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Local Dulcet Cuisine goes national thanks to the college's SBDC
Photos and Story by James Hill
Pam Kraemer has always said that the inspiration for her gourmet foods comes from her, “travel, my customers and culture,” she said. “Plus, I love to eat!”
Kraemer began her specialty food products company, Dulcet Cuisine, in a basement church kitchen more than three years ago. The award-winning chef and owner is now a fine foods industry star, recognized by her peers for her flavorful mustards and salad dressings. She looked to the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) of Portland Community College in January 2006 to guide her growth and help turn her company into a national brand.
Kraemer had owned a restaurant in Calgary, Canada, and salads were a specialty. She’d also flown with Delta Airlines for 20 years as a flight attendant. When the airline pulled her Asia assignment from Portland, she had to choose either to turn her attention back to food, or move to the East Coast to Delta’s new hub. She picked Portland.
She started her research at a Portland farmer’s market meeting.
“I wish I could say I had a vision, but honestly, my first thought was that I’d do cookies,” she laughed. “But then because of all the produce, salad dressings seemed like a natural – to bottle the dressings and include recipes to go with them.”
She hit the farmer’s market circuit in the summer of 2004 with a quartet of all-natural specialty dressings. Customers at the Lake Oswego and Portland markets served as her market research sample and Dulcet Cuisine was born. Since setting up her first booth, customers have flocked to Dulcet’s products and the company has made amazing strides ever since.
Dulcet Cuisine now produces 10 dressings and sauces, mustards, and cooking spices and rubs, with plans to perfect new recipes to add to its line each year. The company uses only top-of-the-line, all-natural ingredients, and buys products from sustainable farms and recycles. The flavorful dressings, mustards and spices are now in hundreds of specialty stores across the country. Her products have earned top awards from the Fancy Food Products Association for the past four years; the Madras Curry Mustard was the grand champion of the Napa Valley Mustard Festival Worldwide Competition in 2006, beating out 350 entries.
Although Dulcet Cuisine has enjoyed remarkable growth – she found a co-packer to produce her products in August 2004 and a regional distribution deal was in place – strong profits had eluded the fledgling company. The cost of goods was high and Kraemer would not compromise quality. She enrolled in the yearlong Portland Community College Small Business Management Program and began monthly advising sessions to find direction for her company.
Dulcet Cuisine’s revenues jumped 70 percent from 2005 to 2006, and the company is on track to have the same growth percentage this year. Kraemer has new distribution deals with national Tree of Life, as well as a British Columbia distributor. Independent sales representatives in South Carolina and Northern California are now on the team. Plus, Kraemer has just negotiated for new warehouse space with Alexis Foods, a Portland distribution and import company. (Early on, she had garnered distributors regionally and in Texas.) She has hired part-time help and is poised to bring on a full-time employee later this year.
“The SBDC is just incredible,” Kraemer said. “If I had gone and hired consultants, it would have been very expensive. They have great value, knowledge, support, and patience. But you still have to do it yourself.”
Dulcet Cuisine products are now in hundreds of stores across the country and in Canada. They are available in the Portland metropolitan area at New Seasons, Zupan’s, Whole Foods markets, and other local specialty food markets. People also can order online at www.dulcetcuisine.com.
Portland Community College is the largest post-secondary institution in Oregon, serving approximately 86,700 full- and part-time students. For more PCC news, please visit us on the Web at www.pcc.edu/news. PCC has three comprehensive campuses, five workforce training and education centers, and 200 community locations in the Portland metropolitan area. The PCC district encompasses a 1,500-square-mile area in northwest Oregon and offers two-year degrees, one-year certificate programs, short-term training, alternative education, pre-college courses and life-long learning.