Spinelli's Sauce Co. cooks up King Soopers deal

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


Spinelli's Sauce Co., known for its pasta sauce, recently expanded into salad dressings. Photos by Burl Rolett.

Spinelli’s Sauce Co., known for its pasta sauce, recently expanded into salad dressings. Photos by Burl Rolett.

A local spaghetti sauce maker is pushing into the supermarket refrigerator section.

Spinelli’s Sauce Co., which sells pasta sauces in about 300 western grocery stores, is working a deal to put a line of salad dressings in 145 Rocky Mountain King Soopers and City Markets. It’s a big step up from the 15 or so specialty grocery stores where Spinelli’s dressings are currently for sale.

“We have a pretty proven growth pattern with the sauces, so you would think to just put money toward continuing to grow those,” Spinelli’s owner Chris Rogers said. “But Kroger asked us about the dressings – I guess they saw them in Whole Foods – and approached us. And I thought, why aren’t we pushing our dressings as well?”

Chris Rogers makes a pitch to potential investors.

Chris Rogers makes a pitch to potential investors.

Rogers said she hopes to have the dressings in King Soopers fridges by the end of the summer, about eight years after her sauce company first launched out of Spinelli’s Market in Park Hill. Rogers worked as a chef at Spinelli’s Market when it began bottling pasta sauces in 2007. She is now the majority owner of Spinelli’s Sauce Co., but does not own the market itself.

Spinelli’s began bottling three salad dressings a year ago, Rogers said. Since then, she’s put the brand’s Caesar, gorgonzola and balsamic flavors in 11 Whole Foods and two Marcyzk’s Fine Foods locations.

As Spinelli’s ramps up its dressing business to about 160 total stores, Rogers is looking for outside investment to help fuel the company’s growth. She recently pitched to 30 potential investors at a Denver Metro Small Business Development Center event, Trout Tank, looking for $150,000 in exchange for a stake in the company.

The sauce company got started at Spinelli's Market at 4621 E. 23rd Ave.

The sauce company got started at Spinelli’s Market at 4621 E. 23rd Ave.

It’s cash she plans to use for in-store demonstrations, product development and working capital.

“At this point, it’s just been me running the company, and I have some contract labor I hire for demos and things like that,” Rogers said. “So I’m kind of at capacity trying to maintain the everyday operations being in the stores we’re in.”

Spinelli’s Sauce Co. currently makes the dressings itself at a commercial kitchen.

A Littleton-based co-packer makes the pasta sauce, and Rogers said she’ll need to find a similar outfit to churn out enough dressings to stock 145 King Soopers stores.

Stocking stores with dressings is tougher than keeping pasta sauce on the shelves, Rogers said. Spinelli’s is still handling deliveries to stores itself. And because the dressings have to stay refrigerated, Rogers can’t expand to stores too far from the Denver area.

With the King Soopers deal, Spinelli’s will drop off its dressings at a distribution center, and the grocer will take them from there.

King Soopers currently sells Spinelli's sauce for about $6 or $7.

King Soopers currently sells Spinelli’s sauce for about $6 or $7.

Rogers estimated Spinelli’s would sell about 132,000 bottles of sauces and dressings in 2015. The company did about $335,000 in total revenue last year, Rogers said at last week’s SBDC pitch.

The company makes about 20 percent profit margins on dressings, she said, compared to about 15 percent on pasta sauces.

Right now the pasta sauce line includes Spinelli’s Classic Marinara, Creamy Tomato Vodka, Roasted Garlic Fra Diavolo and Puttanesca di Napoli sauces. Spinelli’s sauces are in more than 300 stores stretching from Wyoming to Texas and Kansas to Nevada.

In the coming years, Rogers said she hopes to double sales at the stores she stocks currently, open in new regions and begin selling the sauces and dressings to restaurants. A chef by trade, Rogers is also working on getting new recipes to market.

“I have a great alfredo and a really great pizza sauce and some new flavors of dressing,” Rogers said. “Again, I need to sort of be able to put my energy there to get those products out.”

Burl Rolett is a BusinessDen reporter who covers commercial real estate and the business of sports. He is a graduate of Washington and Lee University. Email him at

Original article from Business Den: 

Taking the Lead: Tips On Making Your Business Take Off

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

In business, the sky is the limit for Big Sky Aerial Technology—literally. This start-up company captures high-resolution aerial images for use in precision agriculture, allowing farmers to analyze the health of their crops.
Big Sky Aerial Technology founders Ron Lester and Jerred Lane.

Big Sky Aerial Technology founders Ron Lester and Jerred Lane.

Founded this year by Ron Lester and Jerred Lane, the idea to launch Big Sky Aerial Technology was inspired by the years Lester and Lane spent working with land and air-based remote sensing technologies in the Middle East.

“With some of the most amazing technologies being implemented for war, we wanted to take some of what we learned and work with it here at home,” Lester said.

But as the two started working on the business, they quickly realized that while they had plenty of experience on the technical side, they would need some help on the business side. That’s when they turned to Chamber affiliate the Denver Metro Small Business Development Center, where they enrolled in its LEADING EDGE business planning course.

We asked Lester and Lane what they’ve taken away from the course to start their business:

1. Moving from dream to reality is not an easy task.
Most entrepreneurs discover that the journey is not straight and sure; it’s more like a roller
coaster ride. “We can honestly say that in starting a business, we were lost in all the business formalities,” Lester said. While Lane and Lester have over 35 years of combined experience in aviation and engineering, when it came to actually starting the business and writing a business plan Lane says, “We had a long ways to go.”

An example of the infrared images taken by Big Sky Aerial Technology to determine the health of crops.

An example of the infrared images taken by Big Sky Aerial Technology to determine the health of crops.

2. It’s more than just having a great product.

“You have to have a solid product that you understand and is in demand within your market range,” Lane said. LEADING EDGE Instructor Nancy Barnett, who also owns small business training firm eL3, adds, “It is necessary to identify what is happening in your market and understand how it is influencing both your customer and your offer.” For Big Sky Aerial Technology, Lester and Lane are confident
there is a demand for their product—which will both save the farmer money and reduce the amount of unnecessary chemicals sprayed onto soils. Currently only 5 percent of farmers use this type of technology, and interest in precision farming is continuing to build among the agriculture community. “Our customer base is out there,” Lane said. “[They’re] just waiting to have a system like ours that delivers a worldclass product.”

3. A solid business plan is a must.
Some businesses are able to bootstrap, while others require outside funding. “Either way, it’s important to have a well-thought-out strategy to execute,” Barnett says. Lane and Lester are in the process of laying out a well-defined business approach so they can “build a longterm sustainable business with a successful future,” Lester said. “While we are still encountering challenges along the way, with the help of the Denver SBDC we are able to overcome unexpected obstacles and continue on towards our goal of Big Sky Aerial Technology being a leader in the remote sensing industry.”

4. Just because you have a great idea, don’t expect banks to just give you money.
When you apply for a loan, lenders asses your credit risk based on the “5 Cs”—credit history, capacity, collateral, capital and conditions. Now that their business plan is complete, Lane and Lester are gearing up to talk to lenders, pitch at the Denver Metro SBDC’s Trout Tank, a triannual pitch event (the next is June 9), and get funded. “Once that happens, the sky is the limit,” Lester said.

5. Be ready to pivot. More than once.
“Just because you think you may have it down, start with an open mind and be dynamic, ready to tackle roadblocks that are sure to arise,” Lane said. Barnett adds, “Instead of changing your vision, which is more risky, you can pivot each component of your business model based on learning about your customers, the technology or the environment.” Eventually Lester and Lane hope to expand their company’s offerings to providing more imagery and sensor data with a fleet of aircraft.

While taking the 11-week course, they purchased their first aircraft, fine-tuned their brand and market position and continued working on sensor design and software processing. They plan to start doing business this summer.

“The next few years are going to be very promising for us,” Lane said. “Precision farming is the way of the future and we intend to help it get there.”

Alea Kilgore is the assistant director of the Denver Metro Small Business Development Center.

Lori J. Photography Works Smarter, Not Harder

Friday, August 01, 2014
Lori J Photography
Photo by Lori J. Photography

Entrepreneurs are known for having to perform many different roles. Many struggle with the financial and accounting aspect of their business, while others have a hard time understanding the power of social media. For Lori Johnson, owner of Lori J Photography, she’s the first to admit that her nemesis is marketing.

Lori J Photography provides a boutique photography service experience for Denver wedding photography, family portraits, and lifestyle headshots for entrepreneurs in Denver. The business offers a full product guide for home artwork decor, specialized ordering appointments for families and couples, and easy and quick sessions and ordering for Denver's busy entrepreneurs.

Marketing may not be Lori’s strong suit, but she is gradually overcome her dislike. “Our work with Wendy and the Denver Metro SBDC team has allowed Lori J Photography to focus on our target clients,” says owner Lori Johnson.  

“We have learned so much about our business needs that we didn't know before. In the photography world, there is so much competition and as artists we are constantly critiquing. It can sometimes turn destructive and get in the way of the artwork we produce. In working with Wendy, we have learned to put the destructive critiquing aside and focus on the needs of the clients.  We have gone from completely despising marketing to enjoying the process of creation and implementation of new marketing plans that our clients love.”

Lori’s revenues have increased by 280 percent since working with the Denver Metro SBDC.


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