Sisters woman embodies entrepreneurial spirit


Last updated 3/19/2024 at 3:09pm

Photo by Matt Van Slyke

Josette Johnson is a model of entrepreneurial resilience.

In honor of International Women's Day (March 8), The Nugget recognizes the achievements of women who are making a significant impact on our community. Josette Johnson, founder and CEO of Josie's Best Gluten Free Mixes, exemplifies the spirit of resilience, creativity, and determination that defines women entrepreneurs worldwide.

Josette Johnson is navigating entrepreneurship with the same remarkable ability and agility that made her a champion show jumper.

A professional in the horse industry, Johnson turned pro at 19, rode at the Grand Prix level, coached the equestrian sport, owned a training center, and managed her family's horse-breeding operation.

Now she is confidently and successfully maneuvering through the business world, a venture that began with a personal journey.

"I came home from my first year in college with a lot of gastrointestinal issues," said Johnson. "I just felt bad. I remember my mom saying, 'You look awful.'"

Miserable from months of dorm food, Johnson visited a homeopath and went on an elimination diet to pinpoint the culprits of her discomfort.

"I remember eating plain chicken and rice and drinking tea. Within two weeks, I felt 100-percent better. I started slowly adding things back in, like dairy and gluten, then I moved on with my life (without them)," Johnson said. "I didn't realize how bad I felt until I felt better."

With a background in baking from her father, Russ Wholers, founding partner/chef of James Beard award-winning Seattle restaurant Ray's Boathouse, Johnson experimented with ingredients to perfect a baking mix that she could stomach, and that could stand up to her cravings.

"My dad is a chef. I grew up in a very foodie family, so it was natural for me to tinker with things. I had a bunch of different grains that I knew worked for me. I continued to mix and match different ratios until I found what is now our pancake mix."

From there, she set out to create additional alternatives that catered to the dietary needs of millions of people facing similar struggles.

New Direction

Johnson's business breakthrough came when she introduced her allergy-friendly pancake mix to family and friends. She received rave reviews, which sparked her entrepreneurial spirit.

When the owner of the Bend and Redmond franchises of Portland-based restaurant chain The Original Pancake House sampled Johnson's recipe and expressed interest in using it, the validation motivated her to pursue food production, licensing, and distribution.

"We literally Googled how to make a nutritional label," Josie recalls with a laugh, highlighting the DIY spirit of her early, family-funded and -staffed endeavors.

Johnson created Josie's Best Gluten Free Mixes with the pancake and the waffle. All of her mixes are free of the "Big Nine" food allergens: milk, eggs, nuts, fish, crustaceans, shellfish, wheat, soy, and sesame.

She began selling her signature products at local farmers' markets and in small shops. Soon, she was securing partnerships to expand Josie's reach to larger stores and online platforms.

The Pan-demic

Covid-19 proved to be incredibly disruptive, yet pivotal in a positive way, as the initial lockdowns of early 2020 gave rise to a trend in home baking.

Self-taught, Johnson transformed her website,, and leveraged social media to foster a sense of community among customers, while offering support and inspiration through recipes and tips during those tough times for cooped-up families.

High demand pointed her to the pinnacle of ecommerce, Amazon, which now accounts for a third of Johnson's business. She ships bulk bags, consumer-ready mix packages, and assortments of syrups, jams, and vanilla to the online retail giant's distribution centers.

"Amazon gets specific packs, which is what I'm working on here," Johnson said. "We ship them to Amazon, you can buy them on Prime anywhere in the country, and they ship to you."

Branching out

"So this is an FDA-approved warehouse," Josie explained during a recent tour of her Sisters shipping facility. "We used to make everything here, then we just grew out of what we had. We were in between: 'Do we build a factory at this point? How do we manage this?'"

The products are now produced in Central Washington and delivered to her warehouse.

"We were able to find a really good partner there and buy time on the production lines of another company that had the same allergen needs as we do," she said. "Everything gets packaged there and we get it here in boxes."

Johnson has more than doubled her output for restaurants and bakeries, which make up another third of Josie's Best.

"We have a food-service line that gets 25- and 50-pound bags that go to The Original Pancake House, McKay's Cottage, the bakery in Fika Sisters Coffeehouse, one in Tumalo, and then we send them all over the country. We have another gigantic company called Batter Up Pancakes, which is in Northern California, where I do a lot of business," she said.

Balancing business demands with family life posed challenges but Johnson's resilience and adaptability shone through.

"We knew we needed to get into grocery stores. The way I did it, I was pregnant with our third, and I had a toddler and one kid in school, and I would literally show up with a pitcher of pancake batter and a little plug-in iron, and say, 'Can I come make you pancakes?' Johnson recalled. "I showed up to Whole Foods like that many, many times. I would cook pancakes in the back so people could try it. It took about a year of doing that before I could get on the shelf at that one store."

Today, Johnson brings a lot more than a pitcher to Whole Foods across the Pacific Northwest and a number of other grocery and brick-and-mortar retail stores, representing her third pillar.

"We deliver some to Local Acres Market, Market of Choice, Newport Avenue Market and Oliver Lemon's. Market of Choice is an Oregon company. They're an incredible supporter of small local businesses, as is Local Acres Market."

The Next Ingredients

Josie's Best has grown to include the crepe and the muffin & more, and her website features more than 150 recipes for them. Johnson is planning new products for the fall, remaining steadfast in her commitment to quality and transparency.

"We never compromise on any of our allergen specifications. We test incoming and outgoing products rigorously to ensure safety for our customers," she said. "We have our gluten-free certification. There are no allergens in any of the facilities, period. End of story."

Her dedication has earned her trust among customers seeking allergen-free non-GMO options.

"We're very, very careful with everything we do, so we can stay really committed to that. People that have really serious allergen concerns, we talk to them all the time about what's going on, and make sure that they're comfortable with our products," Johnson added.

Looking ahead, she remains focused on sustainable growth by prioritizing ecommerce and local partnerships rather than national distribution. Her moves keep customer costs under $10 MSRP.

With her husband as her ally and a small team supporting her, Johnson continues to innovate and expand her product line while staying true to her mission of delivering healthy servings of lasting family-baking memories - all from Sisters.


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