Why Dave’s Killer Bread Hires Employees With Criminal Records

bunsundesigns March 5, 2016


 Location: Milwaukie, OR

 Founded: 1955 as Midway Bakery; 2005 Dave’s Killer Bread line launches

 Team Members: 300+

 Structure: Independent subsidiary of Flowers Foods, which is publicly traded

 Fun Fact: Nearly 30% of employees have a criminal background

Dave worked tirelessly sweeping floors and stocking shelves. Eventually, he started working on new lines of bread with Glenn and Glenn’s son Shobi. In 2005, the three men introduced a new product line — Dave’s Killer Bread — made from high-quality organic ingredients. The new product, as it turned out, ended up being the company’s ticket to growth, and was picked up by the likes of Whole Foods Market and Fred Meyer. Soon after, Dave’s Killer Bread became the main line for the bakery and the fastest selling organic bread company in the US — all because of that second chance.

Because of its history, Dave’s Killer Bread has taken a strong stance on the future of second chance labor. The company wants to leave a personal legacy of giving people with criminal backgrounds a chance. Despite the Dahl family selling 50 percent ownership of the company in 2012 to Goode Partners and new president John Tucker coming on board a year later, the company has still maintained a culture that speaks to its roots. Tucker has been a driving force for the culture, saying, “It’s really simple; when these people come out of prison, they need to be able to find a living-wage job. If they can’t, their chances of succeeding, of turning their lives around, of being positive contributing members of society, are dramatically diminished.” A job at a fair, living wage, he argues, helps slow that cycle down and even turn it around. In many ways, Dave’s makes people before it makes bread.


While second chance employment may seem like a “feel good” ideal, it has afforded the brand a number of strategic advantages. According to Tucker, “The fan base is intensely supportive of the brand. They are willing to pay a premium price because they believe they are supporting something that is making a difference.” According to Forbes, “cause-sumption” is running rampant among Millennials, 81 percent of whom “expect companies to make a public commitment to good corporate citizenship.” Tucker continues, “The product has to have inherent goodness. If they don’t see that in the organization, they don’t believe there is true authenticity in the organization.” From their commitment to second chance labor to remaining 100 percent organic, Tucker and his leadership team are setting standards for what will become the new normal.

“It’s really simple; when these people come out of prison they need to be able to find a living-wage job. If they can’t, their chances of succeeding, of turning their lives around, of being positive contributing members of society, are dramatically diminished.”



When President Obama decided to “ban the box” on federal employment applications (which also encouraged private employers to remove the check box on their hiring application forms that asks if applicants have a criminal record), it was part of a broader package of criminal-justice reforms intended to help ex-prisoners stay out of prison. However, practical experience with Dave’s and other companies that hire formerly incarcerated workers suggests that a conversation about a criminal background should be had at the outset of a potential employment relationship. “The checkbox being there or not is not the issue. There are laws being put in place advising people to avoid the conversation altogether, but it has to be part of the interview process. We interview them to determine whether they’ve moved beyond that in a positive, productive way,” said Tucker.

Employers should give all applicants a chance to explain their criminal records. Too often, employers exclude candidates who have any sort of criminal record, which can include misdemeanors, arrests that did not result in a conviction, and convictions for crimes not relevant to the job. Additionally, employers should be aware that when using criminal records to exclude applicants, they may be inadvertently and adversely impacting race issues — refusing to hire convicts disproportionally impacts African American men.

“When someone comes in for a job, we ask them up front if they have a criminal background and we have an open and honest dialogue about it,” says Tucker. Otherwise, this creates enormous inefficiency and, more importantly, can set the applicant back in his or her own development process. Silence about their background enables the person to step out of integrity by not being forthcoming, and that is precisely what you are trying to avoid. Potential interview questions that can help navigate this conversation include:

• What are some of the things you’ve done to make yourself ready to work?

• What has changed about how you see things in life?

• Why should I pick you over someone else?

• The job is hard and requires a lot of work. How do I know you’ll stick with it?


Second chance employment is not simply about hiring anyone with a criminal background. “Both sides should benefit,” co-founder Dave Dahl explained. “All you’re doing is giving them the chance they deserve. People are starting to talk about hiring ex-felons more, and it seems to be growing into a movement, which is great. I’ve seen the issues from all angles, literally. I’ve been at the very bottom looking for a job, and I’ve been at the top in the business, hiring people. What most people forget is that we had a lot of failures in the first two years while we were learning to bring in the right people. You don’t hire someone because they are an ex- felon. You want to hire someone because they are right for the job.”


Second chance employers should not only be willing to allow second chance employees to move on in the name of personal growth, they should be willing to actively foster that progression. “If someone came up to me and said he or she was ready to move to a supervisor position down the road at another company,” said Tucker, “I would be the first person to hug them and congratulate them and head them to the door with absolute enthusiasm and wish them all the best. I would also tell them that if they encounter any challenges, they are always welcome back because they are one of us. But they’ve grown to a point where they can take on other challenges. I think all employers should think in those terms, because at the end of the day, everyone is a better person for it. People succeed in those environments. Those environments breed success.”


In September 2015, Dave’s Killer Bread was officially acquired by Flowers Foods, which owns the iconic Wonder Bread brand, for $275 million. Upon acquiring Dave’s Killer Bread, Flowers Foods president and CEO Allen Shiver said in a written statement, “We are firmly committed to staying true to the recipes, baking process, and other factors that have made Dave’s Killer Bread the best-selling organic bread in the US.”

Time will tell if Dave’s Killer Bread, which will operate as an independent subsidiary, will be able to maintain the culture and mission that have made it famous. However, the legacy that Dave’s has created around second-chance employment is lasting. The company has broken down barriers and helped tackle the stigma that is often associated with formerly incarcerated individuals. According to Tucker, “Some 30 percent of our employees are formerly incarcerated individuals. We’ve had tremendous success, and every one of them is committed to not only evolving us as an organization, but themselves. The more society thinks in terms of inclusiveness, the better off we will all be. The reason we don’t see it as much is that we have stigmatized second chance workers as useless, corrupt, lazy — as people who would never want to earn an honest buck in their life if they had the chance to steal it. But that just isn’t the case. So many of them found themselves in a situation where their selection of choices appeared very narrow, and they made some bad choices. We don’t see threat or risk, or experience fear working with this population. We believe in possibilities, hope, and accomplishment. We believe in growing and nurturing people to move beyond where they are. The more companies that join in this effort, the better our chances are of changing the whole concept of re-entry.”

Christine Haskell, PhD is a Principal Leadership Consultant committed to creating leaders and organizations with a deeper purpose and the courage to transform their business impact. Experienced in startups and Fortune 500 companies, she has led new product development, global change projects, and business intelligence programs. She writes on leadership, purpose, and corporate growth. She resides in Seattle, WA. For more information, visit christinehaskell.co.

// Ronnie Elrod, who served 15 years in prison and is now plant manager overseeing more than 160 partners and bakery operations

“You take people like us and you give us an opportunity and what are you going to get? You’re going to get somebody that’s extremely dedicated; they have an ‘attitude of gratitude’ instead of a sense of entitlement. If you’re an employer, which would you rather have?”

// Ashley Payne, Mix Department

 “Even with my minimal criminal history, it was still hard to find a job. When I started my job, I really enjoyed coming in here. People remembered my name. They saw my work ethic, how hard I worked — that was noticed. It really gave me the confidence to start learning something new and start to accomplish my goals slowly but surely.”


// Mark, Café Cook

 “After 30 years of criminal activity, I was finally arrested and sentenced to 75 months. Along the way, maybe I just woke up. When you’re in an 8×10 box in the middle of the night with just your thoughts, you can see that something jumped the tracks somewhere. Dave’s has been the only thing there for me. I guess they saw something in me. I came here with nothing and nobody, and had to restart my life.”


1 You look out for them, they’ll look out for you. Since most people who have spent time in prison find it difficult to get a job and re-enter society, they’ll likely be extremely grateful for being given a chance.

 2 They have transferable skills. Many people doing time receive vocational training and participate in certification programs for GEDs and college degrees, which can help prepare them for employment and provide valuable skills that transfer across fields. Additionally, a high percentage of formerly incarcerated people have natural leadership skills and business acumen that are often overlooked in the labor market because of their criminal histories.

 3 Do right by society. As many as 50 percent of former convicts are unemployed. If they’re unable to obtain legitimate paying work, they are far more likely to return to a life of crime. Taking a chance on people with a criminal record can help ensure that they stay on the straight and narrow, and may help them to influence their friends and family members to do so, as well.

 4 Tax credit. The Department of Labor offers tax breaks for organizations that hire criminal offenders through the Work Opportunity Tax Credit Program. This gives employers a credit of up to $2,400 for each adult hired.

 5 Ex-offenders whose crimes are long in the past pose no greater risk than people in the general population. According to a study funded by the Justice Department, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that the “hazard rate” for a first-time arrestee for robbery was the same as someone who’d never been convicted after seven and a half years. For someone arrested for aggravated assault, the risk to employers disappeared after four years with no subsequent criminal activity. The research illustrates that many ex-offenders are fully capable of redeeming themselves for foolish acts in their youth and are deserving of employment opportunities.

Climate Action / Equity and Inclusion / Stakeholder Capitalism
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