"I used to bake my own bread until I found Vital Vittles."
--Helen, Berkeley

News & Articles

Kass Schwin Entrepreneur Profile: Kass Schwin
San Francisco Business Times, Monday, March 20, 2006

RÉSUMÉ

Name: Kass Schwin.

Title: President

Company: Vital Vittles Bakery

HQ: Berkeley

2005 revenue: $1.5 million

Employees: 21

Founded: 1976

Source of startup capital: Schwin's former partner got a $5,000 insurance payment from a car accident. Instead of fixing the car, he bought a mill, and a few years later they got a small loan to start the bakery.

Background: Schwin has a master's degree in counselor's education and worked as a school counselor, fundraiser, and as a juvenile probation officer.

Age: 60

Residence: Berkeley

Web site: vitalvittles.com

BIG PICTURE

Reason for starting business: I always loved cooking, and I wanted to see people eat healthy food and whole grains.

Most difficult part of decision: People were skeptical, so it made you doubt yourself a little bit.

Biggest plus of ownership: The flexibility.

Biggest drawback: You're on 24-7. You may not be there, but it's always on your mind.

Biggest misconception: That you're rich.

Biggest business strength: I'm a great juggler of different things. I'm healthy and happy and still I have challenges.

Biggest business weakness: Trying to do too much and not being able to say no.

Biggest risk: When artisan bread started getting popular, I had several consultants tell me that I should get into that. My attitude was that I'm going to make what I want to make, and if people want it they can buy it. That was a big risk, but in the past four years people's feelings about health have finally caught up with what we make.

Biggest mistake: Not raising my prices soon enough.

Smartest move: In retrospect, it was sticking to our guns and making the bread we make.

Biggest worry: What will become of my bread when I move on, because I'd really like to see it continue as a product people can enjoy, but I don't want to do it forever.

Top source of inspiration: My head baker. We've been together for 21 years. She left Vietnam when she was 18 with nothing but the clothes on her back.

DAILY ROUTINE

Most challenging task: Trying to take care of the day-to-day stuff, but still move forward on the bigger issues, like becoming a green business or having our bread certified organic.

Favorite task: Making bread. I spend most of my time doing paperwork, but when I can I go down and work on the table.

Least favorite task: Anything that has to do with forms and details and numbers.

Biggest frustration: I'm not much of a procedures person, so I get frustrated when I have to follow them.

Source of support in a business crisis: Several people who've been here at the bakery for over 20 years.

DREAMS

Key goal yet to achieve: Seeing our sweets achieve widespread acceptance and recognition.

First move with capital windfall: I might just build a brand-new baking facility.

Five-year plan: To keep growing the way we have been. The past four years have been just fabulous, growing by double digits each month.

Inducement to sell: Conviction that the new owners had the same goals I have.

First choice for new career or venture: If I'm able, I'd really like to do the Peace Corps or some kind of nonprofit work.

PERSONALS

Most-admired entrepreneur: John Mackey, co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods.

Most interested in meeting: Anna Quindlen and Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

Stress reducers: Walking, reading, yoga and having lunch with friends.

Favorite pastimes: Hiking and playing Scrabble and playing the piano.

Favorite book: "East of Eden."

Favorite film: "Cinema Paradiso."

Favorite restaurant: Bistro Liaison and Café Raj in Berkeley.

Favorite destination: Hawaii.

Automobile: I own a Subaru.

-- Michelle Loyalka Dammon


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