he played for three seasons and re-wrote the record books. A two-time all-ACC punter, he was named team MVP in 1985. That year he was also named a second team All-American.
After graduating, he was drafted in the ninth round by Tampa Bay, but he didn’t break into the NFL until 1987 when he joined the New Orleans Saints roster as a replacement punter during the players’ strike. He went on to play with the Bears and the Redskins but returned to the Saints in 1989. He played there until 1995, ending his six-season career at New Orleans with a 42.9 yard average. He then joined the Carolina Panthers as a free agent, playing there only a season. He went to Tampa Bay for several years, then back to New Orleans and Washington, where he played his last season in 2000.
After his 14 seasons in the NFL, Barnhardt tried a few different things, including working for a real estate development company. None of them really took off.
In 2007, he moved from Florida back to North Carolina to be closer to his family, settling in Matthews. His parents, J.T. and Mary Barnhardt, live in China Grove.
“I was trying to find something to sink my teeth into,” he says.
And that something turned out to be pies ó something he could literally sink his teeth into.
Barnhardt, 46, says he wanted to do something to address the problems of obesity and diabetes that plague our society. When he was playing, he had issues with hypoglycemia. When he’d get lightheaded in practice, he’d eat something with sugar in it; then his blood sugar would spike and his body would go into fat-storing mode, he says.
“Sugar is like the devil in everyone’s diet,” he says. “You’re always told to cut out the sugar.”
But how to do that and still have a pleasurable eating experience?
“Why can’t we have a balanced dessert?” he asks, “with a little fat, carbohydrates, protein and fiber?”
That became his quest ó to come up with a healthful dessert.
He began to do some research.
Those who try to come up with a guilt-free dessert often turn to artificial sweeteners, Barnhardt says. He didn’t want to go that route because typically, there’s a “taste consequence” to that approach, he says.
He began experimenting with ingredients and came up with a recipe for a no-bake pie that uses a natural sweetener ó fermented fruit juice, he says.
He found a manufacturer who could take his recipes and produce the product, and his product line ó Guiltless Pleasure Desserts ó was born.
The pies come in milk chocolate and banana and coconut creme. A full serving has only five grams of sugar.
The pies are still a work in progress, he says. As of now, they’re made with a regular graham cracker crust, but Barnhardt is working to formulate a crust that will trim 30 or so more calories from the dessert.
An eighth of one of Barnhardt’s pies comes in at a modest 160 calories.
By comparison, the same size serving of a similar pie ó with sugar ó has about 450 calories.
The product is packaged as a crust and a packet of dry ingredients. You simply add some low-fat or skim milk, beat well and then pour into the pie crust ó a guilt-free dessert in about three minutes.
Barnhardt says there isn’t really a product like his on the market, not if one compares apples to apples.
He’s proud that in blind taste tests, tasters haven’t been able to tell the difference between one of his pies and the full-calorie variety.
His parents are fans.
“They’re good, especially that chocolate one,” says Barnhardt’s father, J.T.
Barnhardt believes that his desserts can have a role in weight-loss programs and says that even those with diabetes can safely eat his product. In fact, Barnhardt started a fitness regimen of his own last year, a combination of diet and exercise, and he incorporated his own desserts into his eating program. He got down to 202 pounds and six percent body fat. He’s put a few pounds back on since then but is still in great shape.
Right now, Barnhardt is selling his desserts to nursing homes and assisted living facilities, where they’ve been a hit, he says.
From talking to chefs at these facilities, he’s discovered that as we get older, “our taste buds leave us.” Food begins to taste different, with less pleasure associated with it, he says. The taste for sweets, however, remains, which is why the elderly often go for sweets first, he says.
“I enjoy what I do,” says Barnhardt, who adds that he loves to see people’s faces light up when they eat his pies.
He’s finalizing the details of marketing Guiltless Pleasure Desserts on the Home Shopping Network ó he’ll be a co-host and help market the product on air.
He’s also looking to get his product into retail stores like Harris Teeter and Food Lion.
If you’d like more information or you want to try a Guiltless Pleasure Desserts product, go to www.guiltlesspleasuredesserts.com.