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Catching Up with Gretchen’s Grains: How One Small Business is Poised to Take Off

This post celebrating timeless values for small business is brought to you by GOOD, with support from UPS. We’ve teamed up to bring you the Small Business Collaborative, a series sharing stories about innovative small businesses that are changing business as usual for their communities and beyond.

This post celebrating timeless values for small business is brought to you by GOOD, with support from UPS. We’ve teamed up to bring you the Small Business Collaborative, a series sharing stories about innovative small businesses that are changing business as usual for their communities and beyond. Learn how UPS is helping small businesses work better and more sustainably here.


Talk to a dozen entrepreneurs and you find a few common traits: a tireless work ethic, an ability to dream big, and a fearlessness to cast one’s fortunes to the whims of a fickle economy. Talk to successful entrepreneurs and you get romanticized tales of those early bootstrapping days—ones they are still a little shocked to have survived. And you hear about the time when things finally took off and small business dreams turned into a viable reality.

In Seattle, Washington, there is a small business at the precipice, in the process of shifting from years of dogged work to what may soon become a national brand. It started in the kitchen of an overwhelmed young mother named Gretchen Evans.

“We had twins, and then we had another baby 15 months later,” Evans explains. She found herself cooking and freezing lots of baby food. “Anything I’d make, I’d just double it and freeze it, and that was really, really handy. I realized if I just made a ton of this brown rice and spread it on a sheet and bagged them up in individual bags, I’d have this freezer full of tools.” Her stock of brown rice, quinoa and other whole grains became “mother ingredients” to pull together quick meals.

Friends and family noticed what she was doing and asked for some to take home and try. When the Evanses ran out of their own freezer stock, there were no other simple frozen grains in stores to buy, and it occurred to them that frozen grains could turn into a business opportunity.

The timing was crazy—and perfect. Prior to having the twins, Evans had been in graduate school; she traveled frequently. “Suddenly, I had twins. My whole world was opened and shattered,” says Evans. But she had these frozen grains that everyone seemed to love, and as market research showed, they could fill an untapped niche for easy-to-prepare grains. Her husband Bill, who’d previously owned a flight school, had business knowledge, and Evans says she had the motivation: “having the three kids and wanting something of my own.”

She went to work full time at night, waitressing and bartending when her youngest was one month old, and switched off during the day with her husband for four years, alternately caring for the kids and working on what would become Gretchen’s Grains. “At times, I felt like this is never, never going to work… I’m going to waitress forever.”

They began with a plan to get the packaging done and do the rest by hand while building brand recognition, but a timely bit of practical advice made them think bigger. “I was talking to my dad,” Evans remembers, “and he said, ‘Oh, you’re going to make it by hand? So you have a hobby. You don’t have a business.’ And it totally enraged me—and it enraged me because he was right.”

The model for Gretchen’s Grains shifted: finding a processor to cook and freeze single-ingredient grains, lining up a packing facility, working with UNFI, the natural foods distributor. The company took the leap from kitchen project to products sold in 230 stores—and Gretchen became the face of a growing company.

Scott Owen, grocery merchandiser for PCC Natural Markets, a Seattle-based natural foods co-op that sells Gretchen’s Grains, sees her products as rivals to shelf-stable products like instant rice. “It’s kind of the difference between frozen and canned corn. There are some textural and taste differences.” More to the point though, Owen sees Gretchen’s Grains as hitting a broad target market of people cooking on a time crunch, “if you don’t have time to go ahead and cook up your wheat berries or your rice, it’s a nice thing because it cooks so quickly.”

Evans does in-store demos demonstrating just that a few times each week. “People think I’m famous,” she says, giggling at the absurdity. “People ask for my autograph. It’s so hilarious…. And I’m like, no, no, no, I’m just a bartender from West Seattle. That’s the disconnect between what a small business is and what it isn’t.” She clarifies, “It’s really, really hard work, and people assume that if you own your own business, you’ve made it.”

But the company is on its way to solid footing. Recently Evans pitched the grocery chain Fred Meyer, the Pacific Northwest branch of national food giant Kroger. “It was the most nerve racking experience of my life, but with a great outcome.” Gretchen’s Grains is sold in 130 Fred Meyers and if all goes well, Gretchen will be pitching to Kroger’s corporate offices this fall—which could mean a roll-out in more than 2300 stores.

Building a business is a leap of faith, then a series of painstakingly careful steps, and if you’re lucky, the boom times. For Evans, “the hardest part was how long we had to work, and I already forget about it, because now we’re where we want to be.”

Evans now sees her evening waitressing shifts as a nice social break. “By five o’clock I want out of the house.” She brings home food and has a glass of wine with her husband around midnight. “Our lives are so crazy and we're so lucky that they are, that we have these opportunities to work hard and totally chase a dream right now. We know we’re going to look back at these as the best times.”

Articles
via Collection of the New-York Historical Society / Wikimedia Commons

Fredrick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. At the age of 10 he was given to the Auld family.

As a child, he worked as a house slave and was able to learn to read and write, and he attempted to teach his fellow slaves the same skills.

At the age of 15, he was given to Thomas Auld, a cruel man who beat and starved his slaves and thwarted any opportunity for them to practice their faith or to learn to read or write.

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via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

On April 20, 1889 at the Braunau am Inn, in Upper Austria Salzburger located at Vorstadt 15, Alois and Klara Hitler brought a son into the world. They named him Adolph.

Little did they know he would grow up to be one of the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known.

The Hitlers moved out of the Braunau am Inn when Adolph was three, but the three-story butter-colored building still stands. It has been the subject of controversy for seven decades.

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

The building was a meeting place for Nazi loyalists in the 1930s and '40s. After World War II, the building has become an informal pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and veterans to glorify the murderous dictator.

The building was a thorn in the side to local government and residents to say the least.

RELATED: He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

For years it was owned by Gerlinde Pommer, a descendant of the original owners. The Austrian government made numerous attempts to purchase it from her, but to no avail. The building has served many purposes, a school, a library, and a makeshift museum.

In 1989, a stone from the building was inscribed with:

"For Peace, Freedom

and Democracy.

Never Again Fascism.

Millions of Dead Remind [us]."

via Jo Oh / Wikimedia Commons

For three decades it was home to an organization that offered support and integration assistance for disabled people. But in 2011, the organization vacated the property because Pommer refused to bring it up to code.

RELATED: 'High Castle' producers destroyed every swastika used on the show and the video is oh-so satisfying

In 2017, the fight between the government and Pommer ended with it seizing the property. Authorities said it would get a "thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building."

Now, the government intends to turn it into a police station which will surely deter any neo-Nazis from hanging around the building.

Austria has strict anti-Nazi laws that aim to prohibit any potential Nazi revival. The laws state that anyone who denies, belittles, condones or tries to justify the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity shall be punished with imprisonment for one year up to ten years.

In Austria the anti-Nazi laws are so strict one can go to prison for making the Nazi hand salute or saying "Heil Hitler."

"The future use of the house by the police should send an unmistakable signal that the role of this building as a memorial to the Nazis has been permanently revoked," Austria's IInterior Minister, Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement.

The house is set to be redesigned following an international architectural competition.

Communities
via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

The show is loosely based on an alternative history novel by Philip K. Dick that postulates what would happen if Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan controlled the United States after being victorious in World War II.

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via Mike Mozart / Flickr

Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

RELATED: The 1975's singer bravely kissed a man at a Dubai concert to protest anti-LGBT oppression

In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

RELATED: Alan Turing will appear on the 50-pound note nearly 70 years after being persecuted for his sexuality

Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?

Lifestyle

Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

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The Planet