West Seattle businesses: Gretchen’s Grains now in stores

September 8, 2012 at 9:54 pm | In West Seattle businesses, West Seattle news | 34 Comments

By Keri DeTore
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

Because working on a master’s degree in post-Katrina New Orleans and being pregnant with a third child while raising twins wasn’t quite enough to keep Gretchen Williamson-Evans occupied, she decided to move to the Northwest and start a business … selling fully cooked, frozen organic grains.

They’re now arriving in local stores, packaged as Gretchen’s Grains.

The idea of having those staples available for easy use started in the Evans’ kitchen in New Orleans, while Gretchen was working on her Master’s and husband Bill Evans was operating his flight-training school.

Gretchen wanted the ease of eating the grain-and-vegetable salads featured in the healthier delis, but didn’t want to pay the deli prices, so she made grains in advance and froze them. Friends and family began requesting packages of the cooked quinoa, brown rice and wheat berries for themselves, and the couple recognized a niche market.

They did some research and realized “the whole-grain market was exploding,” says Gretchen. “We decided to throw our whole weight into it.”

The decision was the easy part.

Bill sold his flight school; they moved to West Seattle (where Gretchen lived prior to moving to New Orleans); and one month after her third child was born, Gretchen started working full-time at night at various WS restaurants so she and Bill could work full-time during the day to market the grains.

“It’s taken three years to create a frozen product,” says Gretchen. “It’s expensive, the real estate is limited, and your product can go bad. It’s a hard category to go into. So many times I thought, ‘This is the worst idea we’ve ever had!’ But after having twins, I decided, ‘I can survive anything’!”

Just in the past few weeks, multiple area grocers have picked up Gretchen’s Grains for their frozen foods section. These include Central Co-op/Madison Market, Ken’s Market on Phinney Ridge, and Spud online delivery, as well as co-ops in Olympia and Portland. PCC Natural Markets (WSB sponsor), which Gretchen calls the “gold standard” of organic-food stores, will soon stock Gretchen’s Grains in all nine regional stores.

(Update: Since publishing this on Saturday night, we’ve learned Gretchen’s Grains have just arrived at West Seattle PCC and are in stock there as of this weekend.)

Gretchen isn’t cooking up pots of quinoa on the kitchen stove (although she jokes that Gretchen’s Grains HQ is in the room “right next to the bathroom”). Instead, they’re working with suppliers and distributors who conform to the highest USDA Organic standards. She keeps the packaging convenient and the products simple — without added flavorings, they can be added to a variety of dishes, including breakfasts. “This product … is crucial to have available and ready in our house,” says Gretchen. “It ties together a lot of loose ends” in the pantry and refrigerator.

Though Gretchen doesn’t describe herself as a “health nut,” she says she’s always “eaten healthy.” After the birth of her third child, she announced to Bill that they would be training for a half-marathon so she could get rid of some of the baby weight. He was reluctant, but says that since originally being a “Gumbo-slurpin’ New Orleanian,” he’s “turned into a grain-eating machine, has lost at least 40 pounds, and has run four half-marathons, one full marathon, and is training for a triathlon.”

Though stores are beginning to stock Gretchen’s Grains, Gretchen won’t be quitting her night jobs at Circa, Mission and La Rustica too soon: “There are so many growing pains (in the business), you need your backup.”

While things are ramping up at Gretchen’s Grains, she and Bill are also still taking care of their three kids full time, taking them to various kid activities, and thinking about the future – Gretchen’s pondering what more she could be doing with the product. “I want to sell in bulk to schools and delis,” she says, “and expand the grains we provide.” She’s excited by all the different ways people tell her they’re using the grains, such as putting quinoa in their smoothies:

“This is exactly how I envisioned it.”

(P.S. The Gretchen’s Grains website features recipes. And Gretchen says PCC plans a WSB coupon for her products this fall.)

34 Comments

  1. Awesome!

    Comment by Mrs. T — 9:58 pm September 8, 2012 #

  2. Way to go, Gretchen and Bill, very impressive and inspiring! I am looking forward to buying your amazing grains at PCC very soon! You are making a big difference in the health of American families!

    Comment by WS Neighbor — 10:33 pm September 8, 2012 #

  3. Yay! This product is exactly what I need, fast healthy, versatile and delicious- happy to support WS neighbor.

    Comment by Heather — 11:10 pm September 8, 2012 #

  4. This is something I need…I love tabboulleh made with quinoa, and this just makes it easier. I can’t wait for it to e in PCC. Now…TJ’s would be a score, too…

    Comment by JanS — 11:18 pm September 8, 2012 #

  5. That is exactly what I need-I WANT to eat more grains, or grains at all and I know that I should but I find them so intimidating! A recipe on the back of the package would be really great for the ‘not cooks’ like me!!!

    Comment by Sarah — 11:21 pm September 8, 2012 #

  6. Yay! Just what I need- help with fast, healthy meals…AND I’m supporting a local WS neighbor! Very cool!

    Comment by heather — 11:24 pm September 8, 2012 #

  7. Great idea. I love grains and I rarely take the time to cook them. Best of luck, Gretchen!

    Comment by Kayleigh — 6:54 am September 9, 2012 #

  8. Great Article, and Great Grains Gretchen! I can’t wait to get them into Longview. They really are the best whole grains I have ever eaten. Keep those creative food ideas cooking.

    Comment by Dona — 7:07 am September 9, 2012 #

  9. As Gretchen’s employer and friend, I would like to say that I have never met a harder working couple in my life. Everyone should give Gretchen’s Grains a try. Not only because I would love to see her retire her apron at Mission, but because her product is damn good (and I am not a “grain nut” until now). Good luck Gretchen (and Bill & the boys)!

    Comment by Peter owner of mission — 7:26 am September 9, 2012 #

  10. I look forward to trying these when they get to PCC. I like to eat whole grains, but I seldom cook them.

    Comment by KatherineL — 7:26 am September 9, 2012 #

  11. Fantastic! I am excited about recommending your products to my clients. Thanks for going the extra mile to get your product to market!

    Comment by Bridget Nichols — 7:48 am September 9, 2012 #

  12. Wonderful!

    Comment by Marilyn — 9:09 am September 9, 2012 #

  13. Everything everyone posted above is exactly what I was thinking. Often think I should be making brown rice…then I haven’t. Why didn’t I think of that! I’ll surely support it, and enjoy it.

    Comment by happywalker — 9:16 am September 9, 2012 #

  14. I saw Gretchen’s Grains at PCC in West Seattle yesterday!

    Comment by Heidi — 9:51 am September 9, 2012 #

  15. Thanks, Heidi – will check with Gretchen. I looked around her online info before publishing last night since the story had been in queue a few days and didn’t see anything (aside from announcements of retailers elsewhere), or would’ve mentioned it. – TR

    Comment by WSB — 9:58 am September 9, 2012 #

  16. Congratulations, Gretchen! I’m very excited for you and looking forward to stocking my freezer with your grains!

    Comment by Maria Esztergalyos — 9:58 am September 9, 2012 #

  17. Thanks everyone for great supportive comments! We arrived at WS PCC yesterday. Excited to hear how our grains make eating healthy easier for you all!

    Comment by Gretchen — 10:10 am September 9, 2012 #

  18. What timing! Will update the story.

    Comment by WSB — 10:14 am September 9, 2012 #

  19. What an awesome, inspiring story! Can’t wait to buy Gretchen’s Grains at the West Seattle PCC!

    Comment by Melissa — 10:19 am September 9, 2012 #

  20. Gonna get me some tonight. Cheers to some serious success, Gretchen and family.

    Comment by shed22 — 10:52 am September 9, 2012 #

  21. Definitely going to give these a try. I am good at incorporating brown rice into my diet, but the other grains, not so much. I am so glad Gretchen thought of this great idea and is sharing it! And thank you WSB for bringing it to our attention!

    Comment by April — 12:01 pm September 9, 2012 #

  22. Fantastic!!!!! Thanks Gretchen. Farro coming soon?

    Comment by Lola P — 12:06 pm September 9, 2012 #

  23. Great Job Gretchen and Bill! Can’t wait to try the products!!

    Comment by LeAnn — 12:56 pm September 9, 2012 #

  24. Sounds great! Will the WS Thriftway be stocking this?

    Comment by Amber — 1:34 pm September 9, 2012 #

  25. CONGRATULATIONS!!! I’ve been asking our local Health Food Store, Country Village where Gretchen’s Grains are for weeks~ can’t wait to buy them in Longview/Kelso.

    Your journey continues ~ great vision and great job making it happen!!

    Comment by Debi & Dan — 1:59 pm September 9, 2012 #

  26. This is great, this is the kind of stories I want to read about on the blog. Congrats what a wonderful idea, I am going to be a purchaser!

    Comment by Silly Goose — 3:30 pm September 9, 2012 #

  27. The recipes on her website sound easy, nutritious, and delicious. I am very excited to try her product.

    Comment by Marcia Ingerslev — 4:54 pm September 9, 2012 #

  28. What an undertaking…you are absolutely amazing! Can’t wait to try your products!

    Comment by Debbie — 6:05 pm September 9, 2012 #

  29. I’ll definitely give them a try. But remember, it’s really easy to cook whole grains yourself – even if you’re a kitchen klutz. Just takes a wee bit longer.

    Comment by Sonoma — 12:23 am September 10, 2012 #

  30. Some working moms don’t have a wee bit longer.. I’ve got my Gretchen’s Grains in my freezer! So easy and fast!!

    Comment by Kay — 8:15 am September 10, 2012 #

  31. Lola P.~Farro could be in the future, Bill makes a mean farro salad that is a regular part of our meal rotation. Email me and I’ll give you the recipe! Amber~WS Thriftway would be awesome, but not yet….

    Comment by Gretchen — 9:13 am September 10, 2012 #

  32. Holy cow! I was already incredibly impressed with Gretchen’s capacity to work three jobs while caring for her three little guys…I had no idea that she was also finishing a Master’s Degree and starting a business! We’re so proud of you, Gretchen, and can’t wait to support you by incorporating frozen grains into our menu at home! : )

    Comment by RP — 8:43 am September 11, 2012 #

  33. Congrats Gretchen — you’ve been waiting a long time for this. Can’t wait to try the grains! Well done!!

    And nice work on the story, Keri!

    Comment by Vince — 2:00 pm September 11, 2012 #

  34. thank you so much. this is a great idea and I appreaciate the re-sealable bag.
    I wonder if 1 cup uncooked quinoa equals 1 cup cooked?
    we’ve made this twice now with the bag of quinoa:

    http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/browse-all-recipes/quinoa-sweet-potatoes-pesto-00100000084866/index.html

    so tasty. Thank you!

    Comment by sam-c — 7:05 pm September 23, 2012 #

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