Beneath an unadorned sign that read: “Kaldes Bros. Trading Co. of Lorton, Va.,” Peter and Greg Kaldes invited attendees at last week’s Fancy Food Show in the District to sample their line of gourmet Greek olive oils and cooking sauces.
As people dipped shredded pieces of bread into finger bowls of one of the sauces, the brothers explained how the touch of ouzo, made from anise, added to the distinct flavor they were tasting.
“It’s a robust sauce,” Peter Kaldes told one potential buyer, “and it really adds kick to traditional Greek recipes.”
Kaldes beamed as he extolled the virtues of the products, which are sold under the brand name Kaldi. From their humble table on the lower level of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, the Kaldes brothers engaged thousands of retailers looking for new products to add to their store shelves.
“We’ve gotten over 100 leads from [stores] across the country,” Peter Kaldes said. “It’s not just leads that ask for a card, they’re leads where they specifically ask for us to follow up with samples and pricing. We would never have been able to do that kind of outreach so quickly.”
Kaldi, launched in August 2009, was one of 26 exhibitors showcased as part of “New Brands on the Shelf,” a pavilion at the Fancy Food Show devoted to emerging entrepreneurs. These newcomers from across the country presented an array of artisan products, such as seaweed caviar and sweet potato bread.
The pavilion is part of the member candidate program run by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, or NASFT, the group that presents the annual food expo. The program offers seminars, networking opportunities and a chance to present at the Fancy Foods Show, which draws regional and national storeowners.
“The pavilion is a really popular area for buyers because they are always looking for something new,” said NASFT spokeswoman Louise Kramer. “Vendors also learn that if they want to turn their product into a viable small business, there’s a lot they have to be prepared for — large-scale production, supply chains.”
More than 270 companies have participated in the program since its inception in 2008. Start-ups pay $100 application fees to become member candidates, a designation open to companies in business for less than two years and with fewer than five accounts. A panel of 10 industry experts reviews each product, judging such criteria as quality, packaging and pricing.
“We got lots of five-out-of-five ratings,” Peter Kaldes said of Kaldi’s review. Once accepted, the Kaldeses paid $1,500 for a table at the pavilion, a fraction of the $3,400 it costs for standard booths. “It was super flattering and exciting to see that people believed in what we wanted to do.”
Kaldi products are exactly the kind of Greek goods that the Kaldes brothers grew up on. As children, they visited their family’s olive grove on the Greek island of Lesvos during the summers, but as adults never considered harvesting the crop. That is, until Peter was laid off from his job as an attorney in the Washington area.
“I was trying to figure out what to do next and it dawned on me, why not make use of the thousands of olive trees we have,” he said.
Peter ran the idea by his brother, a product manager in Philadelphia, who was instantly sold. Their dad, John Kaldes, however, took a little more convincing.
“I’m a little bit older, so I’m a bit more cautious than they are, but the company is coming together really well,” said John Kaldes, who now manages shipping, logistics and customer support for Kaldi from his home in New Jersey. He also serves as the liaison between his boys and their team back in Lesvos, who process and bottle the products.
The Kaldeses get most of the peppers, tomatoes, herbs and spices they use in their sauces from other farms in the village. Down the road, they would like to import the raw ingredients and bottle the products domestically as the business scales up. For now, all three Kaldeses still have day jobs — Peter took a job in legislative affairs some months back — but they hope that also changes as the business scales up.
They’re getting there.
Kaldi products are currently sold in 18 specialty food stores from Anchorage to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The brothers have grown the business by advertising on Facebook, signing up for Groupon and participating in other expos like the D.C. International Food and Wine Festival.