Gus Klemos will never forget the date: Jan. 24, 2018. That was the day he quit his job as a sales director at a Toronto-based tech company to focus 100% on his startup food business.“I had a six-figure job. It was stable, it was growing, and I had a team I was responsible for,” says the founder of Unbun Foods. But in the months prior to quitting, he’d been working tirelessly before and after his nine-to-five gig to develop his startup’s first product—a tasty, low-carb bun—and get it off the ground. By January 2018, the buns were already being sold in three Toronto-area grocers (Wild and Fresh, The Big Carrot, and Noah’s Natural Foods); but when he received a purchase order from popular Toronto quick-serve restaurant Burger’s Priest, it gave him the extra boost he needed to take the leap. “I guess I’m prone to being a little bit impetuous. I love risk, and I bet on myself,” says Klemos. “And so far, so good.”
Indeed, in less than two years Klemos has expanded the distribution of Unbun products from selling them at just three locations to more than 2,300 locations (in both grocery and foodservice) across Canada and the United States today. Unbun is currently carried by Canadian grocers including Loblaws, Whole Foods, Metro, Farm Boy, Federated Co-op, Longo’s, Choices, and soon Sobeys; while in the United States it’s in Price Chopper, Gelson’s and more. In September, Unbun announced its Keto Bun would be available to customers at Mr. Sub locations across Canada, and Klemos hints at a major announcement coming involving one of Canada’s largest pizza chains.
It all began as a personal mission. Klemos wanted to find a low-carb alternative to a standard bun, but something more satisfying than the “lettuce buns” often offered at trendy burger joints. “I love bread—I’m Greek—but I know that when I eat bread regularly, it’s harder to control my weight,” he explains. Unable to find an appealing solution, he took matters into his own hands. “I took to learning how to bake in advance of my 40th birthday. I think every one of my friends thought I was having some sort of a crisis or a meltdown, but I was like, ‘No, I’m going to do something with this; I’ve got something here!”
And that “something” was his first product, the Keto Bun, which is certified keto (meaning it’s suitable for those who follow the popular low-carb/high-fat diet,) gluten-free, paleo and grain-free, featuring a simple ingredients list: almond flour, eggs, flax, coconut flour, psyllium, apple cider vinegar, and “paleo baking powder” made from cream of tartar, salt, and sodium bicarbonate.
Klemos soon realized there was also demand for a plant-based Keto Bun, which meant removing the eggs and finding a feasible substitute—not an easy task. “The egg is a very unique gift in nature, in terms of how you can bake with it,” says Klemos, who notes he didn’t just want it to work in a technical sense, he also needed it to taste fantastic. “I took to figuring out how to recreate an egg in savoury baking … and after, say, 500 iterations, I finally came up with a recipe where I loved the Vegan Keto Bun. And, it ended up winning the gold medal at SIAL [Canada] for innovation.”
Other Unbun products now include Keto Mini-Baguettes and Vegan Pizza Crusts; and Klemos has also developed new burrito/tortilla wraps that he plans to launch soon. “We’re really making better-for-you bakery products,” he says, adding that feedback from customers has been positive, particularly among those interested in reducing consumption of things such as refined sugars, grains and starchy carbs. “People who eat paleo, people who eat keto, they’re buying this stuff like crazy.”
Klemos is grateful to be able to do what he loves for a living. “I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be, at the age of 40 years old, quitting a career job and starting a business that [would] actually become successful.”
This article appeared in Canadian Grocer’s November issue.