Five years after Jan Taborsky ’10, MBA’11 and Lacy Gillham ’10 founded their own business, Happy Campers Gluten Free, they’re living up to their venture’s name.
With sales of their gluten-free breads rising steadily and the company expanding into states beyond Oregon, Taborsky and Gillham have discovered that going gluten-free can be as good for your business as for your health.
Recipe for success
A gluten-intolerance diagnosis and MBA classes turned out to be the perfect mix for Taborsky and Gillham. Unable to find healthy and tasty gluten-free food to fuel their outdoor adventures, they started making their own bread — an enterprise that eventually became one of Taborsky’s class projects at the Atkinson Graduate School of Management.
2. Let rise
The couple developed recipes, baked a few times a week and started selling bread at local farmers’ markets. After outgrowing a tiny, borrowed commercial kitchen, the company moved to a dedicated bakery, and this summer, it moved again to a 10-times-larger, certified gluten-free bakery in Portland, Oregon. The company now has 12 employees, who produce about 1,100 loaves and buns a day. Although they still spend time in the bakery, Taborsky and Gillham focus more on sales, marketing, and research and development.
3. Punch up
“This past year has been the biggest year in our company’s history, in nearly all measurable ways,” says Taborsky. In fall 2015, Happy Campers Gluten Free expanded into the greater Seattle area, its first major inroad beyond Oregon. Northern California soon followed, and southern California is up next. The company’s products can be found in over 200 stores and restaurants in nine states. Plus, the online store ships about 1,500 loaves per month across the country.
As well as being gluten-free, the company’s products are suitable for people who want or need to avoid wheat, soy, dairy, eggs, sugar, rice and corn. They’re also organic and free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Happy Campers Gluten Free makes four kinds of breads (Stompin’ Good Seedy Buckwheat Molasses, Cravin’ Raisin Cinnamon Spice, Classy Slice and Hemp Hemp Hooray) and Wild Buns. Ingredients include quinoa, sorghum, millet, buckwheat, amaranth, tapioca, pea protein, raisin juice, yeast, pumpkin, flax and sunflower seeds, and olive oil.
When Taborsky and Gillham started their business, the gluten-free market was in its infancy. “We saw it as the perfect opportunity to marry our new baking passions with the nascent GF market,” says Gillham. “We wanted to do GF right, to show how good it could and should be.”
Today, an estimated one in five Americans avoid gluten, and the retail market for gluten-free foods is expected to exceed $2 billion by 2019. While delighted to be part of this growing industry, Willamette’s happy campers also retain a healthy attitude: “Sure, we’re bakers; we’re business people,” Taborsky says. “But we’re simply passionate about wellness. The way we promote, support and encourage it is by baking a staple in most people’s lives — bread.”
This article originally appeared in the fall 2016 issue of Willamette magazine. Lacy Gillham graduated from Willamette with a BA in studio art. Jan Taborsky studied in Willamette's 3-2 Management program, graduating with a BA in economics and an MBA.