Starting a company is tough, right? Well, yes -- for many people, it is. Then there are those such as Lynn Gordon, the proprietor of French Meadow Bakery, in Minneapolis, whose story reads like some kind of fairy tale.
It begins in 1985. Gordon is a divorced mother of three, whose principal asset is a recipe for old-fashioned bread. So what does she do? She starts a business in her kitchen, that's what, making bread from a fermented mix of grains and water. She sells the bread to local co-ops as a health food. Forty loaves a week. Her kids color the posters for the displays.
One day, she makes a cold call to a local gourmet shop. As luck would have it, the buyer is on a special diet that does not allow for honey, oil, or dairy. This bread is just what she's looking for. Soon other grocery stores sign up. Meanwhile, customers are sending loaves to friends around the country, who call to order more. Under pressure from stores, distributors start asking for it. Next, who should turn up but Diane Sawyer and the "60 Minutes" crew, working on a story about the Women's Economic Development Corp., a Minneapolis program for women entrepreneurs in which Gordon is involved. Sawyer includes Gordon and her bread on the show. Then the state helps subsidize a trip to the International Fancy Food & Confection Show, in Chicago, where 300 stores place orders. Will Steger, the tundra explorer, calls: he wants Gordon's bread on the international trip he's leading across the antarctic. Even Neiman-Marcus gets into the act. Its special catalog, "Gifts of the Imagination," includes a $5,000 Ultimate Cocktail Buffet -- with three loaves of French Meadow bread.
All of which has left Gordon a little dazed. She has had to move her operation into a 13,500-square-foot storefront/bakery in Minneapolis, where she now employs 15 people. How does she account for it? "It's just been a gigantic word of mouth."
-- Leslie Brokaw