San Diego, CA
Industry: Food & Beverage
Co-founder Diane Cahez and Opera Patisserie use lean methods to make it affordable for hotels and restaurants to offer higher quality pastries.
Filling a need for high-end pastries in the San Diego, California area, Diane Cahez started Opera Patisserie with business partner/ pastry chef Vincent Garcia, and her ex-husband Thierry Cahez. "We started with 1000 square feet and forty thousand dollars in the Miramar area," says Cahez, who is the company CEO and CFO. "I handled all of the business and design ends, while my business partner and my ex-husband created a line of pastries. At that time, hotels and restaurants in San Diego and Los Angeles, couldn’t get high-end product."
Starting small, it didn’t take the company a long time to grow into its current $7-million in sales. It now operates a 10,000 square foot space, with greater relationships with distributors and dealers across the country, such as Whole Foods stores and more. "We’re still considered the new-guys in town," says Cahez. "But we’re growing because we’ve adopted lean technology methods introduced to us by California Manufacturing Technology Consulting group (CMTC). It’s allowed us to be more cost-effective than the hotel chains creating pastries themselves. In fact, many hotels now take pride in utilizing our products."
The lean methods Opera Patisserie use combine experienced pastry chefs with employees that are trained on specific tasks that ultimately create a high-end product. "Our pastry chefs are very good but the majority of our staff comes with little experience, so we train them," says Cahez. "We try to be very efficient. Pastries have varied components that include, baking, cake leveling, producing mousses, etc., and combining them to make finished products. All the components are similar but combined in different fashions. We have teams that build recipes, bake, work in mousse production, or do chocolate work. They all work together to finish within a time schedule. Using these theories of lean technologies have been very helpful in the baking environment, and it drives our efficiency."
In the competitive pastry market, Cahez is often challenged to lower prices, but she believes it’s more important to let customers know they’re paying for higher quality. "We know what the market is, and when customers talk lower pricing, we stick to our advantage in keeping our quality higher," says Cahez. "We don’t use prepared mixes or take shortcuts to lower costs. Although it’s more expensive, we use lots of high-quality ingredients rather than those that are more affordable."
Keeping quality high depends on the quality of their ingredients. “We source from a variety of providers. Some are consistent, while others come from different parts of the world. Purees, for example, come from France as they are the best quality. So it’s a challenge to keep that price point in the market and still provide the level of quality we desire, but we’re simply not interested in using prepared mixes or chemicals."
That operation model has allowed Opera Patisserie to grow on the basis of their quality and on-time delivery. "There’s many levels of quality control for each area. There is even a team that is in charge of cutting and organizing the product so it’s ready for shipment. At each level, there’s quality control. Customers have bought 10K boxes of our pastries and our goal is that every time they open that box it’s the same."
Challenges: "In California, high labor and workers comp costs are high, but you have a tremendous market here," says Cahez. "When you have a lot of employees, you have challenges such as minimum wage, workers comp, etc. It’s difficult trying to keep that under control with good benefits."
Opportunities: The company also opened a Café in 2008, allowing customers access to their pastries and their line of quiches. "Although we’re focused on the wholesale side, this model does well and has potential to grow," says Cahez. "We’ve always done beautiful quiche and that product is taking off." The company is also getting ready to have a USDA certified kitchen to create other food dishes."
Needs: "We’ve been exploring different kinds of financing because of where we're expanding," says Cahez. "Because we’re considering moving into other markets, having enough square footage is always a challenge. We like being in San Diego, however, we may eventually have to look outside if the costs get too expensive."