Bob Moore still looks like his own facsimilie cast years ago for the Bob’s Red Mill steel cut oats label. The 83-year-old founder, president and CEO of Bob’s Red Mill stands against the wall with his arms crossed against his unbuttoned red vest. His tan flat cap fits snugly on his head, hiding the white hair that his beard hasn’t claimed for itself. In the right-hand corner of each bag of oats is an electronically scrawled, “Bob,” just as he has implored his employees to call him for forty years.
Today, Bob’s Red Mill, headquartered in Milwaukie, encompasses 325,000 square feet and seventeen acres. It contains a gluten-free building, a non wheat-free facility, a mechanical engineering shop, several food testing labs and massive storage rooms. Truckloads of more than 400 whole grain products are conveyed through the warehouse before being loaded onto trucks and sent around the world.
Though Bob’s Red Mill is global, Moore never intended for his mill to evolve into a worldwide company. When he opened Moore’s Flour Mill with two of his three sons in Redding, California in 1973, the response was overwhelming. The three parking spaces out front were constantly filled with customers, while others parked along the roadside. Moore was happy selling whole grain products out of his storefront, without any intentions to expand.
“But it was really kind of naïve to think that three families were going to make a living out of that place,” says Moore now, sitting in his Milwaukie office.
Five years after Bob opened the mill in Redding, he and his wife moved to Portland, while his two sons continued to operate Moore’s Flour Mill, which is still in business today. In Portland, Moore was a retired man. He audited classes at Western Evangelical Seminary school—now George Fox University. In his spare time, he tutored fellow students and walked each day for miles with his wife for exercise.
“Being retired under the age of 50, was um … ” Moore’s voice trails off, not finding the right words. Changing tack, he rejoins, “One day, Charlee and I walked down Roethe Road and there was a flour mill with a ‘for sale’ sign on the property.”
The mill had been empty for years, but through the windows, Moore saw bucket elevators and machinery that was too providential for him to ignore. A few phone calls later, he had rented the mill with an option to buy. Three months later, in 1978, he opened Moore’s Flour Mill, now known as Bob’s Red Mill.
“The interest in whole grains came from the book John Goffe’s Mill, by John Woodbury, and 1930s and ‘40s writers who were wee voices in the wilderness as far as healthy eating was concerned. They were getting away from white flour and all the evils of white sugar—all of which have become more evil,” says Moore. “The big thing that inspired me was that Woodbury didn’t know anything about milling when he started, and I thought, ‘If this bugger can do it, then so can I.’”
The reception from the Portland population was unlike anything Moore had ever experienced. People lined up outside his store, the local news crew came, and it wasn’t long before Fred Meyer’s buyer was interested in carrying Bob’s Red Mill products in each of its forty-four stores. By the end of 2012, Moore expects sales to reach $130 million.
Walking through the mill today, the miller is in his world. His quick gait is no indication of his age. He greets each employee by name, with a smile beaming across his face. He passes assembly lines of machines filling bags with flour and depositing them into assembled boxes. In front of one of the mills, his long-time executive assistant, Nancy Garner, flags him down for a photo. Trucks enter the warehouse empty and depart full of products: quinoa, rice flour, ten-grain cereal and whole wheat flour.
Though Moore turned 83 in January, he has no plans to retire. He loves coming to the mill everyday; seeing his 250 employees share three operational shifts. The place never shuts down.
No matter what Moore is selling, it’s his philosophy that guides decisions like these. “Make the world a better place. Can’t take it with you, so what else is there to do?”
Visit Bob’s online: bobsredmill.com