Meet Portland’s Gluten-Free Cracker King
It all started with a road trip snack: homemade crackers that Jovani Prince’s mom made for him and his wife on their drive home from Southern California.
“We couldn’t stop eating these crackers, they were so good,” Prince says.
Meanwhile, Prince had been thinking of starting a small business to support his wife and kids. Why not start selling crackers? A gluten-free friend mentioned that there were no good gluten-free crackers on the market. Prince’s mother came to help with recipe development, and the concept for the Cracker King was born.
“I went to a costume store,” Prince says. “I saw this crown—the light was shining down on it. I said, ‘That’s my crown.’ I grabbed the crown and put it on my head and I was ordained the Cracker King.”
Despite the double meaning of the company’s name, Prince hasn’t received much negative feedback from customers. “I had one person say to me—a white lady—say, ‘I’ve never seen something so racist before.’ And I said my last name’s Prince. And I just happen to be African-American. Let’s just be honest. A white person probably couldn’t get away with it, [given] the history of racism. But when I first initially did it, I wasn’t thinking of that at all. I didn’t think of that ’til way later.”
The Cracker King offers three different flavors of artisanal crackers, all made by hand in Portland: rosemary and sea salt; sriracha; and cheddar and pepper. Prince uses local ingredients whenever possible, including Oregon-made rice flour and butter. The cheddar and pepper crackers, which he likens to “a Cheez-It on steroids,” are made with two-year aged Tillamook cheddar.
Prior to the pandemic, Prince sold his crackers at the farmers markets at PSU, Hillsdale, Lake Oswego, and Beaverton, and at local grocery stores including New Seasons. The pandemic put an end—possibly permanently—to his farmers market sales due to restrictions on sampling and the number of customers the farmers markets could accommodate. Now, he’s put his energy into online sales, and has expanded to 50 grocery stores and counting. Whole Foods stores throughout the Pacific Northwest join his list of vendors next month.
Unlike many other food businesses, The Cracker King has experienced a boom in sales in recent months—in fact, Prince estimates he’s selling ten times the amount of crackers he did before the pandemic. He attributes the spike in sales to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“When George Floyd was killed, the Black Lives Matter movement happened, and all of a sudden, support Black businesses happened,” Prince says. “I was already in New Seasons and indie stores, but people all of a sudden started trying the product. I already knew I had the best gluten-free crackers in the world, but people would walk by a Black product and they wouldn’t try it because a [picture of a] Black family was on the front.”
“All of a sudden people started grabbing my bags of crackers, they tried it, and they couldn’t get enough of it. Before that I was just demo-ing and demo-ing [at farmers markets] ... and we would move volume, but not even near what we do now. And the whole sad part of this whole thing, which I felt guilty about, is it took a Black man to get killed in order for me to get an opportunity.”
Prince hopes that one day The Cracker King will become a nationwide brand, and that it’ll become the biggest gluten-free snack brand in the country. Meanwhile, the company has started a GoFundMe to raise money to help with the brand’s expansion. The company needs an extruder so the crackers don’t have to be cut by hand, and a warehouse to handle the increased volume of orders. With that, he hopes to be able to expand to Whole Foods stores in Northern California and Colorado.