Modesto entrepreneur Dan Costa is about to launch three companies, and he expects them to create about 100 jobs in Stanislaus County by the end of next year.
"These companies don't have anything to do with each other, and they're in completely different markets," said Costa, who knows that starting three enterprises at once sounds ambitiously crazy.
But it's tough to bet against someone with a winning track record as long as Costa's.
He's the guy who created 5.11 Tactical (which he sold five years later for $300 million), Mallard's restaurant and Mallard's Foods (which had $40 million in annual sales before he sold it) and the 29-restaurant Velvet Creamery chain.
Now Costa, 59, is teaming with daughter Kelsie Costa, 29, to start a make-at-home gourmet meal venture, a retail company catering to horse owners, and a medical balm business to smooth aches and pains.
As his side hobby, Costa runs Innov8 Partners, which provides free business advice to help local companies grow and prosper.
Costa has purchased two north Modesto office buildings and he's using their 15,000 square feet as his headquarters. He will operate a Turlock manufacturing facility to make key ingredients for his food products.
Costa is hooking up with local talent, such as professional chefs from Modesto and Turlock, and Modesto-based firms Save Mart Supermarkets and Sciabica Olive Oil company.
"I love this community, and I try to do everything I can to make Modesto better," said Costa. He donated $1 million to the Gallo Center for the Arts a couple of years ago, and he routinely participates in fund-raising efforts for numerous local charities.
After selling 5.11 Tactical in 2007, Costa stuck around to run the firm until September 2011.
"I told (the buyers) I would stay until we doubled the annual sales, and we did that in under four years," said Costa. The law enforcement-focused clothing maker increased its annual sales from $85 million in 2007 to more than $200 million in 2011.
"I worked harder for those investors than I did for myself," Costa said, explaining how he had wanted to ensure that 5.11's new owners got their money's worth.
Kelsie Costa worked with him at 5.11, and her business smarts impressed her dad.
"She's all about business and very driven," Dan Costa said. "We worked really well together."
So when he stepped down, the two of them decided to explore new entrepreneurial opportunities. They've been hiring key staff members over the past several months while grooming their product lines and marketing strategies.
Kits for gourmet meals
First to launch will be Your Chefs of America, which expects to have its first meals in Save Mart stores in mid-January. Costa, who loves to cook, is visibly excited about this concept of gourmet food at home.
"You're going to buy a kit that has everything you need to prepare a great meal using recipes from restaurant chefs," Costa said. "The entire meal is in the kit. There's no prep work."
Example: There's a spicy chipotle chicken stir fry kit using a recipe from chef John Surla of Surla's restaurant in Modesto. That kit will include an adobo sauce prepared in Costa's Turlock facility, seasoning, cooked rice, olive oil, an uncooked stir-fry blend of fresh vegetables and 8 ounces of fresh boneless, skinless chicken breast.
Each kit's protein (whether chicken, pork, beef or seafood) and custom-packed vegetables will be added at the grocery store to ensure freshness.
A meals-for-two kit is expected to sell for about $10.
Besides coming with printed cooking instructions, there will be videos of the chefs such as Surla showing step-by-step how to perfectly prepare their dishes. Home cooks will be able to watch those videos online or on their smart phones using an app that recognizes QR matrix bar codes.
Vincent Alvarado of Dewz Restaurant in Modesto, LeRoy Walker of Bistro 234 in Turlock and Stanley Dimond of Toscana's Ristorante in Turlock are among those whose recipes will be featured.
The plan is eventually to expand to other parts of the country, joining with regional grocery chains such as Save Mart and well-known local chefs.
Growing interest in horses
Launching in March will be Noble Equine, which will produce clothing and other items designed for those who ride horses. Specialty gloves, socks, boot bags and hoof picks are among the offerings in company's sample brochure.
To help their equestrian venture succeed, the Costas can tap what they learned during their 10 years producing and distributing 5.11 Tactical gear designed for law enforcement.
"We think we can make really great products and get them to customers at a good value," said Kelsie Costa, who is Noble Equine's president. "It's a booming market."
She said they plan to use overseas manufacturers, then sell the gear in tack shops and feed stores frequented by horse owners. "We're focused on working with small mom-and-pop stores," she said. "We're starting with accessories first but we're planning to provide a wide breadth of products and give them a really good price."
The Costas' topical balm company also will launch in March.
"It's going through a rebranding process right now," Kelsie Costa said. The product line hasn't been named, but she said it will include creams to relieve pain, burns and chafing.
"We're going to start off selling it to those in the motorcycle and off-road-vehicle world," she said. "We really like niche markets."
The balms will be manufactured in Southern California.
Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2196.
A HISTORY OF BRANCHING OUT
Dan Costa's career as an entrepreneur began early, when he opened an ice cream and sandwich shop in Modesto at the age of 23.Here are some highlights:
1976: Opens first Velvet Creamery restaurant. He eventually has 29 of the ice cream and sandwich shops.
1979: Buys Velvet Ice Cream in Modesto
1981: Founds Davis Lay Food Service Inc. to distribute wholesale produce to his and other restaurants and institutions
1984: Closes Velvet Ice Cream factory
1986: Opens Mallard's restaurant in Modesto, which grosses $4.7 million in sales its first year
1987: Offers line of soups to other restaurants under the name Velvet Foods Inc.
1989: Sells Velvet Foods and the Velvet Creamery restaurant chain
1990: Buys Smoky's restaurant with his brother, Mike Nelson
1990: Opens Mallard's Inn on Sisk Road in Modesto, partnering with The Rim Corp., a Modesto hotel-development company
1991: Opens a Mallard's restaurant in Stockton
1992: Founds Mallard's Foods, which eventually includes a line of pasta, sauces, salad dressings and soups sold in grocery stores. From 1992-97, Mallard's Foods annual sales grow to $30 million.
1994: Mallard's Foods pasta plant opens in Modesto. The company grows to $40 million in annual sales within three years.
1995: Builds a 31,360-square-foot plant on Stoddard Road in Salida for Mallard's Foods
1997: Sells Mallard's Foods to Tyson Foods for an undisclosed sum
1997: Sells Davis Lay to Port Stockton Food Distributors for an undisclosed sum
1999: Receives Modesto City Council approval to develop NorthPointe Shopping Center, which becomes home to Costco and Lowe's
1999: Buys Modesto-based outdoor clothing company Royal Robbins Inc. and becomes chief executive officer
2002: Creates 5.11 Tactical as a separate company from Royal Robbins
2003: Sells Royal Robbins Inc. to Phoenix Footwear and remains under contract to help run the company
2005: Sells the Mallard's restaurants
2007: A Boston private equity firm, TA Associates, buys a majority stake in 5.11 Tactical for $300 million