A gluten-free sourdough bread company pivots in the pandemic and adds a home baking mix

By Carolyn Neff

“While nothing has been going as planned, our business is thriving!” says Juliana Lopker, who, along with Geoff Kober, are the entrepreneurs behind Young Kobras, an all gluten-free artisanal sourdough bread company in San Francisco.

Loaded with real ingredients, unique health benefits and a chewy, tangy flavor, Young Kobras prides itself on making gluten-free and vegan sourdough bread with whole grains and 100% organic ingredients. They are rich in fiber, gum-free and made with just six simple whole grain ingredients: organic sorghum, millet, brown rice and cassava flours, psyllium husk and sea salt.

Before COVID-19, Young Kobras had planned to add distribution to more food service venues and grocery stores, including expansions to Marin County as well as supermarkets outside Northern California.

However, public health restrictions for COVID-19 have impacted most of their food service business and space on grocery store shelves is even more difficult to secure than usual.

So Lopker and Kober decided to seek out more opportunities with companies providing food directly to people’s homes. They started with Imperfect Foods, a grocery delivery service aimed at eliminating food waste, and the service sold an entire Young Kobras bread supply from a first order with them. Now, Lopker and Kober have expanded their business with Good Eggs, a Bay Area grocery delivery service, as well as working with Sunbasket, a meal kit service.

The Young Kobras online store has also grown rapidly, aided by the launch of a whole grain gluten-free yeasted baking mix. And the mix—tried and tested!—is perfect and versatile. It’s ideal for making homemade pizza, gooey cinnamon rolls, and crazy-easy fresh naan. Young Kobras posts photos and recipes of what you can do with the mix and promises more are on the way.

The unique name stems from Kober’s “Kobra” nickname as the youngest child in his family.

After working at a health-conscious café specializing in catering to a wide range of dietary restrictions and preferences, Kober discovered a significant lack of healthy and delicious gluten-free bread options. With a background in biology, Kober put his science and love for cooking to use, spending over a year experimenting and perfecting a nutritious and tasty gluten-free bread without refined flours.

“Sourdough fermentation fit all of those areas,” says Kober.

Lopker, who was diagnosed with celiac disease about three years ago, met Kober through mutual friends and they clicked on a passion for nutritious gluten-free bread without all of the additive lingo.

“Sourdough, generally, means that we don’t use commercial yeast, only yeast that is naturally occurring on the flours and in the air. Because the wild yeast works to break down the sugars in the grains, sourdough breads are easier to digest than breads with commercial yeast,” explains Lopker.

Each loaf—Original, Fig Walnut (yum!), Olive Herb, Seeded Buckwheat—is made by hand in a 100% dedicated Bay Area gluten-free facility, and their packaging is all compostable. The previous kitchen tenants ran a gluten-free bakery prior to Young Kobras moving in, so no worries about cross contact. They also have a dedicated gluten-free commercial facility in San Carlos.

“We’re trying to make bread better,” said Lopker. The duo are constantly innovating on their bread and business model, including the introduction of the seeded buckwheat bread to their portfolio (my personal favorite). Young Kobras continues to taste-test new recipes, innovating based on customer input, and is exploring certifications for their sourdough.

Share your feedback, order a loaf or baking mix, or grab some sandwich, snack and all-around good-vibes inspiration at @youngkobras.

Photos: Young Kobras co-founders in the group photo –  Juliana Lopker (second from left) and Geoff Kober (far right); cinnamon buns are made from the Young Kobras Baking Mix; and the packaged bread is the Gluten-Free Sourdough Original Loaf.