With deadpan delivery, Rick Lewis tells me that he spent 20 years in corporate America working to build up a little brand that he's not sure anyone ever heard of, "Jack Daniels?"
While working on his master's of business administration at Saint Mary's College in Moraga, Lewis sent the president of Brown Forman a letter proposing that the company produce a barbecue sauce using its Jack Daniels whisky.
"Now you see the barbecue sauce. You see the marinades. You see the charcoal, but at that time, part of my job was to partner with Kraft because we had a whole tailgate campaign since football's so big. When we came out with our tailgate campaign, we had to go meet with the Kingsford charcoal people, the Kraft barbecue people, and I'm saying, 'We should have our own.' Now Jack Daniels has five license deals throughout the country."
Lewis left his position at Brown Forman in Southern California after falling in love with a Sacramento girl and deciding this city was a great place for a family.
About two years ago, he began looking around the Sacramento region and discovered a number of well-known brands that could be extended, just as Brown Forman had done with Jack Daniels.
He approached Bobby Coyote, the owner-operator of Davis-based Dos Coyotes restaurants, with the idea of placing some of his restaurant's beloved recipes into Costco stores. They teamed up, and last December, Dos Coyotes introduced its green chile stew at 25 Costcos.
Lewis said the product is averaging about $700 in sales a week, beating the $500 minimum that Costco requires. The chicken stew packs the punch of tomatillos and fire-roasted chiles from the Hatch Valley in New Mexico.
Coyote and Lewis plan to expand the Dos Coyotes line with other products, Lewis said, and he's developing ideas with other partners.
Bridging stem cell gap
While procuring organs for transplant teams in hospitals, Cate Dyer learned something that kept nagging at her: Not all viable tissues were being used.
"People think they'll be able to use everything because they're a donor," she said. "The reality is a lot of times, that doesn't happen. They might be able to use your heart, your liver, but nothing else might be used."
Then she moved over to a firm that supplied tissues to research institutions, and she learned of a tremendous need that she felt could be met by organ donors.
Someone should bridge the gap, Dyer thought. Two years ago, the Sacramento State graduate did.
She launched Stem Express in Placerville with one client OK, one very prestigious client Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Her company stands alone in its ability to both procure tissues and isolate cells on state-of-the-art equipment in its labs. Stem Express gets its name from the highly prized stem cells it can isolate for researchers. These healing cells are believed to hold the key to regenerating tissues and organs that fail or suffer debilitating injury.
Dyer didn't budget for marketing at first, yet word of Stem Express spread like wildfire among researchers. It now has contracts with more than 200 companies and institutions in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Canada. Dyer started with one procurement site but now has more than 30.
"When I started this initially, I was just working out of my house," she said "and then we grew to a 1,500-square-foot building probably six months into it. Within eight months, we had exhausted it. We had people in the parking lot taking conference calls and just had run out of room. Now we've moved into this space where we take up roughly 8,000 to 9,000 square feet. We have a staff of 20."
Stem Express pays donors $25 for donations of whole blood and $250 for donations of bone marrow. The company makes money by charging clients a procurement fee, but it's a fraction of what organ recipients or their insurers pay when receiving transplant organs. Stem Express posted revenue of $2.5 million in its first 17 months, and the company is profitable. Its rapid growth wouldn't have been possible, Dyer said, if Mike Rizzo, senior vice president at Five Star Bank, hadn't championed the concept.