Cathie Anderson

Cathie Anderson: $1 million in sales used to sound like big money to Woodland food producer

I shai Zeldner chuckled as he told me that, yes, his Z Specialty Food company just might hit $1 million in sales this year, a feat he used to dream about back when he could buy domestic honey for 50 or 65 cents a pound.

“In the ’80s, I could buy a truckload of honey for $5,000 or $6,000,” he recalled. “Honey was wholesaling for 50, 65 cents a pound. Now, it’s over $2. That’s what I pay the beekeepers, so that’s why I’m laughing because it ($1 million) doesn’t really mean anything.”

The price of honey has risen by 50 percent compared with 2008 prices, as the number of honeybees declined with colony collapse disorder. Put these rising business costs together with a recession, and you have the recipe for what could have been a disaster for Woodland-based Z Specialty Food. Fortunately, consumer demand and new areas of business expanded fast enough to help Zeldner and his wife and partner Amina Harris ride out the worst of the downturn.

“We used to have tons of small gift basket companies, and so many of those went away in the recession,” Zeldner said. “Gift baskets haven’t come back, but the popularity of honey is up. Stores are more interested in stocking it. There’s also been a niche growing of restaurants and stores promoting a combination of … fresh fruit, cheese and honey. We sell, especially comb honey, to restaurants all over the country. We have a drop-ship program with Sysco Foods, which is something else that has been growing.”

Another growing segment is wineries and breweries, customers that Zeldner and Harris’ son Josh have cultivated since he started working for the company a few years ago. They ship bulk honey as an ingredient to brewers and wineries around the nation.

Earlier this year, Z Specialty Food more than doubled the size of its warehouse to 9,000 square feet. If you want to see what it’s like to have all this honey in one place, check out one of their open houses from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday or Dec. 14 at 1250-A Harter Ave. in Woodland.

Fresh look for CPK

California Pizza Kitchen is spending $1 million-plus to remodel its Arden Fair restaurant, adding reclaimed wood to the exterior and interior as it stresses sustainability and a California casual ambiance in its new decor.

Tabletops are made from reclaimed barn doors, chief executive G.J. Hart told me, and LED lighting reduces the electrical drain. A new bar welcomes guests who want a more adult-oriented experience, he said, while the restaurant area remains family-friendly.

Hart is the leader brought in by Golden Gate Capital, the private equity firm that bought California Pizza Kitchen for $470 million and took it private in June 2011. The company’s share price had dropped by 14 percent that year by the time Golden Gate made its offer. In the two years since Hart took over, he’s met with thousands of employees and customers before undertaking a rebranding effort or making massive menu changes.

“You think you can do these things quicker than you can,” he said. “This is such a great brand that you don’t want to screw it up by making a mistake, right? You have to respect the history.”

The company has nearly 300 locations around the world. The Arden eatery is the third to get the new design, largely because the restaurateur agreed to freshen up the look as it renewed its lease.

Designing a lifeline

After the commercial real estate market imploded in 2007, Dreyfuss & Blackford Architects were looking at how they’d survive as a number of other firms disappeared. Health care clients provided a lifeline, and they now make up about 40 percent of the firm’s business.

“We work for all those health-care providers, and you know, it’s a very rewarding kind of work,” said John Webre, the firm’s president. “It’s a little like education. You’re building places where people get healed, and it’s nice to be able to contribute to that, and it’s ... a little-bit recession-proof. People get sick and doctors need to heal them.”

Dreyfuss recently shepherded Dignity Health’s plans for an extensive medical campus through the approval process in Elk Grove. One building, filled with medical offices, now sits on the site on Elk Grove Boulevard and Wymark Drive, but Dignity won’t proceed with the hospital, parking structure and a second office building until it sees a need. Meanwhile, Dreyfuss & Blackford is renovating Adventist Health’s St. Helena Hospital.

“It’s one of the oldest hospitals in the West, and we’re doing a big renovation,” Webre said. “... It sits right there in Napa Valley, and it really is an amazing hospital where you sit in your patient room and look out at all these rolling vineyards. ... They’re trying to make a destination hospital out of that.”

His firm has also done a lot of work for UC Davis Medical Center, where even a parking structure it designed has won notice. Finished just last year, the $23 million Parking Structure III essentially created a new front door for the center. The International Parking Institute named it the most innovative parking structure for 2013.

“Four thousand little louvers on the outside reflect and adjust lighting,” Webre said. “It doesn’t look like a parking structure at all.”