HEALDSBURG – Will Seppi said he recalled the childhood days when “earning allowance” meant clocking in at the family business, Costeaux French Bakery, in Healdsburg. The reminders surround him – workers knead dough by hand as they have for decades, producing dozens of varieties of breads, pastries and desserts for direct sale and distribution.
However, as phones ring continually in the background, Mr. Seppi explained that there were certainly changes since he left the finance industry to manage the bakery seven years ago. For one, the amount of hands – and square feet, products and distribution routes – have grown several fold.
“One of the things that has helped us grow has been a commitment to quality and making things by hand,” he said.
With roots in a French-American bakery that opened nearby in 1923, Costeaux began when Mr. Seppi’s parents purchased the company from its former owner in 1981. A “full-line” bakery, Costeaux remained one of a decreasing number of production bakeries that chose to produce a full line of products, rather than focus on a particular specialty.
At 65,000 square feet, the modern facility, completed in 2006, is a 24/7 operation, producing around 5,000 items a day, Mr. Seppi said. The company has grown from 20 to approximately 65 employees in the past seven years, with six distribution routes serving Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties.
While traditional production methods have endured, Mr. Seppi said that the bakery’s offerings have evolved with modern tastes. Currently, self-rising breads – which take 48 hours to produce — and whole-wheat, high-fiber breads are popular, he said.
In addition, consumers in the North Bay have increasingly turned to Costeaux and other local providers for food and other items.
“The consumer is more focused on where their product is made, how it is made and what ingredients are in it,” Mr. Seppi said.
Currently, the most popular item at Costeaux is the “cinnamon walnut bread,” which Mr. Seppi said is among the most labor-intensive items produced at the bakery.
Other offerings include wedding cakes, breads, pies, cookies and a variety of other baked goods.
Like many companies that have endured the recession, Mr. Seppi said that the last few years have not been without challenge. Recent pressures have included increases in the price of commodities like gasoline, used in distribution operations.
The cost of ingredients can also have a major effect on operations – Mr. Seppi said that the bakery uses 750,000 pounds of flour every year.
Yet through the economic challenges, Mr. Seppi said that he has remained focused on retaining and rewarding staff. A recipient of the North Bay Business Journal’s annual “Best Places to Work” award, the company boasts a number of employees with between 10 and 20 years of service.
The bakery has also earned a number of awards for its products each year, and was awarded “National Retail Bakery of the Year” by Modern Baking Magazine in 2009.
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