It all started with a little red wagon
Part I – The story about how Kodiak Cakes got started, and how it became the best-selling pancake brand in its industry.
Penny Clark still remembers waking up to the delectable aroma of her father’s famous whole-wheat “hotcakes” drifting throughout the morning air of her childhood home. To Penny, no family breakfast was complete without an appetizing stack of Dad’s homemade flapjacks. His secret recipe transformed run-of-the-mill pancakes into hearty, healthy hotcakes that became a family tradition. Staying true to that tradition, Penny continued to make her father’s famous hotcakes for her own kids, bringing the nostalgic breakfast aroma from her childhood to her own family’s kitchen.
As a young mom, Penny dreamt of selling her father’s recipe as a mix. So, in the summer of 1982, she assembled the dry ingredients for her dad’s hearty hot-cake recipe into brown paper lunch sacks and carefully wrote out the cooking instructions for her flapjacks on the back of each bag. Penny then sent her eight-year-old son, Joel, out with his red wagon in tow to sell her flapjack mix to nearby friends and families. When Joel returned home, his wagon was empty—he had sold every mix.
Word spread, and neighbors started to request more of Penny’s flapjack mix. But with young children to raise, Penny decided to focus her efforts on raising her family rather than embarking on her new business experiment. However, over the next twelve years, the small glimpse of the success her dream could have been never left her mind.
Penny then sent her eight-year-old son, Joel, out with his red wagon in tow to sell her flapjack mix to nearby friends and families. When Joel returned home, his wagon was empty—he had sold every mix
Becoming an Entrepreneur
Many rising business owners have a common dream about becoming a successful entrepreneur. They are lured by great perks like no limit on income, the flexibility of being your own boss, and how awesome it looks when your resume reads “Entrepreneur.” But, aside from all things cool about entrepreneurship, the task is daunting and the journey is risky. In fact, did you know about 30% of new businesses fail in the first two years of being open? However, stats like these didn’t keep Joel Clark from chasing his dreams. Little did he know at the time, but the day Joel ventured out into the neighborhood with his red wagon as a boy, he was setting the foundation for his adult career.
In the summer of 1994, Penny Clark urged her oldest son, Jon, to start the business she once dreamt about. Jon spent hours studying at the library about food ingredients and tested batch after batch of pancake mix in his kitchen. Finally, after Jon had modified his mom’s recipe into an “add-water-only” mix, Kodiak Cakes Frontier Flapjack and Waffle Mix was ready for market. In 1995, Jon’s little brother, Joel, hopped onboard and their team of two hit the streets of nearby ski towns like Park City, Utah; Sun Valley, Idaho; and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where they sold their mix to local gift shops and stores.
The two ran the company by night, dedicating their daylight hours to day jobs and school. But it wasn’t long before Jon realized that Kodiak Cakes was not taking off as the success he thought it would. The company struggled financially and saw minimal growth. So, after two years of trying to get Kodiak Cakes off the ground, Jon decided to pursue another career path and turned Kodiak Cakes over to Joel to run on his own.
For the next several years, money was incredibly tight for Joel and his family. To help stay afloat, Joel bought and sold cars, flipped a couple homes and a piece of land, and even started a retail cookie business on the side that proved to be a total financial disaster. It wasn’t easy, and Joel almost declared bankruptcy several times. But he stayed positive and kept pushing through the obstacles put in his way. Joel was raised on the idea that if you wanted something, you had to go get it, and some things just required a lot of work—Kodiak Cakes was one of those things.
Small wins over the years had finally given Joel the confidence to move forward with Kodiak Cakes full-time. So, Joel quit his job in 2004, and his dad, Richard, came out of retirement at 65 years old to help him. Not much changed over the next five years. Kodiak Cakes hardly had a steady profit, and the struggle to maintain the business was exhausting. In 2008, Joel took a job running a home health agency and turned Kodiak Cakes over to another company to manage. But by the end of 2008, Joel’s new job just wasn’t working out, and he ended up taking Kodiak Cakes back with a commitment to stay in it—success or failure—to the end.