Cathie Anderson

Cathie Anderson: Feeding Crane Farms calls it quits

Brian Shaad restructured Feeding Crane Farms in North Natomas several times in an attempt to keep it going, but he announced Wednesday that he would have to call it quits.

“Unfortunately because of increasing costs and financial liabilities, the farm has no choice but to close down,” Shaad told me. “We did everything we could to ensure the farm’s success, but at the end of the day, it was a question of simple economics.”

Shaad is a Jesuit High School graduate who went on to study geography and international relations at Boston University and then development economics at the London School of Economics. He lives in India for much of the year because he and a business partner are creating solar-powered microgrids that cost $1,200 to construct and can power about 50 village homes. Roughly 16,000 Indian villagers pay about 25 rupees a week for service, slightly less than it costs for a week’s supply of kerosene.

Shaad’s venture in India is meeting with success, but he called me on what was early Thursday morning overseas to tell me that the farm had encountered severe financial difficulties. Some of it, he said, is because restaurateurs haven’t paid for produce they’ve received. In a lengthier conversation last September, Shaad said it was difficult to manage his Sacramento businesses from so far away.

“I talk to chefs, and they say, ‘Wow, you guys took over this town,’” he said, “and it’s almost like our image grew so much faster than our actual operations grew. We didn’t have what we needed to meet the demand (we) created. The other thing is, a farm needs to do what a farm does best, which is growing produce. The farm can’t be the advocate for local farming. It can’t be the movement that’s changing the whole system. It needs to be a part of all that. It can’t be the driver.”

Shaad also owns Lulu’s Kitchen, the former Steel Magnolia Kitchen that he acquired and renamed for his grandmother. He told me that the kitchen is paying for itself and would remain open.

A giant in Placer

If you think of Placer Title Co. as a quiet little company based in Auburn, the employees and even chief executive Marsha Emmett Spence won’t fight it. But you should know that they had 1,100 people come to celebrate their 40th anniversary at the Sacramento Convention Center, chosen because it could accommodate them all.

Sure, Placer Title has brick-and-mortar locations in cities such as Roseville, Elk Grove and Folsom, but it also has offices all around the state in places such as Fresno, Stockton and Redding. Out of state, they have offices in the resort towns of Jackson Hole, Wyo.; Bozeman, Mont.; and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. But that’s not all.

“A lot of people don’t know about us, except that we’re a title company here,” Spence said. “They don’t know the national presence we have. ... We have a company called National Closing Solutions, and they’re housed in Rocklin, and they ... do a fast process of loans, re-fis only, no sales. For instance, if you get a flier from a bank in your mailbox, and it says, ‘If you call by such-and-such a date, we’ll give you this rate, and this will be your fees,’ lenders don’t do those out of normal title company offices.”

National Closing does business in nearly all 50 states, Spence said, and there’s another division, Premier Reverse Closings, that specializes in handling titles and other services for reverse mortgages.

“Let’s see, last year, I think we did just under 20 percent or maybe even a little higher, 25 percent in round figures, of all the reverse mortgages in the nation through our Rocklin office,” Spence said. “That’s a stunning statistic, and granted, there’s not millions of them done, but there’s a good number of them done in the nation, and we do about a fifth of them. We have a very highly trained staff there. That’s legally very rigorous. It’s a scary place to go if you don’t know what you’re doing.”

The company, Spence said after some prodding, does “a lot more than tens of millions of dollars in revenue.” The CEO for about 12 years now, she guided the company through severe downsizing after the housing crisis. Placer Title dropped to 450 workers from 1,100, but it has made a comeback in the past two years and now has 750 employees. Spence spoke to me while on her way to visit employees at offices all around the region. She’s checking on how they’re doing because Placer Title founder Leo French died Monday.

“He made it through the 40th anniversary party, and it was really important to him,” Spence said. “He never wanted us managers to think we were owed anything by the employees. He wanted just the opposite. He wanted us to feel as managers, that we had a job to do, to care for them, that they were people that mattered, their families mattered.”