The Surprising Business Model That Helped This Cult-Fave Company Hit Gold

A perfectly crisp piece of toast is one of the everyday wins you count on each morning. But next time you slather almond butter on that whole grain slice, it would be nice to know it came from a company whose hiring practices inspire us to all be a little bit better, right?

That's the philosophy behind Dave's Killer Bread, the brand wellness obsessives tout for its high quality ingredients and mega protein punch. But it's also a brand that's working to make the world a better place, starting with who, exactly, bakes each flavorful loaf.

It all starts with what Dave's Killer Bread calls its Second Chance Employment program, which offers job opportunities to—and fights the stigma against—the formerly incarcerated. Statistically, those with criminal backgrounds are more likely to commit another crime when employment is scarce, which is why Dave's Killer Bread's mission has struck such a chord.

For Heather Marcott, it's not a stretch to say a loaf of Dave's Killer Bread changed her life. The Oregon native began using drugs when she lost her father as an 11-year-old girl, and her addiction landed her in jail by the time she was 30. Her drug use persisted until at 36 she was declared dead after an overdose (but was lucky paramedics were able to revive her).

Shocked into staying clean by her run-in with death, she enrolled in a treatment center. It was then, upon her release, that her father-in-law gave her a loaf of bread—a seemingly benign act that changed Marcott's course.

"I put a slice in the toaster and put butter on it, and it tasted like fireworks in my mouth," Marcott says. Not long after, she connected with a friend who worked for Dave's Killer Bread and was soon added to the list of DKB's success stories. 

"I know for a fact that if I hadn't gotten the job at Dave's Killer Bread, I probably wouldn’t have made it."

"[When they offered me the job] I felt accepted and like I’d found my place," she explains. "And I'm telling you right now, I know for a fact that if I hadn't gotten the job at Dave's Killer Bread, I probably wouldn’t have made it."

That's not an unusual statement about the ground-breaking brand. Dave Dahl, the company's namesake and co-founder, had spent 15 years in prison when he got a shot at rejoining the family bakery. Once reunited, Dave, his brother, and nephew worked tirelessly to create a new line of “killer” organic breads, and soon Dave’s Killer Bread became a nationally recognized brand.

Today, the whole-grains powerhouse employs more than 300 people in its Oregon bakery, one in three of whom have a criminal background and who hold positions from entry level to critical management. Marcott herself has risen through the ranks from temporary worker to Lead Trainer in Makeup, and now directs a team on how to operate the DKB machinery.

dave's killer bread second chance employment program

And its helped the company's bottom line: Dave's Killer Bread is currently the number-one selling organic bread in the United States. That success inspired the official launch of the Dave's Killer Bread Foundation, which seeks to encourage other companies to open opportunities to the formerly incarcerated as well.

"[The Second Chance program] works because it offers acceptance," Marcott says. "At DKB, I’ve seen firsthand the power of getting a second chance. I think it’s even part of why DKB is so successful. Everyone deserves hope and acceptance."

In partnership with Dave's Killer Bread

Photos: Dave's Killer Bread

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