It’s rare to hit the jackpot like Honest Tea, the Bethesda-based company started in 1998 by Seth Goldman and Barry Nalebuff. In 2011, Coca-Cola purchased the current top-selling U.S. organic bottled tea company, which generated $178 million in sales in 2015. Goldman still runs the company as an independent business unit of the beverage behemoth.
It’s probably safe to say that no other food entrepreneurs in the county are making millions. Growth is tricky; selling at farmers markets or to a few stores is often more sustainable than scaling production, given the costs to manufacture, distribute, market and get shelf space in supermarkets. Nevertheless, the following companies are examples of those that have achieved a level of success measured by their longevity, distribution or both.
The product: Fresh pastas and sauces
The founders: Henrique Cogo and former caterer Alexis Konownitzine
Year introduced: 1994, in a former Marvelous Market bakery facility
Distribution: La Pasta’s Silver Spring plant now employs 40 people and turns out a host of colorful ravioli, tortellini, gnocchi and other pastas, as well as a line of sauces, sold nationally to hundreds of retailers and restaurants. The owners are in the process of annexing more space and buying more equipment to double capacity.
Secret to success: “We try to sell the healthiest product we can make,” Konownitzine says. When buyers are choosing among products, “sometimes we just have the best recipe,” he says. “And sometimes we get lucky.”
Moorenko’s Ice Cream
The product: Small batch ultrapremium ice cream (more than 17 percent milkfat)
The founder: Former Jazzercise teacher Susan Soorenko
Year introduced: 2002, as a scoop shop in McLean, Virginia. Soorenko opened a second shop in Silver Spring in 2005, and then the Silver Spring plant in 2009.
Distribution: Over the years, the company’s sales focus shifted from restaurants to supermarkets. The ice cream is now sold in about 250 stores along the East Coast, including Safeway, Giant and Whole Foods, and is still served at more than 100 restaurants in the D.C. area.
Secret to success: Soorenko says she never “had a plan B,” was always tenacious, and doesn’t cut corners when it comes to maintaining quality.
These two companies are headquartered in Montgomery County but went elsewhere to make their products, due to the lack of contract packers, which manufacture and package food for companies that don’t have their own facilities.
The product: Three varieties of fruit and nut bars that are free of gluten, grain, soy, dairy and refined sugar and don’t contain genetically modified organisms. Sweetened with honey, they contain nuts, nut butters and dried unsweetened fruit and seeds.
The founders: Gaithersburg friends Debbi Ascher and Jen Burnstein, both of whom grew up in Montgomery County.
Year introduced: 2013. The bars were made in a commercial kitchen in Gaithersburg.
Distribution: CharmedBar products are now manufactured in Spokane, Washington, and are available nationwide in hundreds of stores, including major chains. The women have done segments on local TV stations, and appeared on two Food Network shows.
Secret to success: “We hold the belief that we can do anything,” Ascher says.
Dress It Up Dressing
The product: Stylishly labeled salad dressings with drawings of women in food-accessorized clothing, such as a skirt made of apple slices or a belt with a beet as a buckle.
The founder: Chevy Chase resident and former filmmaker Sophia Maroon
Year introduced: 2012
Distribution: Dress It Up Dressing is now sold in more than 100 stores in nine states. First made at a co-packing plant in Pennsylvania, the dressings are now produced in Wisconsin. Distribution will increase this summer, when the dressings are launched on the West Coast following new packaging and expanded flavors (from four to seven varieties).
Secret to success: “The incredible community of people who have bought a jar of dressing and given it to a friend, saying ‘try this!’ ” Maroon says. “They’re like my secret army of brand ambassadors, and they’re very effective.”