The sweet smells of cinnamon and freshly baked bread waft through a quiet industrial area in southern Lenexa.
Hidden among the warehouses and commercial logistics centers just south of I-435, Three Bears Bakery & BBQ has a small storefront with a window looking onto a commercial kitchen.
And hard at work behind the glass is husband-wife team Jabin and Natalie Olds, who are busy baking for dozens of customers.
Since launching their Keto-friendly bakery six months ago amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Olds say business has exploded. Here’s their story.
Born out of a weight loss journey
Located at 13723 W. 108th St., Three Bears Bakery & BBQ was born out of an idea the Olds said they had when they were both struggling to lose weight.
Back in 2017, the couple was spending two hours a day six days a week at the gym. But they couldn’t get the weight off.
When a friend introduced them to the Keto diet — a program that, in general, emphasizes low-carb, high-fat foods — by baking homemade taco shells made of cheese, they tried it for themselves.
Four weeks later, the Olds say they had each lost about 20 pounds and were hooked. Ultimately they say they have each lost nearly 100 pounds since going Keto.
The irony wasn’t lost on Jabin.
Bread is a no-no in the Keto diet. But as a bakery scientist, he literally depended on bread for his livelihood.
For 15 years after earning a degree in bakery science and management from Kansas State University, Jabin worked for big name bakery brands like Sara Lee and Pepperidge Farms, and also helped mom-and-pop shops who were trying to scale up.
But he says his and Natalie’s weight loss was so extraordinary, that their family and friends became interested in what they were eating.
So, the couple started a side gig in February 2019 to bake and sell Keto-friendly low-carb baked goods out of their home kitchen in Olathe.
In the two hours after launching a Facebook page that month, 30 orders from complete strangers had come in.
“We looked at each other and said, ‘How are we going to do this?’” Jabin said, laughing.
After losing his full-time job that same year, Jabin said he nearly had a panic attack. Jabin’s job had been their primary source of income, and they had a baby to feed.
“Luckily, we were at my parents’, and we all prayed about it,” Jabin said. “After that night, it just hit me. Everything feels like this is the way God wants us to go.”
Natalie added that the couple had been considering starting their own business for years before Jabin was laid off.
“We’ve been provided for thus far. And now we had the opportunity to do it. This is what we’ve been praying for, and now we’ve been literally stripped down to that’s our only option. Why are we afraid?” she said.
‘It just exploded’
Jabin took money out of his 401k to get them by for six months. And they launched the business out of their home. Within five weeks, they were licensed and ready to operate.
“It just exploded,” Jabin said.
Lenexa residents may have seen the couple at the Lenexa Farmers Market the past two summers. That’s when they launched their commercial operation out of the incubator kitchen at the K-State campus in Olathe.
They watched as their concept quickly caught on, selling out within two hours on multiple Saturdays at the farmers market.
The Olds say they’ve continued to see growth during the pandemic, with a more than 70% increase in revenues.
They’ve shipped to 47 states in the U.S., and to at least 5,000 customers, some of whom make a pitstop in Lenexa from other states just to visit their shop.
That growth allowed them to open their commercial kitchen in Lenexa at the start of January.
Still, that meteoric rise, Jabin says, belies the work and effort he and Natalie have put in to get Three Bears open.
“This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life,” Jabin said. “It was a really stressful time.”
Commitment to a Keto-friendly menu
When they first launched the business, their menu had only five items on it — sandwich bread, a couple flavors of sweet mini cakes and a cookie.
As of Father’s Day this year, their menu had grown to 74 different items, everything from bread, cakes, bagels, buns, cookies, brownies, ice cream sandwiches, flatbreads and jelly rolls.
They’re also growing the barbecue side of things, with new sauces and seasonings. Jabin hopes to add sides and, eventually, smoked meats to the menu.
Their custom pizza bread is available at The Social Bar & Grill, while their barbecue sauce, pudding cups and a variety of breads can be tried at Harley’s Hideaway in Shawnee.
The baked goods menu changes quite often, the Olds say, but throughout their business growth, Jabin and Natalie stood by their commitment to a Keto-friendly, low carb, sugar-free and soy-free menu.
Everything but their breads are also gluten free.
In place of sugar, they use erythritol or allulose — which is particularly beneficial for diabetic customers who want to avoid a spike in their glycemic index.
“We won’t make it if we won’t eat it,” Natalie said. “We’re about the lifestyle that we live, and if I make something that I’m not going to eat, I can’t make sure it’s perfect.”
Their four-year-old son, Perry — the third “baby bear” who inspired their business name — is also getting involved in baking side of things, such as decorating the cupcakes.
Natalie said she’s proud of their accomplishments and their ability to be their own bosses.
“I’m doing exactly what I wanted to be in the third grade: the boss,” she said. “I think we both still are shocked when we walk in every day and we’re like, ‘Wait, we did this. And we’re still doing it.’”
“It was worth it,” Jabin added. “This is ours.”
Three Bears Bakery & BBQ is joining Lenexa Chamber of Commerce and will host a formal ribbon cutting Wednesday, Aug. 25.
Storefront hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.