Moving from Fine Dining to Gluten-Free, Mike Tierney Is Taking on Big Bread

Carol Ortenberg

After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America and working at Michelin-starred restaurants The French Laundry and Eleven Madison Park, Mike Tierney still couldn’t shake his longtime idea of starting a candy company. So Tierney gave up his job as a chef, and working on his company by day and baking paleo bakery products for a local store by night.

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 4.47.47 PMThe candy company took longer to launch then planned (it will hit stores in fall 2016) but the baked goods were a hit. In particular, customers flocked to buy his gluten-free, paleo, clean-ingredient-driven, low-calorie english muffins. Now just a few years later, the resulting line of “Mikey’s” baked goods (formerly Mikey’s Muffins) are ice storming the frozen bread set.

The line is in over 2,000 stores, including numerous independent retailers, natural grocers (such as Whole Foods Market and Sprouts) and conventional outlets (including Kroger, Shaws and Walmart).

Last Fall Mikey’s closed its first round of funding — a “significant” seven figure investment from REI Capital. Primarily an investor in fashion brands, Mikey’s is the firm’s first jump into food, attracted by the caveman chic.

“REI felt it was the right product at the right time,” said Richard Rothfeld, Principal at REI. “The growing paleo market was clearly underserved when it came to bread replacement options. We knew how hard it is to deliver a paleo-friendly product that tastes and looks great and Mikey’s had done it.”

2016 has been a particularly busy year for the brand. Just over a month ago, Tierney made his first hire, sales chief Tim Siegel, the former Vice President of Sales for the West region at Boulder Brands (the owners of gluten-free competitors Udi’s and Glutino).

“I saw this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help scale up a brand from the start,” Siegel said. “My previous experience at Boulder Brands was the perfect complement to Mike’s skill set.”

pz-boxThis year will also see the launch of new products outside of the brand’s original english muffin format. In July, the brand’s pizza crust will launch nationwide. In the Fall, Mikey’s will launch a range of muffin tops and a sliced sandwich bread. Tierney promises the bread will be different than the competition, which he refers to as “single attribute gluten-free breads” or “gluten-free wonderbread.”

In total, Tierney believes that in 2016 the brand will add roughly 4000 new retail doors. This will, he told NOSH, result in sales quadrupling this year.

To finish his epic year of growth, Tierney hopes to close a series B round of funding in the Fall.

Tierney told NOSH that the brand is succeeding because it delivers to a range of consumer needs and diets. “What I built was a platform to lean into as many curves as possible,” Tierney said. “We’re delivering gluten-free, which is here to stay, paleo which is the hottest diet on the planet, [and] we’re grain free.”

or-boxThe other key to Mikey’s success is Tierney’s commitment to customer service and engagement. For example, his personal cell phone is still listed on Mikey’s website. Tierney told NOSH that it’s his fine dining background that’s responsible for his consumer-centric mindset.

“From the moment you walked in that door [of the restaurant] until the moment we ushered you out, our only goal was to take care of you and make you happy. And that’s the same way we are approaching these items,” Tierney said. “If a consumer has an issue, I don’t need to see a receipt, I don’t need to see a picture. It’s ‘here’s a free box, what can I do to fix that?’”

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