Dave Dahl is the co-founder of an organic whole grains bread company. He’s also a convicted felon who has spent 15 years in prison, with charges including armed robbery, assault, and delivery of a controlled substance. And now, his company Dave’s Killer Bread is expanding outside of the 13 western states where it’s currently available and into the rest of the U.S., courtesy of a partnership with Goode Partners, a New York private equity firm.
It wasn’t an accident that Dahl ended up in the bread business. His family started the NatureBake bakery brand in 1955. But Dahl’s breads ended up being a big hit at local farmers’ markets when he launched his line in 2005, just a year after getting out of prison.
"I like to think it was because when I was creating this bread no one was standing over my shoulder saying 'Oh, it has to be at this certain price point, it has to be this or that.' I had to go out and beat what was out there," he says. "I basically started learning how to replicate other things that were around. I started adding features, benefits, flavors, things that I thought would create a good loaf of bread. I got lucky after that."
Luck and a great backstory certainly had something to do with it (see this excellent profile of Dahl and the company) but the appeal of Dave’s Killer Bread goes beyond that. The New York Times raved about Dahl’s bread in a 2010 piece: "It would be easy to think this is a crunchy gimmick—ex-con does good with organic flour, insuring the triumph of the crunchy Northwest—but Dave’s Killer Bread is actually the best bread I’ve ever bought in a supermarket."
The brand started with Dahl taking 100 loaves to a farmers’ market in Portland, Oregon. Now it’s a $50 million business. It’s so big that it has absorbed NatureBake, which was swallowed by the Dave’s Killer Bread brand in late 2012.
The most popular varieties—what Dahl calls the "four top dogs"— are 21 Whole Grains, filled with a whole lot of grains and seeds; Good Seed, made with flax, sunflower, and sesame seed; Powerseed, filled with a seed mix sweetened by fruit juices; and Blues Bread, rolled in blue cornmeal. When Dave’s Killer Bread launches in new markets, it leads with those breads before rolling out the other 16-plus varieties it makes.
One of the bread line’s newer varieties is Oregon Grains, a popular former NatureBake bread with over 80% of its ingredients sourced from local farmers within 100 miles of the bakery. According to Shobi Dahl, the CEO and co-founder of Dave’s Killer Bread—and Dave’s nephew—the addition of Oregon Grains has translated into the brand being able to source ingredients for other breads more locally.
Now that it’s working with Goode, Dave’s Killer Bread is poised to begin expanding market by market across the country, working on strategic partnerships with other bakeries who can make the bread under their roofs. Says Dahl: "Certainly we hope to find better ways of doing what we’ve done. As far as knowing the science of marketing, that’s something we’re really trying to develop and get better at. We’ve just been doing this by the seat of our pants."
Dahl is also giving back to the prison community. Dave’s Killer Bread[/url] is one of four hiring partners working with Collaborative Benefit, a LinkedIn for the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated started by Tulio Cardozo, a former prisoner and graduate of the Last Mile prison startup accelerator. After all, Dahl is the ultimate prison success story.