The fifth annual Sunset Savor the Central Coast may be one of San Luis Obispo County’s biggest tourist events of the year, but it’s also had a significant impact on some local small businesses.
“We’ve talked a lot about Savor in terms of tourism, but all these other businesses on the Central Coast are seeing benefits as well,” said Visit San Luis Obispo County CEO Stacie Jacob, noting that numerous small businesses trace their roots to the event.
According to Jacob, each year, a handful of the approximately 150 businesses that participate in Savor are small businesses just getting started. Though many other small firms chose not to participate because of the time commitment, those that do gain exposure that can be instrumental in growing their businesses, she said.
One such business is Fromagerie Sophie in San Luis Obispo.
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The European cheese retailer, located in a 700-square-foot space at 1129 Garden St., had hoped to open before Savor last year but complications delayed the opening until November. Nonetheless, it had a booth at Savor’s Main Event at Santa Margarita Ranch.
“It was very exciting to see a line of people outside of our booth on both Saturday and Sunday,” said Paul Doering, who co-owns the shop with wife Sophie Boban-Doering.
After Savor, people who had sampled Fromagerie’s products there kept in contact with them, Boban-Doering said.
“We were getting emails from people asking, you know, when were we going to be open, and why were we keeping them waiting,” she joked. “It was just a really positive process of people supporting us because of Sunset (Savor).”
A year later, the couple still sees customers who remember them from last year’s event.
“I had a woman come in just recently and ask if I was going to have the same goat cheese infused with lavender that we did last year,” Boban-Doering said. “I had to tell her no, that this year we are doing something a little different.” (Besides participating in the Main Event, Fromagerie was featured at Savor’s kickoff reception Thursday evening at Hearst Castle.)
Although they would not disclose monthly revenue, Doering described the business as going well, saying holiday performance last year was “excellent” — a fact he attributed to participating in Savor as well.
“It’s definitely been an event that helped us out in so many ways,” Doering said. “It made us see that what we are doing — providing our product to the county — is the right thing to do.”
TheraBee, an artisan honey producer based in Atascadero, also has grown since participating in Savor a year ago. Then, TheraBee headquarters was a 10-by-10-foot storage unit where they could hold extra bottles and labeling supplies, said Martha Van Inwegen, who co-owns the business with her husband Curtis Van Inwegen. A year later, the Van Inwegens now lease a 1,500-square-foot warehouse to house their honey-based products, including culinary honey and body-care items.
“We’ve just seen some amazing growth since (Savor),” said Curtis Van Inwegen, noting that revenues have increased by about 30 percent each month since participating in the event, and they are now producing about 50 gallons of honey a month. They will participate in Savor again this weekend.
Martha Van Inwegen, a beekeeper, came up with the idea for TheraBee three years ago, but it wasn’t until July 2013 that she and her husband decided to make a business producing herb- and spice-infused honey, she said.
They decided the Savor Marketplace — a two-day open market featuring participating vendor booths — would be TheraBee’s official launching pad. Depending on the response there, they’d then decide if they wanted to further pursue the business.
“We knew that it would be a great platform to test out the product and response,” Curtis Van Inwegen said. “If we didn’t do well there, we thought we probably wouldn’t make it in the end anyway.”
But the response was positive, he said, and since then, the business has continued to expand. TheraBee honey is now sold at 25 stores throughout San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, including shops at Justin Vineyards and Winery, Eberle Winery and Chronic Cellars.
They also recently secured a contract with Whole Foods Market to sell their honey at several Whole Foods Markets between here and Los Angeles, Curtis Van Inwegen said.
“(Savor) is a fantastic platform for the food and wine artisans in the county,” he said. “It’s huge exposure to thousands of people that we would be unable to reach otherwise… It was critical to our growth.”