Costeaux bakes in corporate discipline, sevenfold growth
HEALDSBURG -- “I’m an accountant, a bean counter,” said Will Seppi, general manager of Costeaux French Bakery in Healdsburg for the past 10 years.
His mother and father bought the business in 1981.
“I grew up in the business with my sisters,” Mr. Seppi said. He went to college then worked in Silicon Valley before returning. “I quit my corporate job to work in the family business,” he said. Since his return, the business has grown sevenfold in revenue to several million dollars, a growth rate of 15 to 20 percent each year.
Mr. Seppi worked for Ernst & Young and then audited acquisitions for the Kinetics Group, which manufactured equipment for the semiconductor industry and did construction for clean rooms worldwide. “The company went from $15 million a year to $1 billion a year in a year and a half” through acquisitions, he said. “It was a wild time.”
He brings his experience in larger corporations into the small family business, including “processes and procedures, a way of thinking, applying them to a family operation to help things flow,” and corporate discipline that have made Costeaux prosper, he said.
“Our core values stem from my mom and dad,” Mr. Seppi said. Those include treating the 85 employees as family, recognizing that each employee has his or her own challenges and needs, and commitment to the community. “Our company is 91 years old,” Seppi said. “We wouldn’t be here if the community didn’t support us. We do a ton of outreach and support of community events.”
The retail outlet in Healdsburg brings in about 40 percent of the revenue, Mr. Seppi said. The rest of revenue comes from outside sales from 180 to 250 customers per day, spread through Marin, Napa and northern San Francisco.
The company produces some 10,000 to 15,000 units of baked goods a day, including bread, danishes and cookies. He has thought about adding retail outlets, but no expansion plans have been set. “We have to find the right fit,” Seppi said.
“We empower employees to feel that they have the knowledge to make the right decisions for our guests,” Mr. Seppi said. “We try to have a pretty flat organizational structure. They have the ability to make someone’s experience, make someone’s day.”
Linda Cook, who does sales, has been with Costeaux seven years. “Linda is our company cheerleader,” Seppi said.
“I do a root-beer-float day,” Ms. Cook said. “You’d think I had given these employees $50 dollar bills just by giving them a root beer float. We bring fun here. It’s a great place to work. I can’t even believe he pays me.” She laughs. “I love working here. It’s a happy place.”
Donna Biasotti, part of the bakery service team, has been there since 1991 and now works one day a week every Wednesday. “She always shows up in dress code, on time, ready to work,” Mr. Seppi said.
His parents, William and Brandi Seppi, are semi-retired. “My dad was baking until eight years ago,” Mr. Seppi said. The company was founded in 1923 by two Italian co-founders, bought later by Jean Costeaux, a Frenchman, who changed the name.
Mr. Seppi has transformed the company’s bread lines in recent years from basic sour and sweet loaves to include a dozen breads, some with long fermentation, whole grains and seeded sourdoughs. The pastry line has also been redesigned. “We make fresh product every day and get it distributed,” he said. In 2006, he moved production to a facility down the street, and remodeled in 2008 to add cafe service. For Sunday brunches, customers often have to wait 45 minutes for a table.
He rents the bakery in the evenings for events, such as receptions.
If Costeaux is to remain in family hands, Mr. Seppi has a few years to go before he can hand over the bakery to his children, all three of whom are under two and a half years old, including a baby born three months ago.