Little did Daphne Taylor know that the key ingredient to her life-changing decision was food.
Taylor, CEO and self-described "chief bottle washer" of Namaste Foods, a maker of allergen-free food mixes, raw goods and dry convenience meals, was comfortable with her federal probation job when a mom and her son with food allergies came to her requesting help.
"She knew I loved to cook," Taylor said. "The boy was struggling to find food he could take to school. I tried a brownie mix first, and it was good."
When word of mouth was stirred in about Taylor’s talents among local mom-and-pop stores and support groups, her homegrown goodness took on a business life of its own.
Namaste, pronounced "Naa-Maa-Stay," is an ancient Sanskrit word with no literal translation. However, after reviewing all of the translations, the one that stuck was: "The spirit within me honors and respects the spirit within you."
"It says, ‘I care about you at a deeper level,’" Taylor said of the name. "We’ll offer a brownie as healthy as it can be. Food doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it brings people together. I’m one of 11 kids and my mom could take a head of cauliflower and make a feast out of it and have a good time."
Namaste offers 53 items, ranging from gluten-free taco pasta dinner; soup, cake, pizza crust, chicken coating and brownie mixes; cup cakes; and flour blends.
Suggested retail prices range between $2.99 to $16.99.
"We want to mimic what people are comfortable with," Taylor said of the products. "We want to make simple products for the everyday family — food for everyone."
The production facility is free of the top eight allergens. Whenever eggs, for instance, are brought to the adjacent testing room and kitchen separated from the production line, they are carried in a special "egg containment tote" since eggs are a top eight allergen.
Samples of all products are maintained and labeled in case someone blames the company for an allergic reaction.
"If a customer calls, we can go back to the same run years later," Taylor said. "It saved our butts once as we could’ve lost a contract if we couldn’t prove it wasn’t our fault."
Namaste’s products are available at several stores locally, including Pilgrim’s Market, Super 1 Foods and Costco, and at 9,000 outlets in 50 states, Canada, Peru, Hong Kong and Mexico. The company celebrated its 18th anniversary in business in February. It has experienced rampant growth since its humble beginning out of the home of Taylor and husband Bret when seven products were offered in the first year.
Sales have increased every year.
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"Last year we saw an 11.5 percent increase in sales overall fueled in large part by e-commerce sales," Daphne said.
Seven years ago, Taylor Gleason Enterprises, the contract manufacturing side of the business, formed. Bret, a former North Idaho College and Lake City High volleyball and basketball coach, is CEO of that portion of the operation. The couple are co-owners of the businesses.
"Here at Taylor Gleason, we look at Namaste as a customer," Bret said during a tour of the 20,000-square-foot dry blending facility in Coeur d’Alene. "She’s the driver behind this thing, and I support her."
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Daphne added: "He keeps me grounded as I can spin in circles."
Bret said the company is not interested in opening its own retail outlets.
"I get a pleasure walking out of Pilgrim’s or Super 1 having seen our product on the shelf," he said. "I like them to sell for us. We’ve got our hands full here."
The operations employ 27 people, including Daphne’s sons Seamus and Conor Gleason, Bret’s daughter Terra and Bret’s ex-wife Kris Taylor.
"It truly is a family business," Daphne said with a smile.
She shared the employee stories of Edith Garcia and her daughter Genny. When Edith started with the company when its current plant opened seven years ago, she was a single mother of three working three jobs. Genny, then a teen, came on board a couple weeks later. Both worked their way up to where Genny, now 22, is production manager. Edith is production staff supervisor.
"Both have learned and improved our processes and are the heart of our production facility," Daphne said. "As Genny was working on the line, she would observe everything around her, including the struggles the machine operators were having making the equipment run right."
Both gained their U.S. citizenship several years ago.
"I don’t know that I have ever seen Edith so proud," Daphne said.
She said the company takes staff suggestions on which charities to support.
"Just nothing political or religious," she said. "We just don’t want to go there."
Daphne said it’s been a wild ride and quite the education experiencing the business take on a life of its own.
"This is the American dream," she said. "You go with your gut and hope your intuition is good. So far, that’s been OK."