Way back when, quite sometime after the frontier was tamed, but not quite before high fructose corn syrup had taken over the breakfast aisle at the grocery store, the Clark family started Kodiak Cakes. It began with a whole-grain flapjack recipe created by a young Joel Clark’s grandfather that transformed traditional run-of-the-mill pancakes into hearty, filling flapjacks that became a family tradition. His recipe was passed down to Joel’s mother, Penny, who raised her boys on those very same rustic, whole grain, and delicious flapjacks.
These flapjacks remained a family favorite for quite some time until one day, Penny loaded up a little red wagon and sent her son, Joel, out into the neighborhood to sell brown bags of flapjack mix. It came as no surprise that they were a hit, but the next few decades certainly did as those bags of mix became a business.
Many rising business owners have a common dream about becoming a successful entrepreneur. They are lured by great perks like self-earned income, flexibility, and boasting the title “Entrepreneur.” But, aside from all the highlights, 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 the Clark boys from building Kodiak Cakes.
In the summer of 1994, Penny urged her oldest son, Jon, to start Kodiak Cakes. Jon spent hours studying at the library about food ingredients and tested batch after batch of flapjack 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 quickly as he had hoped. 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 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.
To find out how Kodiak Cakes became the best-selling pancake brand in the nation,
keep reading in Part 2: No Noise in Pancakes… ‘Til Now!