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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Chef's Choice: Josh Allen, Companion

Posted By on Thu, Nov 12, 2009 at 3:07 PM

click to enlarge Josh Allen, founder of Companion - ROBIN WHEELER
  • Robin Wheeler
  • Josh Allen, founder of Companion
It doesn't take much to change the face of baking in a city. For Companion founder Josh Allen, it started with a few watts. "I have a fond memory of stealing my sister's Easy-Bake oven, so I was pretty good at baking brownies by the heat of a light bulb."

Growing up surrounded by his family's food distribution business, Allen Foods (now a part of U.S. Foodservice), he knew he'd be in the food business as an adult. He also knew he didn't want to wear a tie. After attending Stanford University, he cooked three meals a day for a family living in the largest estate on Lake Tahoe. From there, he started baking at Whole Foods in Palo Alto, where he was approached by the owner of Oakville Grocery. After Allen spent months designing a bakery and distribution system for the company's then-expanding chain of stores, the owner decided baking wasn't feasible.

Allen returned to St. Louis with the knowledge he gained from Oakville Grocery, leased a tiny bit of space in an Allen Foods building in South City and started baking. He knocked on restaurant doors, seeking customers. He had six restaurant wholesale clients when he started, thanks to the skills he'd learned while going on distribution runs with his dad as a child.

His timing couldn't have been better. St. Louis Bread Company was shifting its focus from wholesale to retail, and the economy was right for starting a small business. Companion was born the same year as Kaldi's Coffee and three years after Schlafly opened the Tap Room.

"I think there was probably something appealing about this 24-year-old, really tired, flour-dusted kid walking in the back door and saying, 'Here's what I've got,' that made people interested. Or they'd say, 'No, but can you make this?'"

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