The Whole Grain King: Bob Moore, the 90-Year-Old President of Bob’s Red Mill
We sat down with the co-founder of the ubiquitous line of healthy grains to discuss how his products went from hippie staple to supermarket bestseller.
At some point in the 1950s, Charlee Moore decided it was time to heed her grandmother’s advice and start eating healthier. Her grandmother—like many grandmothers before and after her—had been sending Charlee and her husband Bob books on the importance of incorporating whole grains into their diets.
Charlee started by baking loaves of bread with whole grains she managed to track down in a local health food store, which, at the time, were few and far between. The bread was a hit with her two sons and with Bob, and the family soon began incorporating more natural foods into their diet.
Inspired by Charlee’s mission to get the family eating healthier, Bob began to read everything about natural foods and grain mills he could get his hands on. A couple of decades after baking that first healthy loaf, the couple embarked on a new business venture selling whole grains.
While you probably don’t know the Moores by their full names, you’d no doubt recognize Bob if you saw him in person. He’s the smiling, frosty haired gentleman adorning each package of Bob’s Red Mill products, from flour to pancake mix to cups of microwavable oatmeal. There’s now a selection of 400 different products under the Bob’s Red Mill label, some of which have become ubiquitous in grocery stores. You’re now as likely to find a bag of the brand’s whole wheat flour in the most bohemian of health food stores as you are in Walmarts across the country.
Though Bob is the name and face of the company, he credits Charlee, who died last year, with setting them on the path to founding Bob’s Red Mill in 1978—a time when white bread and frozen TV dinners were still the norm. Though whole grains, healthy eating, and wellness are now trendy, Moore’s hope is that what he and Charlee built is inspiring others to eat healthier and enjoy doing it.
“I think there’s always going to be people that are willing to feed themselves and people who like to be creative with cooking and baking,” says Moore. “I don’t think we’re ever going to lose people who go to the store to buy raw foods and use their creative juices to make things. Gosh, I think that’s one of the things that makes the world go ’round.”
Despite the challenges Moore has faced in the last year since his wife’s passing, the work ethic that helped him build and grow the company, and earn him the crown of whole grain king persists. He can still regularly be found in his office at the company’s Milwaukie, Oregon, headquarters or traveling to trade shows.
In February, the company threw Moore a birthday bash as they do every year, but this one was particularly notable, marking his milestone 90th birthday. (He was “backed up by a brass band doing Dixieland—my favorite!”)
Here are a few things you should know about the de facto grandfather of healthy eating and how keeps his body and mind in fighting shape.
Before Moore opened a grain mill, his life was different. For many years, he lived in California and ran an auto shop. His diet was also quite different: Whole grains were scarce and he was a regular smoker. When he was in his early thirties, he decided it was time for a change.
“Somewhere in there I was pretty troubled with myself and began to think in terms of eating better,” he says. He started reading the books recommended by his wife’s grandmother, including The Health Builder, an encyclopedia of health by J.J. Rodale, and Let’s Get Well and other titles by Adelle Davis. “Her grandmother sent her a copy of [Rodale’s book] with comments about how important this whole grain stuff is—these books were ahead of their time.”
That’s when Charlee starting baking and changed the family’s diet for good: “I think her secret motive in all of this was to get me off of those cigarettes, and it was successful,” he says.
The most formative book for Moore, however, was John Goffe’s Mill by George Woodbury, a title he still keeps in his office more than 50 years later.
“I read the book and was thrilled by it,” says Moore. “He had so much fun getting this [traditional] mill going. When he got these millstones going making these real, healthy, whole grain products, he said the public beat a path to his doorway. I thought what a wonderful way to make a living, making healthy foods that have personality.”
Moore is still as committed to his eating habits as ever. Every day—even on the weekends, he’s sure to point out—he wakes up at 6 a.m. and usually eats his favorite breakfast: a hearty bowl of steel cut oats with bananas, natural brown sugar, flaxseed meal, walnuts and skim milk.
In the last year, he’s added three days of physical therapy exercise to his weekly routine, so he’s also added a little more protein to his breakfast. “I get up and that’s when I have my peanut butter on Dave’s Killer Bread, then I go in and exercise for an hour,” he says. “I did 22 pushups the other day! They’re hard as hell to do.”
After his workout, he’ll also enjoy one of his brand’s new oat cups, which he admits took him a little time to warm up to: “They’re quite tasty—I’ve gotten used to them,” he says. “I didn’t like ’em at first—too modern and convenient.”
But even Moore has his “cheat days” when he’ll go for eggs and grits over his usual oats or toast. Whatever it is he’s eating, however, it needs to “get the job done.”
Over the years, Moore has amassed a reputation as a do-gooder through his philanthropic work and by the way he supports the employees of Bob’s Red Mill. In fact, he turned over the ownership of the company to his employees in 2010.
He even stepped in when his local senior center lost its state funding in the fallout of the 2008 recession and took complete financial responsibility for it. He’s been working on the Milwaukie Center March for Meals for even longer. It’s a fundraising event for Meals on Wheels America, which first took place in 2004 at the Bob’s Red Mill bakery and store and continues today.
“That’s probably one of the things you’ve heard about Bob is that he’s benevolent—I don’t want to quit that for anything,” says Moore. “To do unto others as you would have them do unto you is one of the most profound instructions that’s humanly possible to give to one another—and it’s common sense if you think about it.”
Moore is also committed to mentorship. When asked for career advice, he’s a straight shooter: There is no substitute for thoroughly planning and outlining projects and he has no patience for anyone looking for shortcuts.
“I’m a great planner and if people don’t plan they’re going to run a higher risk of failure,” he says, adding, “I think it’s very important to find something that you love to do and something that you can make a living at. Honestly that’s how this thing developed. I would call that a success.”
While in many ways what you see on the packaging for Bob’s Red Mill is what you get out of its founder and spokesman—a beacon of wholesomeness and nostalgia—he’s still got a few surprises up his sleeve. For one, he loves to play jazz piano and has multiple Steinway grand pianos throughout the company’s production facility and restaurant. He and his long-time executive assistant Nancy Garner often play vintage jazz duets together. Their favorite pieces are from the 1920s and ’30s.
His interest in music doesn’t end with jazz, nor is the piano the only instrument he plays: “I’m very oriented to classical—I play classical violin,” says Moore. “I have a lovely violin that’s a lot better violin than my ability to play it is.”
When he’s not working or playing music, you can probably find him reading. Books are a huge part of Moore’s life, and have taken up their fair share of real estate in his home and office.
“Here’s my reading rule: I read non-fiction, no novels,” he says. “If it happened, I like to read about it. I don’t care whether it’s history, biography, autobiography. It’s so amazing to me how interesting everything can be if you get into it.”
He’s usually reading more than one book at any given time. His current roster of titles, include George & Barbara Bush: A Great American Love Story, The Parthenon Enigma, and Leadership In Turbulent Times.
“These are some of the focused interests in my life that make time go faster and my life more interesting,” says Moore, adding that Bob’s Red Mill has a new book coming out this September. Details are still scarce, but they’re currently working on finalizing a title.
The model airplanes hanging in Moore’s office are only one of the many indications that Moore has a soft spot for vintage transportation. Whether he’s flying down the road in one of his two 1931 Model As—he’s got a roadster and a coupe—or gliding through the air in a restored Douglas DC-3, you can bet he’s enjoying himself.
“In 2017, I had a chance to take a rather long two-week flight in a beautifully restored, 80-year-old DC-3,” says Moore, adding that the DC-3, which has a design much like today’s commercial aircraft, was first released in the 1930s and revolutionized commercial air travel.
This particular flight was commissioned by the Breitling watch company as publicity for a run of limited-edition watches. It made its way around the globe, and Moore hopped on for the last few legs of the trip, traveling from New Jersey to Goose Bay to Greenland to Iceland and, finally, to Scotland.
“They let me put one of my decals over the door,” says Moore, who keeps a scrapbook of the journey. “When you see a picture of me with the DC-3 it has a Bob’s Red Mill logo across the door. I remember it as one of the top experiences of my lifetime.”