Follow-Up File: Business is sweet for Linn’s

Name: John Linn

Job: Co-owner

Business: Linn’s Fruit Bin

What they said then:

In August 2010, the Food Network ran a feature on John and Renee Linn’s restaurant and pastry kitchen in Cambria during an episode of “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.”

The owners of Linn’s Fruit Bin — with five retail and restaurant locations in Cambria — had been featured on the channel before in 2004.

“Our mail-order business alone went up $100,000,” John Linn said of their first appearance. “We had to install a new phone system to handle it all.”

What he says now:

Last summer’s episode, with former San Luis Obispo resident Marc Summers grabbing a slice of olallieberry pie, didn’t bring as big a boost as before.

Calling the impact “half a hit,” John Linn thought the primary difference was that “The Best Thing” episode didn’t mention a website or other contact information to make it easy for viewers to connect.

But the episode is now in the regular airing schedule, so the family’s businesses continue to see small bumps whenever it reruns on the Food Network. The network’s website also includes Linn’s address, phone number and a link to Linn’s Fruit Bin site.

With a restaurant, farm store, café, gourmet goods and a “homestyle” shop, Linn’s businesses employ 90 people full and part time.

July sales have been up 10 percent compared to the previous July for two consecutive years.

“In this economy, I think that’s incredible,” Linn said. “Of course, prices have gone up too. That’s not necessarily 10 percent more customers.”

Linn’s and other businesses in Cambria attract repeat visitors each season, he said, particularly those who own vacation homes in the area.

“We’re very fortunate that the grade of customer in Cambria tends to be a little bit higher,” Linn said, referring to wealth. “If they want something, they buy it. They don’t sweat it.”

Mail-order business is just about 5 percent of total sales, and it’s not an area Linn is eager to grow. Shipping heavy perishables turns little profit. He sees it as a way of “taking care” of repeat customers outside the area.

The family is focused on slowly expanding wholesale to California groceries and chains. Linn’s Fruit Bin now sells to three Costco locations. Costco has asked them to sell to others, but the Linns declined.

“We don’t want Costco having a demand that runs our company,” Linn said. “Growth is expensive and risky.”

Recalling a conversation with Russell Knott, son of the founder of the family-owned business that became Knott’s Berry Farm, Linn said he wants to keep a “small-town, family-run business flavor.”

“We’ve been in business almost 35 years now,” he said. “We don’t want to lose track of who we are and we don’t want to lose track of who our customer is.”