Happy Campers Gluten Free Bread was conceived in business school, born at a farmers market.
Now that’s an origin story.
Jan Taborsky, (that’s Yahn; not the diminutive for Janet) found his way to Oregon from the Czech Republic and eventually to Willamette University’s Atkinson School of Management. There he began research on what would become Happy Campers during his second year of Grad School. Along with his team, the nascent Happy Campers project would win the PACE New Venture Competition, judged in part by, Mercy Corps and the Portland Business Journal. In October 2009, they sold their first loaves at Salem Farmers Market, by the time graduation rolled around in May ’10, Jan and his partner-partner (co-entrepreneur and spouse,) Lacy Gilham became full-time bakers.
After moving to Portland and working in borrowed kitchen space, the Happy Campers (Taborsky means camper in Jan’s native Czech) are now ensconced in their own gluten free baking facility in Tigard, Oregon. From there they turn out bread that offers taste and nutrition for those with gluten allergies and even baking for those with a baguette-bias. Jan challenges the baguette lovers to go, “Shorter and chubbier. Our bread brings amazing variety to anyone’s diet; it’s made with grass seed flours that are amazingly nutritious, super tasty and you get an array of nutrients that you don’t usually get like millet, buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa and teff.”
Teff is one of those alt-grains that have come to prominence in the last few years for it’s healthful properties and lack of gluten. About the size of a sesame seed, it’s an item our friends at Bob’s Red Mill promote it with their ‘Grains of Discovery’ label and offer it both whole and ground into flour, but adventurous eaters may be familiar with teff as the foundation of the spongy and rightly exalted Ethiopian flatbread, injera.
Since joining PFM last year, the Happy Campers have been able to connect with their audience first hand. Jan, who was manning the booth at Sunday’s King Market says, “We’re excited and grateful to be a part of both our community and local food system and we do our best to make both a little better.” His inner MBA also understands the value of direct sales, “…farmers markets also provide the best avenue for our market research. We get first-hand feedback on our recipes, flavors, speech and overall messaging. We can experiment, tweak things and immediately see if people like them better. We love talking to people and finding out (besides other things) about what they like to eat and why, which allows us to come up with better products for them.”
*Thanks to Deborah Pleva of Weinstein PR for Czech translation services.