“I broke down. It was art that brought me back around again. It was my saving grace.” said Dave Dahl on a recent podcast interview. Dave started collecting art as a therapeutic way to deal with his personal struggles. His interest in art first started during a stay in prison. In fact, prison was the inspiration for his success behind Dave’s Killer Bread. He has never forgotten that and has dedicated much of his time and resources to giving back to people who are and have been incarcerated.
During the 15 years he spent incarcerated he learned the skill of computer-aided drafting and machining. For many years he struggled with substance abuse and it was during this time he learned to change his mindset, that he had the ability to make positive changes and achieve his goals.
He started working at his family-owned bakery at the age of 9 for a mere 25 cents an hour. After his release from prison, his brother offered him a job. And so began Dave’s Killer Bread. Dave experimented with recipes using seeds, nuts, and whole grains to come up with unique bread that he sold at farmer’s markets around the Portland area. Popularity gained quickly and they soon had clients such as Safeway and Costco.
Dave accredited his success to the changes he made in prison. He honored that by detailing his story of dependency, incarceration, and resilience on the bread packaging, along with a cartoon picture of Dave himself. Although he was advised against that, his story contributed to the company’s success.
Instead of Dave being ashamed of his past he embraced it. Statistics show that 50% of felons who apply for a job won’t get a callback or offer. Dave wanted to change this narrative and hired staff members with criminal records. Dave and his family eventually sold Dave’s Killer Bread for $275 million dollars to Flower Foods. They held up the policy of hiring those that have been incarcerated and they now make up 30 to 40 percent of the staff. One staff member says “It feels really good, to be honest, and not have to hide behind the stigma of being a felon.” The company has also started the Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation that helps get other businesses to hire people in the criminal background to help give them a second chance.
Dave is still active in helping to give people second chances. Since selling the company he has volunteered to help formerly incarcerated people get back on track through training and job placement programs. He invested in a startup company called Nucleos whose goal is to make online educational and vocational programs more accessible to those behind bars. He has also collaborated with them to create a curriculum that focuses on changing an inmate’s mindset to be more positive about themselves, leading to better choices which could greatly reduce the 43% recidivism rate.
Dave is also involved in Constructing Hope, a non-profit that provides construction career training, education and support to underprivileged and at-risk youth and adults. Their focus is to help rebuild people’s lives by encouraging self-sufficiency through skills training. Dave attributes much of his transformation to learning a trade while incarcerated. “I believe in their mission of helping others find their way, like I did”. Recently, Dave gave a large contribution that enabled the program to continue operating throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
These days Dave spends his time collecting art. He has amassed a large collection of tribal masks that were once used in ceremonies and rituals. He is also a musician and is in a band he recently reformed called the Killer Granddaddies. They perform covers and original songs and play at causes they support. Dave is living proof of how successful one can be if they change their mindset. It is never too late for a second chance, and he spends his life proving that as well as helping others achieve the same.