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  • Carolyn Butler-Madden

How Dave's Killer Bread creates second chances...



Fifteen years in prison provides the backdrop to the story of America’s number-one organic bread, Dave’s Killer Bread.

This is a story of an ex-con whose family gave him a second chance. It was a second chance that he ran with – helping to build his small family bakery into a business that not only came to produce America’s best- selling organic bread, but went on to be acquired in 2015 by Flowers Foods for approximately US$275 million.


I love this story because it is such a human one. Reclaiming its humanity is where, I believe, business will find its unfulfilled potential.



Dave’s story

Dave Dahl was born in 1963, one of four children to Jim and Wanene Dahl. In 1955, Jim and Wanene had bought themselves a bakery business in Southeast Portland: the Midway Bakery, which they later rebranded to NatureBake. Jim was a pioneer in the bread industry, experimenting with nutritious, organic bread variants way ahead of his time.

When Dave was born, the family was living in a house that he called a shanty. Dave grew up under the influence of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which proscribes vegetarianism and avoidance of alcohol and tobacco. As soon as they were old enough, the children worked in the bakery, helping their parents when they weren’t in school.

As Dave grew older, he started rebelling against the church, his family and almost everyone he knew. He started drinking and getting into fights, before starting on drugs and going completely off the rails. By the age of twenty-two he had entered a life of crime, stealing to feed his burgeoning drug habit.

Eventually, his lifestyle caught up with him, landing him in prison multiple times – at one stage serving a fifteen-year sentence.


Dave was released from prison at the end of 2004. His older brother, Glenn, who was running the family bakery at the time, recognised some changes in his younger sibling and wanted to give him a second chance. Truth be told it was more than a second chance. Dave had been given multiple chances before, but Glenn somehow knew he had to take the risk and give his brother yet another second chance.

Dave ran with it. Working in the bakery, he experimented with creating a new type of bread: an organic, nutty and slightly sweet bread. They launched it at Portland Farmers Market and it was a huge success, becoming the first of what became known as ‘breads with a killer taste’. For Dave this marked the start of a new chapter in his life. By 2013, the Dahls rebranded NatureBake to Dave’s Killer Bread.


Dave’s story of turning his life around inspired the business to do something something beyond making bread...


A Second Chance Employer

Dave recognised that his success was possible only because he was given a second chance – something many of his friends back in prison had no hope of getting. As a result, the company became a proud Second Chance Employer.


Its website states:

THE PURPOSE BEHIND EVERY LOAF At Dave’s Killer Bread, we believe in Second Chance Employment: hiring the best person for the job, regardless of criminal history. We have witnessed its transformative power, and that giving someone who is ready to change their lives a chance – a Second Chance – gives people an opportunity not only to make a living, but to make a life.

The website proudly showcases employees who have grabbed their second chance to turn their lives around from a criminal trajectory. You can click on their portrait to learn about their stories.

Do you see what I mean about business reclaiming its humanity?


Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation

On top of its commitment to have at least one-third of employees part of its Second Chance Employment initiative, it also created the Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation in 2015, to inspire and equip other businesses to adopt Second Chance Employment. A lack of information or under- standing about employing people with criminal backgrounds can make businesses hesitant to explore this option, and the foundation’s aim is to change that. It believes that in the long term, Second Chance Employment has the power to reduce the negative impact of recidivism in America, and it works to educate organisations on the importance of employing this part of the population.

Some of the stats that Dave’s Killer Bread shares on its website are pretty shocking:

• One in four Americans has a criminal background. • The US accounts for 5 per cent of the world’s population and 25 per cent of the world’s prisoners. • Every week more than ten thousand potential job candidates are re-entering communities. • A criminal record reduces the likelihood of a callback or job offer by nearly 50 per cent.

In 2011, Dave’s Killer Bread was recognised in Inc. Magazine’s ‘Inc. 5000’ as one of the fastest-growing companies.

Then in 2015, Flowers Foods acquired the company, allowing the business to accelerate distribution, keep up with demand from con- sumers for its killer organic loaves and take the brand nationwide, as well as beyond the US to Canada and Mexico.


Consumer power

I believe Dave’s Killer Bread is an inspiring example of what business is capable of. Is Second Chance Employment a risky area for them to play in? Sure. But that supposes that consumers will only tolerate businesses that have a squeaky-clean record and reputation. Today, consumers – people – will support businesses that are genuinely trying to use their role and influ- ence to create positive social impact. As I’ve learned through the stories of purpose of various businesses, most people don’t expect perfection. If they recognise a business is trying to do the right thing, they will give them a bit of latitude to make some mistakes along the way.

If a bakery can thrive by giving people with a criminal record a second chance (and in the process aspire to reduce recidivism rates), then what could your business do?

I hope this story helps to widen the lens that you consider purpose through.


You can have a listen to my interview with Dave Dahl on the For Love & Money Podcast here...





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