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Parents passing business down after 30 yearsNORTH BAY – When Karl and Nancy Seppi met in Idaho at the Sun Valley Resort, the last thing they thought they would do was own a successful French-style bakery for 30 years.

Mr. Seppi was a golf pro and Ms. Seppi was a nurse on hiatus working as a waitress. They met, married and started a family. When they moved to Healdsburg 30 years ago, Ms. Seppi’s aunt suggested they buy Costeaux Bakery and for that to be the family business they wanted to start.

Now, after 30 years in the business, they are passing the torch.

[caption id="attachment_20606" align="alignright" width="287" caption="Bakery owners Karl, Will and Nancy Seppi at 2008 Harvest Fair Best of Show winnings"][/caption]

In October of 2004, Will Seppi, the only son out of four children stepped in as the general manager.

He had been an accountant for several high-tech firms in the South Bay but decided to come back to the fold.

“I got burned out,” said the 35-year-old accountant. But, he said, “I have no regrets as to my career up to now.”

Since getting involved with the bakery, he made a few changes here and there and has expanded the business a bit, but he said he has no big long-term growth plans other than to keep running the business.

Seeing that Sonoma County had changed and Healdsburg seemed to have come into itself, he thought he would give it a shot.

“And it has been go, go, go ever since,” he said.

Karl and Nancy wanted to turn the business over to their children at some point, and Will was the only one who wanted to step in.

[caption id="attachment_20607" align="alignleft" width="324" caption="Costeaux French Bakery in Healdsburg"][/caption]

Now the family is working out a deal for Will to buy the business in a way that is feasible for him, will allow his parents to retire in the way they desire and will leave the opportunity for his sisters to get involved down the line should they desire.

Jim Andersen of Burr Pilger Mayer in Santa Rosa is helping them, along with their attorney, and is drafting a deal that is suitable for everyone.

“What was different with this deal,” said Mr. Andersen, “is the transition of the skill set has already taken place.”

Oftentimes, because not everyone was meant to run a business or has the skills to pull it off, a number of outsiders are recommended to come in and work alongside the young generation.

“The challenge here has been making it effective for the first generation,” said Mr. Andersen.

Karl and Nancy are happy to have Will come in and take over, as they have been looking forward to retirement, gardening, golfing, travel and playing with their grandchildren.

The Seppis took the business from a small retail bakery to a wholesale business with a bakery and a restaurant.

Their manufacturing center is a 6,500-square-foot facility off-site from the storefront, which is located in downtown Healdsburg.

When they started the business, there were only a few employees, and they knew all the customers.

“We used to know everyone who walked through the door,” Nancy said. “Probably 80 percent of the customers, we knew by name. We had about 60 standing orders, from a bread roll to a bunch of bread.”

In 1987 they started selling out of Petrini’s Market in Santa Rosa.

“Our business doubled,” said Karl.

As they entered the wholesale business and Healdsburg changed and became the tourist destination spot it is today, they said the clientele shifted, and now they know about 20 percent of the people who come in the door.

“But that is not the main business anymore,” Karl said. “It is the wholesale business.”

They now have four trucks that deliver from Fort Bragg to Santa Rosa and about 55 employees.

All of these are factors for Mr. Andersen as he goes through the business to get a proper valuation.

And in this economy, it is tough to come up with a good valuation for the business.

“We have to come up with a balance,” Mr. Andersen said. “How can Will purchase the business so that his parents can live comfortably once they are no longer involved.”

And with Will’s three sisters, there is the issue that one or more of them might want to get involved one day.

But, said Mr. Andersen, “Those are issues that the family has to deal with. In this case, this is a business transaction.”

While Will is taking over in terms of running the business, Karl and Nancy are still involved.

“He depends a lot on them,” said Abby Whitenack, the bakery’s manager for marketing and communications.

They have built connections throughout the industry, she said, and people know and like them.

“And Karl can fix anything,” said Nancy.

He was the main baker for the majority of the time they have had the bakery and has been hands on with the facility for 30 years. He comes into the store every day for a few hours to keep tabs on things and to make sure everything is running smoothly.

Will said he works equally as hard as he did in the tech world, but he feels now there is a reason for it.

“There is more passion tied to it. It is more than the financial part. There are personal reputations to think about, and the stakes are high,” he said.