DINING | All In The Family
L.H. Hayward is growing the family business for the future
A native New Orleanian, Poppy Tooker has spent her life devoted to the cultural essence that food brings to Louisiana, a topic she explores weekly on her NPR-affiliated radio show, Louisiana Eats! From farmers markets to the homes and restaurants where our culinary traditions are revered and renewed, Poppy lends the voice of an insider to interested readers everywhere.
L.H. Hayward, the company synonymous with New Orleans’ favorite Camellia Brand red beans, is on the move. Recent years have brought great geographic growth to Camellia as its high quality, packaged beans moved onto grocery shelves nationwide. But while creating a strategic plan for the future, Vince Hayward, president and CEO of the company founded by his great-grandfather Lucius Hayward in 1923, began to look for expansion opportunities beyond the bean business.
Hayward’s first acquisition escaped the notice of most. Those not directly working in restaurant and institutional food service businesses may never have heard of Gulf Coast Blenders, a local seasoning company. Founded by C. J. Gallo, catering directly to restaurants and institutional food service, this high touch operation often involves safeguarding chefs’ trademarked recipes while custom blending them in quantities to guarantee flavor consistency in multiple restaurant locations.
Hayward’s acquisition approach may seem unconventional to those who strictly judge opportunity by a P&L. “It’s all about trust and relationship building,” Hayward said. “Camellia Brand had done business with C. J. in the past. When I heard he was ready to retire, it seemed there was an opportunity there. Both Camellia and Gulf Coast Blenders have an equal focus on quality with a commitment to meet the needs and demands of our consumers. For almost 40 years, they carved out a great reputation in the community we share.”
Two years later, the acquisition has been a success. Local clients like Drago’s, Reginelli’s and New Orleans Hamburger and Seafood Company depend on Gulf Coast Blenders’ service, while businesses like The Boiling Crab, a California-based operation, rely on the taste authenticity this New Orleans based company provides.
L. H. Hayward’s most recent portfolio addition was again guided as much by heart as by head. The Fresina Family Macaroni Company, founded in New Orleans in 1926 by Sicilian immigrants, produced pasta exactly as it had been done for centuries in Sicily. Eventually, the family business moved to Baton Rouge, where they continued to produce pasta in the traditional way. Created with only semolina flour and water, their pasta is entirely handmade before being hung to dry on rods in a wooden cellar.
In 2013, the Fresina family sold the business to the Dagostino’s, another well-known Baton Rouge Italian food purveyor. When Hayward heard the story of the family business, which again, went up for sale, he felt that just like L.H. Hayward, this was another family business that is inherently “part of who and what we’re all about in Louisiana. There was no way I could stand by and let that brand and tradition go away.”
Visually, Dagostino pasta is stunning, with spaghetti lengths usually only seen imported from Italy. Its full, 15-inch pasta allows for both dramatic presentations and fun, slurping opportunities. There are 17 different varieties, many rarely seen on American grocery shelves — like Elena, the width of a fettuccine noodle with a sexy ruffled edge reminiscent of lasagna.
A feature of handmade pasta is its slightly rougher texture, which allows sauce to cling better. Dagostino’s award-winning sauce adds even more authenticity to a spaghetti dinner. With a bright, fresh flavor, made with two specific varieties of vine-ripened tomatoes and field fresh basil, the sauce is offered in two styles: pezzo (chunky) and levigato (smooth). “All made without using any ingredients you can’t pronounce,” Hayward said with a chuckle.
When it comes to new product development, Hayward and his team have added a particular touch of local whimsy. Crafted from the same, time-honored ingredients, Dagostino’s line now includes alligator, crawfish and fleur-de-lis-shaped pastas perfect for tucking into Christmas stockings and adding an emblematic Louisiana touch to family holiday casseroles.
Reflecting on the responsibility he bears as head of the family business, Hayward said, “I couldn’t ask for a better job in life. I’m enjoying the journey of being a citizen of New Orleans and part of the fabric that makes up the community and the culture. It’s my intent to make L.H. Hayward sustainable for the future and that it never makes the list of ‘ain’t there no more!’”
Catch Poppy Tooker on her radio show, “Louisiana Eats!” Saturdays at 3 p.m. and Mondays at 8 p.m. on WWNO 89.9 FM.