Russ: Welcome back to The BusinessMakers Show, brought to you by Comcast Business, built for business. Our topic today, gourmet specialty foods, and my guest is Diane Roederer, the founder of DR Delicacy. Diane, welcome to The BusinessMakers Show.
Diane: Thank you for having me.
Russ: You bet. Tell us about DR Delicacy.
Diane: DR Delicacy was founded about a year ago. I moved to Houston, was looking for a new business, and found a niche as the food industry is growing so well in Houston. There are a lot of products that you can’t find.
Russ: And yours is the product sitting right in front of us, your primary product at least today (
Diane: Right). And, there come this world of truffles; the aroma is incredible. So you selected truffles as your first product, right?
Diane: Definitely. That was the little story, you know, went to Spain, was hunting big game as a real Texan would go around the world and hunt, and the owner offered me to import his truffles. So, this is how the business started.
Russ: Ok, and this is the owner of the lodge where you were hunting, right?
Russ: Was he already in the truffles business or he (
Diane: No) just knew that he had them on his property.
Diane: He has them. He has some fields which I went last year and did a truffle hunt, and so he has fields that we went in and we just dig out some truffles, with a dog of course.
Russ: Right, ok, and they’re such an incredible delicacy and they’re—it’s kind of rare where you can produce them, right?
Diane: Actually, not as rare as we think. We don’t have that many in America; mostly in Oregon, and they’re pretty, they’re really good, but it’s mostly Europe starting with Spain and all the way to France, Italy, and then you go all the way to China, different type. So they’re not as rare or as expensive as the white truffles from Italy. These are winter truffles from France. They just started—the season just started and look at these, they’re absolutely amazing.
Russ: Incredible. So, I know they’re very expensive. If they offered these at a grocery store here what would I expect to pay for this?
Diane: This is a winter truffle so that’s the most expensive black truffles, so I would say about $80 an ounce.
Russ: Ok, $80 an ounce.
Diane: It’s a difficult season because it was very dry over the summer, therefore we don’t have a lot of truffles.
Russ: Ok, so you started because of this hunting lodge in Spain, which you’ve already gone way beyond Spain to buy truffles.
Diane: Right. Now I’m importing, of course from Italy, and then France, and then discovered Australia over the summer as they are producing winter truffles when it’s summer for us.
Russ: Ok, very good. So, you’re in business, been in business for a year now. So, who are your customers today?
Diane: It’s mostly restaurants here in Houston and we’re expanding little by little to Austin, San Antonio; hopefully we’ll get to Dallas next year.
Russ: Ok, so but you’re not the only person that is selling truffles in this part of the state, are you?
Diane: Pretty much. I’m one of the few that has the truffles here in Houston. So, I can go, like I’m going right after this I’m going to go to one restaurant and present my black truffles to one of the chefs. And he picks his truffles, we put them on the scales, and I write the invoice.
Russ: Ok, so I’ve always wondered, I love truffles; at some of the finer restaurants that I’ve eaten I’m always tempted. The dishes are always pretty expensive but I never realized, I didn’t know do the food distributors, like big companies like Sysco, they wouldn’t handle truffles, is that right?
Diane: Some of them do but it’s, again, a truffle like this, it’s just been picked up last weekend. I got them this morning from France. So, they’re extremely fresh. They’re firm, they’re beautiful, they’re going to last 10 days. So, and then that’s it, and these are even, they last even less. So, it’s really a difficult product. You have to bring it in, sell it right away, and use it.
Russ: Ok, so when you went, the first time, I mean have you been on several truffle hunts since then or are you beyond that now?
Diane: No, actually I was going to go on a white truffle hunt but just got too busy with business so I stayed here, but I think there are so many people I meet and they say, we want to go on a truffle hunt. So, I think we will set up some truffle hunts.
Russ: Ok, but you’ve been on one before?
Diane: I have.
Russ: What are they like?
Diane: It’s a lot of fun because you work with a dog and the dog. First of all, it’s oak trees, hazel trees. And if there are no grass under the tree there are pretty good chances you do have truffles. And then the dog goes, and because there is gas in the truffle, and that’s what comes out of the ground and that’s how the dog knows it’s ready. So they scratch the ground and you discover the truffle.
Russ: Ok, and the key for the trees is that it’s sort of a symbiotic relationship, right? Where the truffle grows (
Diane: Absolutely) into the roots of the tree, they’re always subterranean. Are there specific dogs that know how to do this or can you train any dog to do it?
Diane: It’s just a dog that you train the dog and the dog needs to enjoy it. That little dog was, that was her life (
Russ: Really?). She was just happy doing it.
Russ: Ok, but they don’t eat them do they, the dogs?
Diane: No. this is why you don’t use pigs anymore.
Russ: Oh, they used to use pigs (
Diane: Yes) but pigs would eat them.
Diane: Pigs eat the truffles, so I don’t see myself wrestling a pig, so—(
Russ: Ok) and actually the pig also destroys a little bit of the ground, so in Italy you’re not allowed to use pigs anymore.
Russ: Ok, so a truffle hunt, does it work like a wild game hunt? Sometimes you don’t see, you don’t find any truffles. Does that happen?
Diane: Well, I’m sure it does. I mean, some days you’re going to find smaller truffles; those are really beautiful. Smaller truffles or less truffles because it’s a season. So, at the beginning it’s a little difficult, and then you have the prime, the peak of the season where you’re going to find most of them, and then it goes down.
Russ: Ok, are sales going very well already?
Diane: Yes. It’s been very busy. Now by adding, I’ve added caviar which I have about 10 different kinds here in stock in Houston, and I can get another 10 different kinds. So, that’s again it’s not something that you find easily in Houston. There are few places that will carry them.
Russ: Now in talking to you before, we started, I already sort of know this but you’ve already brought it up in this story about this hunting trip up in Spain. So, prior to getting into the truffle business, you were pretty much a serious wild game hunter, right?
Diane: Yes. I owned a ranch, a 10,000 acre ranch on the Rio Grande. So, I lived there for 20 years and built a company. And we had hunters and summer camps and it was big game hunting.
Russ: Ok, and just like any big ranch game hunter after you saw that you said, well it’s time to get in the truffle business, now eh?
Diane: Well, you know life moves you in different directions and I wanted to come to Houston, which was one of my goals. So, I made it and I had to start a new business.
Russ: Ok, so carry us a little bit into the future. I mean, you’re already adding caviar; I would assume you’re going to carry these specialty gourmet foods a bit further.
Diane: Ok, so of course restaurants were my first target. Now, we’re going beyond; we’re building the online market. Amazon is interested so we’re going to start on Amazon, too, and then try to go to specialty stores and definitely grocery stores.
Russ: Oh wow. So, maybe at some point in time here in Houston you would see them at Central Market or—(
Diane: Hopefully, yeah hopefully) HEB or Whole Foods, any of those?
Diane: There’s a couple of restaurants that they have small grocery stores and they’re starting to carry our product.
Russ: Ok. I’m just wondering, I mean I consider them such specialty items. I mean, but are they abundantly available?
Diane: Well, I don’t have shortage of suppliers. So, sometimes I need to order from several suppliers to have enough to bring in. But for right now for what I’m doing, I have enough to supply.
Russ: Ok. And is that the reason for your sort of geographical expansion of sources? Because at certain seasons you can get them and would from China and others, Australia, and others.
Diane: I don’t import from China because I’m not convinced, it’s not the quality I want to sell. But, they have huge quantities. But yeah, you have to change countries, because like Spain has their winter truffles a little earlier than France or Italy just because of geographic locations.
Russ: Ok, so also we have several different truffles products even here too. So, you’re expanding the product line of truffles as well, right?
Diane: Right. Well, let’s say I don’t sell a truffle, what am I going to do? I’m going to freeze dry it, slice it and freeze dry it and then do some truffle chips, which does not exist on the market. So, we’re starting to sell these as, you can eat them as a chip or you can use them in recipes.
Russ: Ok, did you actually invent these truffle chips?
Diane: Yes, I did. And we also have truffle dust which is the same. It’s truffles that we freeze dry and turn into dust. And this, I’ve tried it over ice cream or in pasta. So you can use it anyway you want. These are the truffle dust that we sell retail. We have 100% organic truffle oil, black and white. What is important to me is everything natural. And a lot of the oils that you find on the markets have aromas, which is put in every product in Europe. Here, we—there’s no aromas. It’s just the truffles and the oil. We have truffle honey which is actually from Tennessee. I don’t know if you can see the little truffle slice in there. And of course all of those products are for sale to anyone through the website.
Russ: Today online.
Russ: Cool, alright. Ok, so I also know we got on your radar and you got on mine because you have an event coming up too. Tell us about that.
Diane: So, last year we started the first Truffle Chef Charity Challenge, which was inviting 20 restaurants from Houston and giving them some truffles to work with and offer one dish to our guests. And we had blind judging; we had seven judges and so they tried all the dishes. We picked three dishes and this year we are going to do an extra award for people’s choice award.
Russ: Oh, people’s choice. People attending the event would also get to vote (
Diane: Exactly). Who were the winners last year?
Diane: It was David Cordua form Américas (
Russ: Oh yeah. He’s been on the show). He did a Twinkie with truffles (
Russ: Wow, impressive), and I think it’s still in his restaurant.
Russ: Ok, so what’s the date this year for the Truffle Challenge?
Diane: So, this year it’s January 11th, and it’s going to be at The Astorian.
Russ: The Astorian, ok.
Diane: We’re selling tickets online. It’s a charity event so all the proceeds are going to Le Dames d’Escoffier International, the Houston chapter, and they donate the money for scholarship.
Russ: Ok, and what’s the web address?
Diane: It’s drdelicacy.com
Russ: Good. Well, Diane I really appreciate you (
Diane: Thank you, Russ) sharing your story with us. It sounds like it’s an exciting business and a very nice smelling business as well. Alright, that wraps up my discussion with Diane Roederer, the founder of DR Delicacy. And this is The BusinessMakers Show, brought to you by Comcast Business, built for business.
brought to you by