In three years, Kaslo Sourdough Pasta has gone from startup business to international award winner
According to Kaslo Sourdough Pasta’s general manager, Heidi Lettrari, the company owes its success to two things besides the excellence of the product itself. The first is her father, Silvio, whose Kaslo Sourdough Bakery has a 23-year reputation for excellence.
“My dad always believed the pasta would be a success,” Lettrari said, “because there’s nothing like it on the market and we already have a customer base that loves our bread.”
The second factor is her community. “We originally launched our pasta in the Kootenay area and our amazing customers stepped up and said, ‘OK, we’re willing to try this,’ ” Lettrari said. “They love supporting family businesses and local businesses, and they love the health benefits of sourdough.”
That was in 2013. In just three years, Kaslo Sourdough Pasta has gained a devoted following and garnered several prestigious awards. It won a Nexty Award—dubbed "the best of the best awards"—at the 2015 Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, California, and it won two awards from the B.C. Food Processors Association in 2016: the top Innovation Award and a bronze Product of the Year Award. Lettrari herself has been designated a Star Woman for 2016 by Canadian Grocer magazine.
We learned a little more about Lettrari when we spoke with her recently.
Did you always know you’d join the family business?
I actually studied at UVic to become an accountant, but most of the work opportunities are in the cities, and I love the Kaslo lifestyle. In order for the company to employ me as well as my brother, Stefan, we needed to introduce a new product. It took almost two years of work before my dad and I brought Pasta Fermentata to market. Stefan is also an integral part of our success as our production manager.
My dad has the long-term vision. He sees where we can take the company in five or 10 years, and I look at our goals for the shorter term—one or two years. We’re a good team.
What was the biggest risk you took in this business?
The biggest risk was expansion outside of the Kootenay area. We had to invest in packaging, we had to travel to other stores, meet with managers, do demos and samplings, and it was me who did that.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
It’s crucial, especially at the beginning stage, to invest all of your focus into the business. It’s also critical to connect with other people in your industry and to attend conferences and trade shows. You need to understand what’s going on in the marketplace and in the industry, especially with online sales and Internet communication. It’s good to be ready and to anticipate the changes.
What has changed in your business through the years and what hasn’t?
Technology has made a huge difference and the bakery has stayed fairly consistent. We’ve had requests for the bakery to expand outside of the West Kootenay, but because our bread is a perishable product, shipping creates a quality control issue.
What’s your superpower?
I’m a perfectionist and I’m organized. I organize my team and know where we’re at with our accounts and our sales, where we’re doing well and what needs help.
What’s a challenge for you?
The pasta is my baby, and I really want to continue my parents’ legacy. However, because I care so much about the business, it is difficult to step away from it, so I am thinking pasta seven days a week. It can be a little bit challenging to maintain balance with the other aspects in my life.
What do you read or listen to for inspiration and guidance?
A great resource for online webinars is Small Business BC, and an enjoyable podcast or read is How to Win Friends by Dale Carnegie.
Who is a business person you admire?
My husband, Peter LeCouffe. He started his own business, Harrier Aerial Surveys—it’s drones and technology—a couple of years ago, and he’s been doing really well. I really admire his determination and his focus. He’s on the board for Community Futures and I think that’s amazing. It’s something I’d love to do when I have a bit more time—give back to the community.
What’s something that not many people know about you?
My method of decompressing—I absolutely love baking healthy desserts, turning up my music and having a dance party at the same time. Home baking and music—you just can’t go wrong with that combination!
How do you define success?
One dimension is our sales and our growth, but that’s not enough. Knowing we have a product that is making a difference in people’s lives, knowing that our product is touching people’s lives and helping people’s health—that’s success.