Bob Moore, who became an affable face of the health food industry as the bearded, bolo tie-wearing founder of Bob’s Red Mill, the whole-grain food brand known as a favorite of vegans, home bakers, healthy food and gluten lovers. Free Diners, died Feb. 10 at his home in Milwaukie, Oregon, the former mill town where the company is based. He was 94.
A company spokeswoman confirmed his death but did not give a cause.
Mr. Moore was a folksy, almost Santa Claus-like figure who often wore a red vest or coat. It was instantly recognizable to anyone who ever bought a bag of barley, bulgur or buckwheat from Bob’s Red Mill. An image of his gently smiling face beneath a flat cap and wire-rimmed glasses adorns each of the company’s more than 200 products, along with a salutation that expresses the former seminarian’s easygoing charm: “To your health.”
Under Mr. Moore and his wife, co-founder Charlee Moore, the privately held company grew from an artisanal operation in Oregon to a global empire of stone-ground grains, cereals and flours with annual sales of “well over $100 million,” Mr. Moore said . Moore told podcast host Guy Raz in 2018. The company embarked on a hiring boom in 2020, spurred by increased interest in baking during the coronavirus pandemic, and says it now has more than 700 employees and in sold in more than 70 countries.
Mr. Moore, who retired as chief executive in 2018 and continued to serve on the board until his death, was initially hesitant to embrace the health-conscious approach his brand had promoted since its founding in 1978. “We were crazy,” he said, and was skeptical to his wife’s interest in books like “Let’s Get Well” by nutritionist Adelle Davis.
But his father’s death from a heart attack at age 49 and his wife’s experiments with whole-grain baking in the 1960s began to spark his interest in healthy eating. “Our world needed better food, it needed whole grains,” he recalled on an episode of Raz’s podcast “How I Built This.”
While managing a JC Penney auto repair shop in Redding, California, Mr. Moore came across a library book called “John Goffe’s Mill,” in which Harvard anthropologist George Woodbury chronicled his attempts to restore an abandoned mill, his family’s belonged to New Hampshire. The book, with its powerful descriptions of traditional milling techniques and the glory of stone-ground flour and cornmeal, inspired Mr. Moore to think he might run his own mill.
Mr. Moore began writing letters to millers across the country, searching for antique equipment and eventually acquiring a few sets of 19th-century quartz millstones from a disused mill in North Carolina. He had modest success with his first milling company, Moores’ Flour Mill, which he founded with his wife and two of his sons in a vacant Quonset hut in Redding in 1974.
But a few years later, shortly before his 50th birthday, he decided to hand the mill business over to his children. He sold most of his possessions, moved with his wife to Portland, Oregon, and enrolled at Western Evangelical Seminary, now part of George Fox University, where he attempted to fulfill his long-held desire to learn Hebrew and Greek, so that he could read the Bible in two of its original languages.
“That was 100 percent my goal in life,” he said in an oral history for Oregon State University. “I gave myself over to it.”
Within six months, Mr. Moore was again gripped by visions of stone-ground flour and grain. He and his wife quizzed each other on Greek nouns and verbs and were reviewing flashcards while walking in nearby Milwaukie, a few miles south of downtown Portland, when they spotted an old mill and a “For Sale” sign out front . Inside were bucket elevators and grain cleaners, as well as virtually all of the milling equipment Mr. Moore knew he would need to get started.
“I call it my emotional revelation,” he told the Oregonian, recalling his first encounter with the building. “Whatever excuse I want to make, I just got sucked in like a whirlpool.”
Using a set of 1870s millstones acquired from another old mill, he soon founded Bob’s Red Mill. His wife handled the accounting and packaged many of the original products while Mr. Moore set about promoting the business company by appearing on the evening news a few weeks after the mill opened and filling the parking lot shortly thereafter.
The company grew with the help of the Fred Meyer supermarket chain, which now also sold its products in the Pacific Northwest. After the mill was destroyed by fire in 1988 – an arsonist reportedly set the building on fire – Mr. Moore moved the company to a larger facility in Milwaukie, expanding from about 18,000 to 60,000 square feet. Within a few years, the company was supplying wholesalers across the country. Sales abroad began in the early 2000s.
For years, Mr. Moore rejected potential buyers and insisted on retaining ownership of the company. In 2010, on his 81st birthday, he began transferring control to his employees through a new employee stock ownership plan. “The Bible says to do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” he later told Portland Monthly, explaining his belief that sharing profits and property would “make things more just and benevolent.” .”
Mr. Moore continued to come to the office daily and drove to work in one of his two 1931 Ford Model As. He sometimes played piano duets for visitors and performed songs by Gershwin or Cole Porter with his executive assistant. More often he could be found inspecting mill equipment, conducting product tests three times a day, and praising old-fashioned techniques that he sought to combine with modern machinery.
“We built these machines,” he told The Washington Post in 2011, introducing the mill. “The others that existed were screaming, getting hot and going 94 miles per hour. I don’t live my life that way and I don’t want my food that way.”
Robert Gene Moore, the older of two children, was born February 15, 1929 in Portland. He grew up in San Bernardino, California, where his father drove a truck that sold Wonder Bread, according to the How I Built This podcast.
After graduating from high school, Mr. Moore served in the Army for three years, helping build roads and bridges on Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands, where the military was conducting nuclear tests. He returned home to work as an electronics technician and married Charlee Lu Coote in 1953, a year after they met on a blind date.
Mr. Moore operated gas stations in Gardena and Mammoth Lakes, Calif., before moving to Sacramento, where he sold lawn mowers and hardware at Sears. For a time he lived with his family on a five-acre goat farm, where Charlee baked whole grains, raised chickens and tended a garden. Mr Moore described it as “heaven on earth”.
He and his wife later committed $30 million to open two academic centers: the Moore Family Center for Whole Grain Foods, Nutrition and Preventive Health at Oregon State University in Corvallis and the Bob and Charlee Moore Institute for Nutrition and Wellness at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland.
Charlee died in 2018. Survivors include her three sons, Ken, Bob Jr. and David; nine grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.
At the age of 87, Mr Moore traveled to the village of Carrbridge in the Scottish Highlands, where he won the Golden Spurtle World Porridge Making Championship with a batch of his company’s steel cut oats. The honor went to a traditional porridge made with just oats, water and salt, although Portland Monthly reported that Mr. Moore preferred to make a few concessions to modernity, topping off his daily oatmeal with “flaxseed meal, walnuts, banana slices and turbinado sugar “to prepare and skimmed milk.”