Last week I had the opportunity to tour Bob’s Red Mill in Milwaukie, OR as part of the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior’s annual meeting.
If you like whole grains, then Bob’s is whole grain heaven. And if you like food factory tours: this one takes the cake.
The tour started out by getting to meet Bob, who is now 85 years old, and still comes to work every day.
Bob told our group about starting his first flour milling operation with his wife Charlee when they were in their late 50′s. They searched high and low for the highest quality mills and millstones from around the world, most of which are still in operation today.
Bob talked about his wife’s grandmother (…”Who I was really never fond of…”) and how she chastised him for smoking cigarettes and eating unhealthy foods when he was younger.
He said he eventually picked up on the benefits of better eating, coming around to her school of thought later in life. He coined the phrase you see throughout the factory, and even on all of the employees’ shirts, “Eat Wisely: you’re irreplaceable.”
Those irreplaceable employees now make over 400 different variations of whole grains, cereal mixes, and gluten free products for use at home and in commercial operations.
Bob explained how he got into gluten free foods, acting on a request from a buyer in Seattle from the Gluten Intolerance Group, who was having trouble finding a palatable commercial mix. Today, gluten free items make up a unique part of the Bob’s Red Mill product profile. They maintain entirely separate equipment, packaging and processing rooms to keep the gluten free items from becoming contaminated with gluten.
A few people on our tour were from rural areas, where BRM isn’t readily available. The tour guide mentioned the best selection online to purchase is from their Amazon site which carries every last item they roll out at the World Headquarters in Oregon.
In 2010, Bob made business news when he handed over the company to his 209 employees, saying that he couldn’t stand the thought of someone else buying the business when he had to retire.
Next time you’re in or around Portland, if you don’t have time to take the tour, you can still drop in to his Cafe and Whole Grain Store.
It’s a great place to grab lunch, stock up on whole grains – and if you’re lucky, you’ll even get to see Bob playing piano on one of the 2 grand pianos he had installed in the upper level of his world headquarters.