Udi Baron was running a bakery and
restaurant when someone brought
him a recipe for gluten-free bread so
good it made people cry. It became
the linchpin of the company now
called Udi’s Gluten Free, which
immediately defined and dominated
its market—so much so that not even
Baron could believe it.
—AS TOLD TO UNA M. MORERA
I was born and raised in Israel.
Next door to my high school, there
was a tiny grocery store owned by an
Italian Holocaust survivor. He made
beautiful sandwiches. He bought
bread from a refugee from Iraq, and
made sandwiches on Iraqi bread
with Italian meat and pickles. I kind
of fell in love with them. Probably
they were terrible. But ever since
then, I’m making sandwiches.
I went to work for the Israeli IRS.
In 1978, my family left for Denver
so my wife could be closer to her
family. In 1994, I quit my job and
tried to do desserts. Then an old
man who had a small sandwich shop
became violently diabetic, and asked
if I could take over his business.
A business doing maybe $700 a
day—which is better than what I
did. So I got out of desserts.
I was searching for good bread
and couldn’t find it, so I opened a
bakery. Then I bought land and built
a building for the bakery and the
sandwich business. We added a
restaurant inside the bakery—Udi’s
Bread Cafe—so you could eat and
watch the men shaping bread.
It was very sensual. By 2007, the
bakery was doing really well, so we
moved it to a bigger place, where I
had an empty space.
That year, a man named Chadwick
White—a genius who can bake
complicated recipes from memory,
and who became our director of
product development—came to us
and said, “Listen, I have this gluten-free bread. I went to many bakeries
and big companies. Nobody wanted
it. Would you take a look?” I said,
“You know what? I’m not particularly interested. Everything we make
is gluten. Why would I go into
He suggested we go to a celiac
disease support group, which met
in the basement of a church. There,
we let people taste the gluten-free
bread. They went absolutely crazy.
We became heroes. Like rock stars.
Women were crying. One even
We put the bread on the shelves
of a local supermarket chain—like
a hundred stores. Whenever we
came, there was none on the shelf.
We were pretty upset. Then they
said, “No, no, no—we can’t keep it
on the shelf!”
I started buying equipment and
put it in my empty space. From
December 2007, we didn’t stop. That
bakery we’d just started, we outgrew.
From 2008 to 2012, the business
went from zero to $125 million in
sales. In 2012, we had 50 percent
of the market for gluten-free baked
goods and were in 25,000 stores. It
became so big that we didn’t believe
it. Only 1 percent of the population
has celiac disease. How come so
many people were buying the bread?
It made no sense.
I’m not a gambler. I’m a paranoid
person. And not very brave. When
the company was valued at around
$100 million, my partners and I all
came to the conclusion to sell, to
limit our risk. There was always
the darkness—the ambiguity—
between the time to sell and being
too greedy. I still didn’t believe
the numbers. But we sold for
My wife and I had planned to go to
the Amazon for two weeks before
the deal closed. Our attorneys were
horrified. They said, absolutely do
not leave until everything is done. So
I stayed. On July 3, 2012, I was all
alone in my house, waiting for the
money to transfer.
When I got the message from my
bank, I didn’t know how to grasp it.
What does it mean to have tens of
millions of dollars? What does it
feel like to have no worries about
money? I went to the supermarket
to see if I could understand. I said to
myself, “I’m not going to look at the
prices. I’m just going to buy everything I want to buy.”
From the outside, it might look
like, that’s what you did? You went
to the supermarket and you went
shopping? It was the 4th of July
weekend. Everyone was out of town.
I had nobody to share it with.
It sounds so weird. But that’s how
UDI BARON/UDI’S GLUTEN FREE HOW MY COMPANY WENT FROM ZERO TO $125 MILLION IN FIVE YEARS—AND WHY I DECIDED TO SELL