Interview conducted by: Madison Hites // Edited by: Hunter Mylek
Q- “You were a corporate paint salesman before becoming an entrepreneur. How was the transition into becoming an entrepreneur? What important lessons did you learn throughout that process?”
A- Although paint salesman may sound like a fancy title (Heavy sarcasm!), it didn’t quite prepare me for the entrepreneurship life! I would say the biggest adjustment was learning to live with no salary or health insurance – and really no clue when I would be able to afford those things. The main thing that drove me through those times was the goal of bringing great products to life – with the end goal to make our customers happy. The positive feedback from customers and consumers kept me on the path. Today, that has evolved a bit – I am still highly driven by bringing great products to our customers, and just as important to me today is to support our team, and help make The GFB a more successful business so that everyone here can participate in our success.
Q- “Many consumers have numerous, mostly negative, misconceptions about gluten-free food. When starting your business, did you face pushback from prospective customers because of the stigma against eating gluten-free? If so, how did your business overcome this challenge?”
A- Yes and although gluten-free foods overall have come a long way in the past ten years, that sentiment hasn’t really changed! It’s still true that a lot of gluten-free versions don’t quite match their gluten-full originals – for example – in general, pizza generally just isn’t quite as good as gluten-full pizzas (shout out Como’s in Ferndale for the best GF pizza available). However, in our world it’s a bit different – we are combining top quality ingredients into a unique process and recipe that just happens to be gluten-free. Peanut Butter and Chocolate are both naturally gluten-free, and of course, they taste amazing together! Having “Gluten Free” big and bold in our name has mostly been a blessing – we want consumers to know who we are and make sure we support them with great products. On the flipside, they often have to taste it to believe it actually tastes good, and getting that opportunity to share our products is both the challenge and the opportunity.
Q- “Eating Gluten Free has become a trendy diet, and those who eat gluten free may not know that Celiac Disease is a serious illness impacting 1 in every 133 Americans. In what ways is The GFB spreading awareness of Celiac Disease?”
A- First, to address the “trend” part of the diet – it is true, especially a few years ago that gluten-free was “trendy” and maybe the diet of the month by some celebrities. The data shows long term sustainable growth of consumers interested in vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free; these differ from other “trendy” diets because they are true long term lifestyles and in some cases, driven by medical need. Trends like Atkins, Keto, Paleo or Whole 30 tend to spike and then come back down rather quickly because those are very difficult long term lifestyles, and we’re starting to see the data decline now with Keto and Paleo data.
Q- “The GFB was founded to help celiacs. Is this mission still prevalent in current day operations? How have you kept helping people with Celiac Disease a forefront issue for your business?”
A- For sure, The GFB has always stood for gluten-free – its will always be a big part of who we are. Our goal is to be a bright spot in someone’s day – their 2 PM snack they can look forward to. Or their snack in their backpack or purse when no gluten-free items are available. As a business, we talk about enriching the lives of our team, our customers, and our planet. Just last week, we had a customer write in and thank us for making our products; her husband had just been diagnosed with Celiac disease and was struggling with it; they stumbled into The GFB at the store and now The GFB’s are a staple snack in their household. We love when we are able to make a positive difference in someone’s life, even if it’s only for a 2 minute snack…to be able to have that positive impact is a privilege we are very thankful for.
Q- “The Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation helps students receive intensive and accelerated entrepreneurial training, funding, and networking through a program called 77 Idea Lab. What advice would you give student entrepreneurs?”
A- I could ramble on here for a while, so I thought I would boil this down to the top 5 I can think of: #1Quality is the best business plan – whatever you do or make, always make it to the best of your ability. Do not cut corners. Do not ignore potential problems when it comes to Quality. #2 Trust your gut. #3 If your purpose is to make money, your purpose will not be enough to keep going when the real challenges arise. And they will. #4 Focus on serving others. #5 Start by doing things that will never scale – for example, visit every store manager of the first store chains you sell into or contact every online customer to personally thank them and get their feedback. These things are a huge learning opportunity.
Q- “In what ways has The GFB helped the Celiac community?”
A- Over the years, it’s taken many forms from free product to celiac support groups and organizations to sponsoring events, camps for celiac children, and many others. And of course there is our food – we opened our own facility for a variety of reasons, including that we really wanted a dedicated gluten-free facility which is very important for gluten-sensitive folks. I think the way we can best support the celiac community is by working as hard as we can to make the best possible products, which not only brings awareness but also inclusion and enjoyment. It can be a lonely feeling sometimes to have celiac disease, so a great tasting snack at school, at work, or wherever we may be is a nice way to just be normal – and the more that product is available at a variety of stores makes it easier. And it’s even better when your non-celiac friends want to eat what you have….
Q- “To help spread awareness about Celiac Disease, how has the disease impacted your life? Why do you think it is an important topic?”
A- Discovering that I had celiac disease was one of the most positive life changing events of my entire life. Sure, it came with some difficult learnings and some lifestyle changes and also a lot of frustration. There were many times when I was someplace that GF food was not available or I couldn’t participate in things like beer & pizza with my friends. But all in all, it’s about as good as a diagnosis one can receive – no medication, no long term issues, just need to manage what you eat. And realistically, being a GF has helped me manage my diet – I feel 100% better avoiding gluten, which made eliminating a lot of junk from my diet a lot easier.
Going gluten-free improved my mental function, my mood, relieved all of my joint pain, eliminated all of my stomach issues and just made me a much happier person – at 42 years old today, I actually feel better than I did when I was diagnosed at 28. For anyone that was diagnosed but didn’t fully adopt the gluten-free diet or is considering getting tested but is afraid of a positive test result, I’d say that you owe it to yourself to find out and try it.. There are so many issues I had that I thought were “normal” and everyone dealt with. Those beer & pizza nights would put me into misery and I always assumed everyone felt that way – and that wasn’t the case.. Turns out I had a special condition and going GF opened up a new life – and ultimately led to founding The GFB.
This interview is dedicated to Celiac Awareness Month. CEI wants to give a special thanks to Mr. Rader for sharing his journey and his amazing success story with us!