Starting your own business by making a food product is always a long shot. Competition is stiff, start-up costs can be high and chances of success are low. But against the odds, a tireless optimist had made a dent in the market with his product. That’s the story I told on this week on Island Artisans.
The optimist is Richard Lewin, he lives in Mill Bay, north of Victoria and he’s pretty much the chief cook and bottlewasher and pesto maker behind Golda’s Pesto. I’ve known Richard since before I moved to Vancouver Island, when a chef I was interviewing for a story near Mill Bay told me I had to meet Richard because he had a great product. So we went over to his house, where he was toiling away in his kitchen with food processors and blenders and mounds and mounds of basil he was using to make pesto. Follow the link above to find out where you can get his pestos…or is that pestoes? I like his products because they taste good, are very versatile, and can sit in your fridge or freezer until without spoiling until that very moment that you really need a zap of flavour to go into whatever you’re cooking.
The classic pesto we’re most familiar with is made with basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and a hint of parmesan or pecorino cheese. Richard discovered he was good at making this while he was running a restaurant in Duncan. He wasn’t necessarily good at running the restaurant, though, so he put it up for sale. “I listed it on a Friday, and on Monday I heard that the new owners wanted me out. So at 40 years old I thought, ‘hey this is retirement’. Not so easy. I was trying to figure out what to do, and people kept asking me if they could get the pesto I used to make at the restaurant. First I told them to go to a store and buy their own, but if anyone with an entreprenurial spirit gets two or three people asking them for something, they say…okay, I’ll make it.”
And the rest, as they say is history. His daughter Golda was a year old at the time, so he named the pesto after her. Golda is now in university, and the pesto business is still going strong. He had a professional kitchen built as an addition to the house, and he’s traded the tiny food processor for an emulsifier that can make gallons of pesto at a time, and other gadgets that make his life a lot easier, and of course he’s expanded his line of pestos, to dill, cilantro, avocado, olive, sun-dried tomato, blueberry, hempseed and spicy skoogk.
Even though Richard has his pestos in nationwide distribution now, you can still find him at Lower Mainland farmers markets for most the year, because he really loves the contact with people, and believes in the concept of the markets as a great place to be able to talk about your product. And if you’ve even seen Richard at a farmer’s market, you will know that he is a master communicator, someone who can talk about his product or any other topic under the sun at the drop of a hat.
He’s been at the pesto project for 20 years now, but I think asking Richard if he is ready to retire is like asking a bird if it’s ready to stop flying. If anything, he is getting busier and busier. He’s expanded into selling smoked salmon, I’ve tasted some of the line of pickles he has in development, he’s also working with Alberta cattlemen to make a shelf-stable boil in a bag beef product that could be used to provide fast, nutritious meals in disaster relief, and he’s also threatening to develop two salsa products, one that is shelf-stable in a jar, the other fresh and refrigerated made with certified organic tomatoes from the Okanagan Valley. I say threaten, because I figure I made a pretty good salsa myself, so he promises to put me on his taste panel.