Linda Augustine and Paul Pigott say their business partnership has been wildly successful. They plan to continue producing new products. photo/Andrew Fickes
Linda Augustine and Paul Pigott say their business partnership has been wildly successful. They plan to continue producing new products. photo/Andrew Fickes
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La Panzanella, a baker and distributor of high-end Italian crackers called Croccantini (or "crunchy, little bites" in Italian), is now making a name for itself in the food industry with its new zesty Fieri brand.

Recipes for the three flavors - chipotle, Serrano lime and red-chili basil - came to fruition out of a business partnership forged between two friends, Madison Park residents Paul Pigott, owner of La Panzanella, and 20-year food consultant Linda Augustine.

COMING TO THE TABLE

When Augustine wrote her "At the Table" column for the Madison Park Times, Pigott was a regular reader. From reading her column, Pigott learned just how specialized Augustine was in food consulting.

"[La Panzanella] doesn't have in-house expertise, so I thought it might be fun to see if there was a way to tap into her expertise," Pigott said.

When Pigott approached Augustine last fall, she jumped at the offer immediately.

"I have always loved working with the science and art of food recipes," she said. "It's always nice working with a product you believe in, and the Fieri line is a quality product."

When Pigott purchased La Panzanella in 2003 after a career in the tech industry, he quickly jettisoned the company's bread business.

"The bread was going sideways for years, and the crackers had all the growth potential," he said.

In 2008, the all-natural crackers grossed the company $4 million. Pigott anticipates the company to do as well or better this year. He said he hopes the new Fieri brand will soon make up 30 to 40 percent of the company profits.

AN EASY PARTNERSHIP

Augustine said when she and Pigott started their partnership last fall they both were in sync. Both agree it didn't hurt they were good friends and lived within minutes of each other.

In the fall and early winter, Augustine experimented with different ingredients at her Madison Park home to see what would work well together. She would decide on the right ingredients, and then Pigott and his operations manager would source out the products.

Pigott and Augustine went through many trial runs. To establish a recipe for the chipotle flavor, Augustine originally tried combining jalapeno flakes in the mix of flour and water.

"The jalapeno flakes wreaked havoc with the gluten [the flour and water structure], so we tried jalapeno powder and that worked better," she said.

During the course of testing recipes, Pigott would often drop off samples of the Fieri crackers to Augustine at her home. The two often brainstormed their ideas via e-mail or telephone.

The turnaround on the final recipes was miraculously quick, Augustine said.

"By January we had the flavors down, and in June we launched," Pigott confirmed.

La Panzanella's first big marketing push for the Fieri brand came at the end of June at the 2009 Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City.

The show was successful. The company has already received repeat orders. It's now selling the brand into seven of its 25 national distributors.

Within the last 30 to 60 days the Fieri brand has entered into major Seattle grocery stores, including PCC Natural Markets, Whole Foods Markets, Metropolitan Markets, Thriftway and QFC.

A NEW TASTE

Augustine and Pigott are excited to unveil yet another product this winter in time for Christmas. The new cracker - retaining the same basic recipe of flour, water and olive oil - will be called Sweet Crisps. The Croccantini cracker will be sprinkled with a combination of cinnamon, sugar and large sugar crystals.

"We see the Sweet Crisps as an opposite of the Fieri," Pigott explained. "We see it as comfort food, and that's what people are buying."

Pigott quips customers won't need to feel guilty indulging in the Sweet Crisps. These are all-natural snacks, he said. With no preservatives, Augustine added.

Pigott plans to continue his partnership with Augustine. "As we work on new flavors, she will definitely be in the mix," he said.