The Reason Dave Dahl Of Dave's Killer Bread Went To Jail

Maybe you've sampled Dave's Killer Bread, the popular organic and whole grain bread, and wondered how it got its catchy name. You may have even heard that Dave Dahl, the bakery's founder, spent 15 years incarcerated, as reported by NPR. But what did Dahl do to end up there? And how was he able to start a multi-million-dollar company afterward? Well, we have the answers to your burning questions.

Dave Dahl grew up amid his father's bakery, NatureBake, which, according to the Dave's Killer Bread website, was ahead of its time in the 1980s, creating handmade organic and sprouted grain loaves. By his teen years, though, Dahl says he was not interested in following in his father's footsteps. He began using drugs, dropped out of high school, and turned to a life of petty crime, according to the Deseret News. Dahl ended up spending the next 15 years in and out of prisons around the country for various offenses, including home burglary (via NPR). In between his crimes and sentences, he worked with his brother Glenn at the family bakery.

After being released from prison in the early 2000's, Dahl rejoined his brother at the bakery for good. It was there that he developed a cornmeal-encrusted bread that he took to Portland-area farmers markets and named "Dave's Killer Bread." A brand was born.

Dave's Killer Bread on display

Dave Dahl has never shied away from his history as an ex-con, notes NBC News. The brand even owes its notoriety not only to its flavorful organic loaves, but also to Dahl sharing his honest story of struggle and rehabilitation. When Dave's Killer Bread launched, offering delicious and unique seed breads with eye catching labels, the packaging included a caricature of Dave, the word "killer" splashed across the front, and had his story printed on the back, something the brand's marketing team advised against (a suggestion which ultimately got them fired). Despite the team's fears that Dahl's checkered past might be a turnoff, consumers embraced the bread and Dahl's rehabilitation story, focusing instead on the positive.

The enterprise continued to grow, from about 25 employees to 300. Dave's brother Glenn had always employed felons, knowing that finding employment after incarceration could be a serious challenge for many. The Dave's Killer Bread website states, "We have witnessed first-hand that someone's past does not define their future, and that sometimes giving someone a chance is all they need to become a Good Seed." They eventually realized that about a third of their staff were ex-cons, says The Ringer, and have kept that tradition alive. They sold more than half of the company in 2012 in order to continue its expansion. Dave stepped down from his role in the business about a year later.

Even after selling the company, Dave Dahl is still doing good

As one might imagine, the knowledge of the employment difficulties faced by documented convicts remained with Dahl even after he managed to sell Dave's Killer Bread for $275 million in 2015.

So, in 2020 (as EdSurge reported) Dahl invested $250,000 into Nucleos, a start-up dedicated to providing credentialed education and training programs to those incarcerated by the American Criminal Justice System in the hope to reform the system from its punitive present into a reformative one. "Nucleos gives people a chance to do what I've done in prison, and I want to help put other people in that direction," Dahl explained, detailing how a drafting class he took in prison drew him to the realization that he could build a life beyond what he had before.

The brand of Dave's Killer Bread kept true to this story as well. In 2017, they partnered with San Quentin State Prison to launch the Second Chance Project. "I've seen first-hand the ability of people — my co-workers — to turn their lives around with a second chance," Dan Letchinger, Dave's Killer Bread's vice-president of marketing, told Baking Business. The program's stated purpose is to provide people with the training and resources needed to make that turn around and avoid recidivism. 

In a stunt to raise further awareness, Dave's Killer Bread also prepared a prison-themed pop up in Toronto, in which visitors could, via prison-styled phones, hear inmates tell their stories (via BizBash). Though some questioned the choice, the proceeds went to two local organizations that brought the arts to impoverished neighborhoods and transitioning recently released men back into their communities. At any rate, it appears that even without his direct presence, Dahl's legacy at Dave's Killer Breads pushes the company to pursue some reform measures in the industrial incarceration complex.

If you, or anyone you know, is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).