The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Success Story: Dave's Killer Bread

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Floydm's picture
Floydm

Success Story: Dave's Killer Bread

Dave's logo

"Just say no to bread on drugs!"

So says the label on each loaf of Dave's Killer Bread, a playful tagline that alludes to both the organic nature of the ingredients and the darker side of Dave Dahl's past.

"I was a four-time loser before I realized I was in the wrong game," Dave writes on the back of each loaf of Dave's Killer Bread. Burglary. Drug dealing. Armed robbery. Dave spent close to 15 years in prison in total.

NatureBake

James Dahl, Dave's father, started the Portland, Oregon-based NatureBake bakery in 1955. Dave and his older brother, Glenn, grew up in and around the bakery, learning how to bake from their father. Glenn had an aptitude for business and began helping his father with the business side of the bakery, eventually taking over management of the business in 1988. Dave broke away from his family and the family business for many years, years in which his life when progressively downhill.

James Dahl passed away during Dave's final stint in prison, a period when Glenn's son Shobi joined the family business. Something clicked for Dave: he cleaned up his act and decided he could do something with his life. Dave reached out to his brother, who agreed to give him a chance to start over by helping out in the family business when he got out.

When Dave returned to NatureBake, the bakery, while not struggling, wasn't exactly thriving. Their breads were mostly found in health food stores and hadn't successfully connected with the younger "locavore and farmer's market" crowd. I have to admit that though I'd seen NatureBake breads on the shelves of grocery stores and co-ops in Portland forever I don't think I ever bought one. I had the impression that these were the kinds of breads you ate because eventually your doctor said you had to, not because you wanted to.

They needed something new.

Dave's Killer Bread

Powerseed logo

While helping out around the bakery, Dave started experimenting with some new recipes. The brothers decided to try selling a few of them and to try marketing them in a new way by letting Dave tell his story. Out went the drab packaging touting the health benefits of spelt; along came a cartoon image of Dave with long hair and a guitar, breads with offbeat names like "Blues Bread", "Powerseed", and "Peace Bomb". The breads went from being dull health food fair to hypercharged loaves of awesomeness chock full of seeds, nuts, and organic ingredients. They became killer breads.

Dave's Killer Bread made its premier at a baking festival held by the Portland Farmer's Market, Summer Loaf, in August 2005. That was only a few months after I started The Fresh Loaf and though I didn't know it at the time, I actually got photos of the premier of Dave's Killer Bread there. I took a few more photos of Dave at his booth but, alas, I haven't been able to find any of the others.

Dave's premier
The world premier of Dave's Killer Bread

Dave's Killer Bread quickly became a success, first at the farmer's market, then local co-ops and health food stores, then regional independent grocers. NatureBake's 15,000 square foot bakery wasn't adequate to handle the increased production that would be required to get Dave's Killer Bread onto the shelves of mainstream grocery stores though, so in 2008 the brothers borrowed money to move from the existing facility in Portland to a new 52,000 square foot "bread-quarters" directly across the street from Bob's Red Mill in Milwaukee, Oregon. It was a big gamble, taken at a time when rising commodity prices were threatening to raise the price of ingredients so high that Dave's Killer Bread could not be sold profitably at a price that consumers would be willing to pay.

The gamble paid off. Around the time of the move Glenn optimistically projected that within 5 years they could be selling 100,000 loaves a week. Just two years later, they are selling over 350,000 a week. Dave's Killer Bread is on the shelves in major grocery and warehouse stores like Fred Meyer, Safeway, Winco, and Costco across the Pacific Northwest and is making inroads in California and other states. The 52,000 square foot facility that seemed like such a gamble two years is running near maximum capacity now.

"Making the world a better place, one loaf of bread at a time"

Dave and me
Me and Dave

Dave's story would be inspiring if it were just the tale of one man's redemption, but there is more. About 25% of the 200 employees at the bakery are ex-convicts being given an opportunity to get back on their feet. "I believe in second chances," Dave told me, "but I also believe in holding people responsible for their actions." Dave mentioned that at the bakery they let employes know they may be randomly drug tested and that he himself had taken one the day before. "We're all judged by the same standard," he said.

The Dahl's are major supporters of local charities and community organizations like Loaves & Fishes and Meals on Wheels, have worked hard to develop an environmentally sustainable production line, and are working hard to source locally grown ingredients. Dave travels around the region to share his story with inmates and community groups. Just last week Dave won the Oregon Ethics in Business Award, with good reason.

As you know I bake all the time, but we still have a loaf of Dave's "Good Seed" in the house at all times. My kids' think it is the best bread for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It sounds cliché, but as parent it makes me happy that my kids beg us to buy a locally-made, organic whole wheat bread rather than balloon bread. Dave's breads are killer, and NatureBake is a killer company I'm happy to support.

Companion post: a photo tour of the NatureBake bakery
Link: Dave's Killer Bread on Facebook

Floydm's picture
Floydm
Cooking202's picture
Cooking202

He deserves much respect, what a wonderful uplifting story.  Yell when their bread is available in GA!

JoeV's picture
JoeV

Great story, Floyd. Thanks for sharing it.

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

It isn't often that a person hits bottom, and bounces there several times, and then makes it back up again.  It takes guts to go public with that kind of life story, especially to be so brutally honest about the damage done and losses incurred.  Most businesses would only see the negatives from publicity of that kind.  Dave seems to be using it for something positive.  I hope he continues to be successful in his new life.

Paul

mizrachi's picture
mizrachi

what an incredible story and amazing transformation. 

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

Thanks for sharing this FLoyd.  What a great story!

Janet

hanseata's picture
hanseata

They had a story about Dave and his transformation into the creator of "Killer Breads" on tv a while ago. Quite a remarkable story!

Karin

steelchef's picture
steelchef

Bravo Dave,

I've never tasted your bread but I fully support your rehab and what you have done to aid others who have had "issues" with the legal system.

Good Job Man!

 

wally's picture
wally

I've been away for a long time, Floyd, as my real baker's life has diminished my time to spend here.  But I have to stop by long enough to thank you for a great, great story - and it's all in the telling.

My takeaway from it is that it just proves that bread is good not only for the stomach but for the soul.

Thanks for sharing this!

Larry

SallyBR's picture
SallyBR

Fantastic story, it brought tears to my eyes, I am so glad you posted and that you included it in the homepage

 

Wonderful!

AbeCross's picture
AbeCross

Wow. Amazing story!  As with others, my eyes started welling up. When I get depressed about my comparetively silly little problems, I'm going to watch that video again, and get back to baking!  Dave, keep on trucking! 

G-man's picture
G-man

I don't buy many grain and nut breads, because my wife is not 100% converted from the white fluffy stuff, but when I do I look for this stuff. I recommend picking it up the moment you see it.

Burpo18's picture
Burpo18

It's the best bread I have ever tasted, it's just that good. I make scrambled eggs with granulated garlic, black pepper, dried dill and sea salt sprinkled with mexican grated four cheese on top of a couple of buttered and toasted pieces of Daves Killer Bread for breakfast! Cheers!

tananaBrian's picture
tananaBrian

Actually ...I think the story is absolutely great and very inspiring to those that need to execute a fresh start.  BUT, the bread doesn't excite me.  It seems typical of 'great harvest' type breads designed to sell more than anything ...a bit pumped up on oil, salt, and sugar (by my taste buds ...haven't examined the label too closely yet).  I prefer my own bread.  That said (I'm sorry if I offended anyone), I do like my own bread better... and I do understand marketing and producing products that sell in order to make a business grow.  More power to ya ...but I'll bake my own.

Brian

 

G-man's picture
G-man

I know I would love to have the time to bake all of my own bread every time I needed some. I could certainly use the AB5M method if I wanted. Sometimes, I must admit, I just don't feel like baking.

For those times, it's good to have alternatives. Even if it isn't as good as the stuff you bake at home (when is food from outside ever as good as home made?) it is an easy second compared to chemical-laden "enriched" loafs of air.

steelchef's picture
steelchef

Well put G-man. While I totally agree with Brian and you, my guess is that for the majority on this forum, seems to be a hard season in which to find the time for baking. Not to mention that the heat it creates in the house can make the reward a bit doubtful. I like to concentrate on making sausage and preserves until the snow flies then get back into full time baking. our local bakery does a very good job of filling in.

tananaBrian's picture
tananaBrian

54 F here (Alaska) and dipping into the 40s at night ...and the trees are starting to turn golden.  Hmmm ...time to fire up the oven again?  Summer is always hard when it comes to finding time to bake around here.  Our summers are short and the project list long... Winter brings on bread baking and cheese making at our house... and enjoying the fruits of our summer labors (and harvest)

Brian

 

steelchef's picture
steelchef

I feel your 'pain' Brian. we are in Fort St John, BC, current temp 57F (14C). Fall is definitely in the air. We are obviously in a very small minority of members who don't really have to make winter storage and survival plans on a regular basis. Maybe we need a new forum for 'Far North' or 'extreme weather' bakers. We do bake ahead in the spring and freeze dough and loaves but it never lasts till autumn arrives.
Colin

tananaBrian's picture
tananaBrian

Actually, you bring up a very good point... when I don't have time to bake bread, then I would be in the position of ranking the breads available at the store in order to supply our family with bread ...and in that case, then Dave's Killer Bread certainly ranks at or near the top.  I'm not quite sure why I made my comment.  Maybe it's because I can taste what has been done to a loaf in order to make it sell to the masses (which I totally support ...as a business, I'd do it too ...in a heart beat) and it sorta feels like the true possible quality of the bread has been compromised a bit.  Speaking for Americans, I'd say that most are hooked on sugar, oil, and salt and are quite used to eating foods that are too high in one or two or all three of these.  As a business, you've got to aim your product squarely at the market, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's the best product that you could've made.  Dave's Killer Bread is by no means off the deep end on this either ...it just tasted a little in that direction to me, kind of like the breads at the Great Harvest franchise stores.  People love them, but maybe it's a question of education and experience?  Interesting discussion...

Brian

 

G-man's picture
G-man

So we are in agreement!

It seems like the larger the market you want to target, the more compromises you have to make on quality. It's a vicious cycle, and combined with cheaper and cheaper sugar, oil, and salt have given us our current industrial food system, the only goal of which is to provide the most calories at the lowest cost.

Knowing how much better it can be is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you have tasted significantly better than the majority of Americans (and a growing portion of people from every developed country in the world) will probably ever taste. On the other hand, you have no choice but to compare that against everything you experience thereafter, and 99% of the time the comparison is unfavorable. Second place is the first loser. :D

tananaBrian's picture
tananaBrian

I once read that the healthiest way to shop for groceries is to only shop the perimeter of the store ...that's where the most natural foods are, and almost the entire center section of stores is made up of highly processed foods and simple carbohydrates and chemicals.  It wouldn't be that way if people didn't want to buy those things, e.g. for convenience and 'flavor wow' (my term, somewhat obviously).

Brian