Have you ever met someone (in business) who was just so nice that you wanted to work with them?

Well, that’s how we got into the “ready-to-eat” crepe business. You know, those delicate, very thin, slightly sweet “pancakes” that are just perfect with sliced strawberries and fresh whipped cream? (Yum, I’m getting hungry just writing those words.)

Well, back in 1986, this French guy, Herve LeBayon was introduced to us by another supplier. Herve (pronounced “air-vay”) was from Brittany, France, and moved to the United States because he wanted to be a capitalist! (Yeah, America!)

Herve barely spoke English (his wife translated for him), but he was absolutely passionate about introducing his authentic French crepes to the U.S. He had heard about our company, and how we were in the business of introducing new foods to Americans.

As I listened to Herve speak (my French skills from college came in handy), I began to envision small displays of these ready-to-eat crepe packages next to the fresh strawberries in supermarket produce departments.

After months of perfecting the recipe and designing the packaging, we launched Frieda’s French Style Crepes at a big supermarket convention. It was the hit of the show! I remember that we had stocked up our warehouse with 10,000 cases before the show, so we wouldn’t run out when all the orders came rolling in! It was quite the hit.

Now every year as the spring berry season approaches, we start to get orders from supermarkets across the country that want to display them next to their fresh strawberries, blueberries and raspberries.

And, in case you didn’t know, crepes are pretty hot these days. Crepe pans are selling like hotcakes (sorry for the pun) in cooking stores. Crepe restaurants and street food creperies are popping up left and right. In Orange County, a new food truck specializing in crepes just began operating. (You can even follow them on Twitter to see where the crepe truck is stopping next.)

Want to try the authentic crepe preparation that was Herve’s inspiration? Start with Frieda’s French Style Crepes at room temperature. Brush one crepe with a small amount of melted butter and dust lightly with granulated sugar. Squeeze on a small amount of fresh lemon or orange juice, fold over, and enjoy! Bon Appetit!

Frieda's Specialty Produce - French style crepes

Karen

My mother Frieda Caplan with my uncle Paul Steffen and cousin Michael Silver


“What a big, big life he had. And how he loved life, loved living, loved people. Never have I seen anyone come close to his excitement about being alive.”

This is what was written about my Uncle Paul. My “Crazy Uncle Paul” (as we lovingly referred to him) passed away this week at the ripe age of 88. My mother’s brother has lived in Rome, Italy, since the 1960s. Over the years, many of us in our family have trekked to Italy to visit him.

When Paul’s lifelong friend and caregiver (Pancho) wrote the line above, I had to pause. Wow – what an amazing statement to make about someone. “Never have I seen anyone come close to his excitement about being alive.”

Can I say that about my life? Can you say that about your life?

I want that. And frankly, I’ve made it my mission to have that life.

My Uncle Paul was a world-renowned choreographer and dancer. He invented Jazzercise, BEFORE Jazzercise was a word/concept/business. He worked as a choreographer in Las Vegas, and Judy Garland (yes, THAT Judy Garland) claimed him to be her exclusive choreographer. He dated Yvonne De Carlo (of the original Munster’s fame).

His apartment was in the heart of ancient Rome, on Vicolo dei Modelli, just down the street from the famous Trevi Fountains (where people from all over the world come to throw their pennies and make wishes).

A few years ago, he moved to Calcata, Italy – a renaissance town about 45 minutes from Rome. He took daily walks with his dog Jack Daniel, and until a few years ago, conducted regular movement classes (that’s like tai chi crossed with dance). He was a true artiste. You can read about him and his amazing Grotta Restaurant in Calcata here.

Paul always told you what he thought. He was an incessant TV watcher – frequently staying up all night in Rome to watch U.S. TV shows…and he loved politics. He always watched our Presidential elections and often sent us a politically charged email if he didn’t think things were going right.

But mostly, Paul was passionate, full of energy and had a childlike joie de vivre!

I hope you will pause for a moment and think. “What will people say about me when I am gone? Will I have any regrets? Did I live my life to the fullest, experiencing everything I wanted to?” If not – you can make that change now!

Ciao Uncle Paul…Your legacy to me and our family is your crazy and wonderful way of doing everything you wanted to!

Karen

P.S. Here are some interesting links about Paul Steffen:

Interview with Paul (he speaks in English)

Inside Paul’s Calcata home (You’ve got to see this!)

Paul Steffen’s choreography in the “Thief of Baghdad” (1961)

Website dedicated to Paul (in Italian) with beautiful vintage photos of his choreography and some old Hollywood greats.

Frieda's Specialty Produce - Horseradish

I jokingly refer to the Jewish holiday of Passover as the “horseradish holiday.” (As a wholesale distributor of fresh produce, it has always been an easy way to inform our retail clients that this is the time of year to stock up on this knobby root.)

That is, of course, because horseradish is one of the symbolic “bitter herbs” served as part of the traditional Passover Seder dinner. This year, the first night of Passover starts at sundown on Monday, March 29, and Jews all over the world will be sitting down for a dinner filled with traditional foods.

Supermarkets are pretty savvy, and they have chosen to increase their offerings of Jewish/Kosher foods for each of the major Jewish holidays. So, even if you are not Jewish, this is the time of year when you can stock up on matzoh (large 8-inch square crackers), almond macaroons, and all sorts of Kosher and traditional sweets.

And, if you shop in the produce department, you may suddenly notice a very ugly, knobby and oftentimes dirty root vegetable. That would be fresh horseradish root. Hopefully, it will be in the refrigerated section, and if you’re lucky, it will be in the “greens” section, where it will get misted regularly with water. Like all root vegetables, horseradish tends to lose its moisture if not kept cool and damp.

First of all, don’t be afraid if the roots are a bit dirty. (They do grow in the dirt, after all!) When you get your horseradish root home, store it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, and don’t wash it until you are ready to use it. (Actually, we encourage retailers to stock horseradish that is already pre-wrapped, to keep it fresh.)

Fresh horseradish is incredibly pungent, so get ready for the smell! Peel off the outer skin with a potato peeler. The inside will be a creamy beige color, similar to a parsnip. Grate coarsely if you want to serve as is, or puree in a food processor until finely blended, and add sour cream, cream cheese or mayonnaise (your preference) to dilute the very strong flavor. (Note: Like chopping onions, you may find yourself shedding a few tears as you cut into fresh horseradish.)

Fresh-grated horseradish served with homemade prime rib will impress your guests! (Most people serve the jarred, prepared horseradish.) You can also add finely grated horseradish to your mashed potatoes. (Oh, by the way, all the top chefs now call mashed potatoes “potato puree,” or simply “puree.”) The horseradish will give your “puree” a little zing.

I personally love the zing I experience when I add freshly grated horseradish to top a matzoh during our family Passover Seder. The meal is filled with many family memories of years past.

I would love to hear about your favorite way of using horseradish. Add your comments in the form below. (If you are reading this in your email, click on the headline to take you to the online version so you can enter comments.)

From my family to yours, have a Happy Passover and a Happy Easter!

Karen

Frieda's Specialty Produce - Purple Asparagus

Last week, someone asked me why so many people eat fresh asparagus for Easter. That made me think…

Interestingly, asparagus has a long history that goes back to the third century. Its popularity is probably due to its delicate flavor and diuretic properties. (Yes, many people report that their urine smells different after eating asparagus. Here’s an explanation.)

Nutritionally, it’s a low-calorie source of folate and potassium. And did you know that fresh asparagus is available in three colors? Green, white and PURPLE!

White asparagus lacks color because the stalks are protected from the sunlight while they grow, keeping them from turning green (photosynthesis). White asparagus has become more prevalent in recent years, as more of our fresh asparagus is imported seasonally from Peru. You would not believe how much fresh asparagus (in all three colors) is imported from Peru when it’s not available from the USA.

Purple asparagus is available sporadically during the year, coming from California, Michigan and Peru, seasonally. Purple asparagus will lose its color once cooked. So, if you want to dazzle your friends, serve purple asparagus raw. Why not offer a platter of green, white and purple!

My new favorite way of serving green asparagus was taught to me by my sister-in-law, Audrey (our husbands are twins!). Try this as a quick and easy side dish:

Audrey’s Chilled Asparagus Platter

Wash and trim green asparagus. (Peel ends with a potato peeler.) Prepare as much as you want to serve.

Drop whole asparagus spears into boiling water and cook for no more than 3 minutes. IMMEDIATELY immerse cooked asparagus into a bowl of ice water. Let sit for at least 10 minutes. This will stop the cooking process and make your asparagus stay a bright and yummy green.

Arrange asparagus spears on a platter (I like to use an oblong platter and fill it with asparagus). Garnish with halved red grape tomatoes and sprinkle a few sliced almonds on top. Lightly drizzle with a Caesar-type salad dressing and serve cold.

Here’s a hint: Buy twice as much Asparagus as you normally would serve. I have found that everyone will gobble it up because it is so eye-appealing and delicious. I served it for a family dinner for 20 people and there wasn’t enough for me!

So, Happy Easter (April 4) and Happy Passover (March 29). It’s a great season to enjoy asparagus!

Please share your asparagus ideas with me in the comment.

Karen

A couple weeks ago, my younger daughter, Sophia and I traveled to Washington, D.C., to visit my eldest daughter, Alex. Alex is a third-year student at George Mason University. (I have found it is a really nice diversion to go visit and get her out of the dredge of school.)

The challenge with having two daughters for a weekend away is: What to do? As usual, my first reminder to them is, “Shopping is not a sport! It is NOT something ‘to do in our spare time’ instead of going sightseeing. We are not, I repeat, NOT going shopping.”

When I was last in Washington, D.C., with an afternoon to spare, I took the advice of a local photographer and went to the Newseum. The Newseum is on Pennsylvania Avenue between The Capitol and The White House, and is billed as the city’s most interactive museum.

With Alex and Sophia in tow, we took the Metro for an afternoon adventure. I admit that I was a bit nervous, as my two girls are not avid museum-goers. (The first time I took Alex to the Louvre in Paris, we walked into the magnificent entrance filled with sculptures and she exclaimed, “Mom – all these statues look the same – like naked people looking at the sky. Can’t we go do something fun?”)

As we approached the Newseum’s glass entrance, I could see they were already hooked. Front pages of newspapers from every state in the country and many countries around the world were posted in cases surrounding the entrance of the museum. The girls walked slowly together, checking out the many newspaper headlines, curious about what was happening in each state and everywhere else in the world. The Olympics in Vancouver and the earthquake in Chile were front and center.

Once inside, we started on the 6th Level and experienced “Manhunt: Chasing (Abraham) Lincoln’s Killer.” Memorabilia from Lincoln collectors are displayed around the medium-sized room. Reading the story of President Lincoln’s last few hours alive really made you feel like you were there.

On Level 4, in the 9/11 gallery, we watched a video featuring journalists who covered (and survived) the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Directly outside the gallery is the actual radio tower that once sat at the top of the World Trade Center, scarred by crashing to the ground. Everyone observed the entire exhibit in deafening silence.

We saw Tim Russert’s office (the now-deceased host of “Meet the Press”). We saw the door from the Watergate break-in, complete with the doorknob taped open! We saw eight sections of the Berlin Wall, and we saw newspapers on Dewey being declared President…and Al Gore conceding the Presidency. (And, of course, the “Saturday Night Live” version of that famous 2004 election).

As we moved through floors 3, 2 and 1, there were constant announcements, “The Newseum will be closing in 30 minutes…The Newseum will be closing in 15 minutes.” My daughters looked at me and I could see that they did not want to leave. Three hours was not enough time to spend experiencing all the world’s greatest news stories.

Eventually, we gathered our coats to leave and brave the 36-degree weather. Alex said, “I need to tell my Issues in Public Relations professor that this would be a great place for a field trip. This was the most amazing museum I’ve ever been to.” Sophia was taking photos of everything so she could share with her World History teacher back home.

My faith was restored in my daughters: What’s happening in the world DOES matter. It is relevant. And I hope that if you have a chance to go to Washington, D.C., you make time to visit the Newseum. Coming soon – an exhibit on Elvis Presley!

Karen

Frieda's Specialty Produce - Heirloom Tomatoes

Throughout my career, I have given many presentations on fresh produce. Sometimes I talk about “exotic produce” (the items we sell), and other times I address an industry-related issue or take a nutritional approach to talk about the health benefits. Over the years, there has been one universal question:

“Why don’t the tomatoes I buy at the supermarket have good flavor?”

Fortunately, our industry has listened to consumers and there have been innovations in the tomato industry that have allowed us to produce and market some fantastic tasting tomatoes.

However, I believe that the No. 1 reason tomatoes don’t taste good is that they are NOT supposed to be refrigerated! And I’ve visited too many friends and gone into their kitchens to find them putting their lovely fresh tomatoes in the refrigerator and their apples on the counter. REVERSE THAT! If you put tomatoes in the refrigerator, you kill the flavor. And apples – well, they SHOULD be refrigerated to keep their crispness.

Mother Nature recently played havoc on the tomato industry. There was a devastating freeze in January that wiped out most of the Florida tomato crop. At this time of year, fresh tomatoes primarily come from two growing areas: Florida and Mexico. In addition to supplying retail supermarkets with fresh tomatoes, growers supply fresh tomatoes to foodservice operators like McDonald’s and Subway (can you imagine how many tomatoes they use a week?).

The freeze has taken out almost 50 percent of the fresh tomato crop, and it means we consumers are experiencing lighter supplies and higher prices at the supermarket. So, what to do? Try a new type of tomato!

There are still good tomato supplies coming out of Mexico. And the best value right now is the Roma Tomato. Also known as the “sauce tomato,” Romas were originally used to make thick homemade tomato sauces for pasta dishes. Now, many home cooks are discovering that Roma tomatoes can be enjoyed fresh, and are so easy to slice for salads and sandwiches.

So, as we wait for mid-April to come, and with it, new tomato supplies from Florida and greenhouse-grown tomatoes from Canada, California, Texas, Holland, Spain and many other areas, try a new tomato variety.

And, don’t forget to store them on your kitchen counter when you get home!

Karen

I’ve learned that I don’t always know how things will turn out. And it’s often well worth my time to spend a few minutes for a phone call, a meeting or to exchange business cards. A simple phone call recently turned into a wonderful opportunity for me and for Frieda’s.

Two years ago, I got a call from EARTH University in Costa Rica. One of their graduates, Aldo Bettoni, had been interning in Los Angeles and had 6 months left on his visa. They wanted to know if I knew of any company that might be interested in an intern. (Instead of approaching me directly, they used the “do you know of anyone” approach. Clever.)

Well, let me step back a bit. About 15 years ago, a longtime friend of my mother’s, Panfilo Tabora, who helped us import the first Fresh Hearts of Palm, took a position at EARTH University in Costa Rica. Panfilo, a professor in Tropical Crops, introduced us to EARTH and their mission:

“EARTH University is dedicated to education in agricultural sciences and natural resource management in order to contribute to sustainable development in the humid tropics with an emphasis on Latin America and the Caribbean. In an effort to achieve a more prosperous and just society, EARTH offers educational opportunities to young people from the most marginalized regions of the tropics.”

EARTH asked us to help sponsor a student’s education by making an annual donation for 4 years. (More than 75 percent of EARTH’S students receive financial assistance). Frieda’s started that donation program in 2002.

Another opportunity to work with EARTH surfaced with this Los Angeles-based intern. Well, my initial response was “No, we do not need an intern.” Which turned into, “Well, have him come down and I’ll see if I can refer him to another company.”

So, Aldo came to visit the office. He gave me a PowerPoint presentation on his college marketing project, and I was hooked! I had to find a place for him at Frieda’s.

Aldo started his internship at Frieda’s in February 2008 and worked with us for about 6 months. He began helping with data in our marketing department, but his biggest project was to help organize and execute Frieda’s Fresh Marketplace, an open-air produce market that we tested out for the summer. Every Saturday for two months, we held an amazing farmers-market style event in our parking lot. In August 2008, Aldo returned to Costa Rica to get his MBA at INCAE Business School (started by Harvard University).

Recently, Aldo and I met up in Washington, D.C. I asked him what his next adventures would be after graduating with his MBA this May. He said he would love to have an opportunity to work at Frieda’s. To make a long story short – Aldo will be starting his professional career at Frieda’s in July! I’m excited because Aldo’s education is grounded in true sustainability, in both agricultural and supply chain practices.

Had I not taken the phone call from EARTH University that day, Aldo and Frieda’s may have missed a great opportunity. I’ve always felt that my business life has been a combination of good timing, destiny and a little bit of luck.

And, in case you are interested, several years ago, EARTH University entered into an exclusive marketing agreement to export their organically-grown bananas to Whole Foods Markets across the United States. Like Frieda’s, Whole Foods has been “giving back” to EARTH University for many years.

So, if you want to support true sustainability and EARTH University, try their organic bananas at Whole Foods!

Karen


I was changing planes in Salt Lake City and I was bored. The flight was delayed about 30 minutes, so I went over to the magazine rack and started looking at magazine titles. Cowboys & Indians, Hmm, never heard of that one. Then I saw Robert Redford on the cover of Salt Lake Magazine – so I picked it up.

I attended a leadership symposium many years ago at which I heard a professor from New Mexico State University speak. He said he keeps current and on the cutting edge by picking up magazines, while traveling, that he has never read before or does not subscribe to. Over the years, and after many hundreds of flights, I have read The Economist, The New Yorker, Wired, INC., In Style, Lucky, and many others that I never would have picked up. Try it – you won’t believe what you can learn.

“Cuckoo for Coconuts” was a story on page 100 of Salt Lake Magazine. I had to check it out. After all, my husband Garry LOVES anything “coconut,” so I am always looking for interesting recipes.

Frieda’s has a long history with coconuts. First we imported Coconuts in the husk from Mexico. Those shipments were short-lived, once cocaine was occasionally smuggled inside the coconut husks.

Then, we began importing Coquitos (aka Baby Coconuts) from Chile. About 13 years ago I took a trip to Chile to see the 50-year-old Chilean palm trees where these babies grow. They are amazing! It really does take 50 years before they produce fruit. And the fruits are divine. Resembling malted milk ball candies, Coquitos are crunchy little nuts that taste like rich coconut with almond overtones (no water inside).

Coquito Nuts are perfect crushed and used as a topping or garnish. Actually, there used to be a restaurant on Maui (called Avalon) that featured a dessert called “Carmel Miranda,” which was a plate of tropical fruits with a scoop of ice cream in the middle, garnished with crushed Coquito Nuts. (Carmen Miranda, as you will recall, wore a hat that looked like a platter of fruit.) The chef, Mark Elman, told me that the Coquitos were the centerpiece of this dessert. (Mark has since closed Avalon and started another company — Maui Tacos!)

Well, our latest foray into Coconuts are Whole Peeled Coconuts from Mexico. The inventor, Frank Garcia, came to us about 5 years ago with a problem. He was buying coconuts in Mexico and shaving off the outside husks to create a new product (an organic substitute for peat moss). His problem was that he had all these peeled fresh coconuts (with the very healthy water inside) as a byproduct. He was feeding them to the cows in Mexico! Did we think we could sell them? Well, after more than 12 months perfecting the quality control and food safety process, we finally launched Whole Peeled Coconuts. We also introduced Sliced Fresh Coconuts and Halves (which make great serving dishes).

If you like coconut, there is NOTHING like the taste of these fresh. Unfortunately, our product launch timing was not great. By the time we got supermarkets across the United States to put them in their refrigerated produce departments, the economy started to slow. Most supermarkets decided to reduce the number of “unusual produce items” in their stores.

However, we know that coconuts and fresh coconut water (inside our Whole Peeled and Young Thai coconuts) are an amazing health food. I’m hoping that as the economy comes back, that you can once again find Frieda’s Whole Peeled Coconuts in markets across the United States. If you want to try them, ask your produce manager to order them!

About that Salt Lake magazine article on Coconuts… You can read the story here. It has a great recipe for Coconut Cake. I’m thinking of baking this weekend.

Karen

I admit it. I do not watch much television. In fact, I am embarrassed to say that I’ve never seen “The Office,” or “LOST,” and have only seen one episode of “24” (only because I was traveling with my sister, Jackie, who is a fanatic about that show). And, I have never used a DVR or TiVo.

This past weekend, however, I was at a Game Night with my family, and as my niece was flipping through saved shows on her DVR, the name “UNDERCOVER BOSS” came on the screen. Being the boss of a mid-sized company, the subject matter looked fascinating.

The premise of this show is that the producers convince the CEOs of large companies to go “undercover” for a week, inside their own companies, to find out what the rank and file employees were experiencing. So, we watched the show (instead of playing a game).

The show profiled Coby Brooks, the CEO of Hooters Restaurants (there are over 450 franchises across the U.S.). I will not comment on my personal impressions of this restaurant chain, but I was pleasantly surprised to watch Brooks realize first-hand, how his female servers and managers were treated and to see him make promises to change things to be a more female-empowering organization. Brooks’ father started the company, and I could relate to his comments about some of the challenges faced in being the second generation in a family-owned business.

I was hooked! The next show I saw profiled Joseph DePinto, the president and CEO of 7-Eleven (which has more than 4,000 stores). Again, he went undercover for a week and interacted and was genuinely touched by the multi-national employees who support their families by working for 7-Eleven. I was impressed to see that 7-Eleven is committed to donating all unsalable (but edible) food to local food banks and charities. And DePinto was genuinely interested in his employees and got a new perspective on how personal relationships make the difference between a “good performing” and a “TOP performing store.”

Of course, with less than 100 employees at our single Frieda’s location, it is not practical for me to go “undercover.” But, I’d like to share with you what I did a few years ago. At the suggestion of a trusted business advisor, over a 3-month period of time, I met one-on-one with each of my employees. We met alone in my office and I learned about their family. I asked each employee what they liked and didn’t like about working at Frieda’s and allowed them the opportunity to ask me anything they wanted.

Before I started, I was a little nervous (as I’m sure they were). But, guess what I learned? In those 10-minute meetings, I learned that coworkers smiled when they talked about their family. They showed me pictures of their successful children and were so proud that they moved to our country and raised their family. (We have employees from almost a dozen countries!)

They told me that they wanted to see me more often (and suggested I walk the warehouse more regularly). They gave me feedback on how I was doing at running the company.

You don’t have to be a CEO of a company to benefit from this concept. Next time a server in a restaurant comes to your table, ask him or her where they are from. When you’re at your kid’s school, ask the teacher or aid where they went to college and what they studied. Ask your coworker about their family (learn the names).

But, my advice is that you must be sincere. It’s not something to check off your “to-do” list. It’s a way to get in touch with those around you and to be a better human being.

So, to Brooks and DePinto, thank you for taking a chance and letting us watch you go undercover. (I was reminded of all the humble lessons I learned when I opened up and got to know every single one of my coworkers.) I hope you both continue to be in touch with all the employees at your companies – they are truly the key to your success.

I can’t wait for the next episode of “Undercover Boss.” But what if I’m not home to watch it? Well, yesterday Garry got us all hooked up with a DVR, although he hasn’t taught me how to use it yet!

Karen