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- Entrepreneur Spotlight: Tristaun LeClaire
Entrepreneur Spotlight: Tristaun LeClaire
Entrepreneur Spotlight: Tristaun LeClaire, Simple Kneads
What do you do if there isn’t a product that best suits your needs? One of two things: go without the product or invent it yourself. This month’s entrepreneur spotlight, Tristaun LeClaire, did both. The Chief Executive Officer of Simple Kneads is a perfect example of a naturally entrepreneurial minded innovator.
When his first-born son was two years old, Tristaun and his wife realized he wasn’t doing well with processing food. Thus, they conducted an elimination diet, where they found dairy, soy, and gluten as the culprit of the sensitivities. For a while, they got rid of bread and lived a plant-based lifestyle.
With a professional background in culinary and chemistry, Tristaun began experimenting to develop a sourdough bread made of ancient grains that was not only soy, dairy, and gluten free— but it was tasty and healthful. Tristaun reflects “it took me months to figure out the first product. I considered myself the Thomas Edison of gluten free bread.”
Once Tristaun discovered a breakthrough, he shared it with his family who absolutely loved it! Next, he shared the bread with a naturopathic doctor, who also happens to be his stepfather, at his job where he worked. The bread was a hit; he couldn’t keep it stocked!
Thus, he took a leap of faith and Simple Kneads was born, recognizing that there were probably many people who’d desire his product. Tristaun’s brother, who was a Marine major at the time, was his first investor and co-founder. They built the company from the ground up, conducted market research, and decided to move to NC.
The company was originally names Shiloh’s Five Loaves, named after his first son, Shiloh, and the Five Loaves is a Biblical reference. Due to trademarking issues, the DBA is Simple Kneads owned by the corporation Shiloh’s Five Loaves.
Simple Kneads is passionate about helping people to find health and happiness through delicious nutrition with the help of their 27 employees. They give back to the community by donating the bread that isn’t necessarily ready to be distributed, but still viable for consumption, to local churches, food banks, and other charities.
Besides being one of the only companies to make artisan, gluten-free bread, made with whole food ingredients a clean label, no GMOs, and no eggs or dairy, Simple Kneads is unique because they love their employees as much as they love their customers. “Many of them have chosen to stay because of the culture and workplace environment,” says Tristaun.
Retaining employees during a pandemic is no easy feat, which truly speaks to the trustworthy and familial nature of Simple
Knead’s company culture. Throughout the pandemic, the company did extremely well, as they invested in their ecommerce infrastructure. They began offering two-day shipping nationwide, while everyone flooded to online purchasing. Data revealed their online orders increased by 600%, company sales increased by over 300%, and they retained those new customers.
Secrets to Success
Tristaun remarks “we would’ve failed 20 times over if it wasn’t for my advice to all business owners,” which is to be willing to put everything on the line. According to Tristaun, “the success of a business is built on grit and the willingness to be self-sacrificing. You must understand that business is risky, and it has to be your passion; It must be fulfilling, so it won’t be difficult to get up in the morning and go to work or get a call at night and go to work. You must ensure that you love the business, and that you are willing to put it all on the line.”
He modeled these sentiments during the pandemic, while Simple Kneads dealt with supply chain and staffing issues. Tristaun and his COO, Isaac Workman, “just threw down and put aside our office jobs and worked several 20 hours day back-to-back. We pushed until we succeeded.”
Speaking of success, Tristaun measures success in terms of the happiness of his customers. Regarding personal success, he views the time he is able to devote to his children and wife exploring the outdoors and appreciating nature, while growing in their love and relationship with God as success.
When asked about the most challenging aspect of his role as the Chief Executive Officer, he mentions the hecticness of his work schedule and the competitive market for employees. When you can’t find reliable talent, the work ultimately falls on leadership.
Tristaun moved from wearing every hat—when he first started, to now: “directing the company to future growth and keeping the funding in place.” He breaks down leadership as “three elements:
Inspiration, inspiring the team and making sure everyone is behind the vision.
Direction, giving the correct direction to accomplish goals.
Allocation, allocating resources to ensure everyone has all the resources they need.”
Additionally, effective leaders always have champions to support their vision. In Tristaun’s case, he has many— from his board of directors, his brother and co-founder and his personal friend and mentor Bruce Nelson.
Business in Burlington
Finally, Tristaun appreciates doing business in Burlington because “we are best positioned for distribution being two hours from Charlotte, one hour from Raleigh, and three hours from Asheville — we can literally reach the whole state in three hours in any one direction. The 85 and 40 corridor are helpful for truck lines, and the cost of living is relatively low compared to other counties.” On top of that, the commercial properties are affordable with prices that “you can’t find anywhere else.”
Follow and support his business by accessing the channels below:
Facebook @Simple Kneads Gluten-Free
425 S. Lexington Ave.