Vegan spot hits the big time

Sauces will sell for $14.95 in stores and online.
Sauces will sell for $14.95 in stores and online.
Posted: December 28, 2012

Food marketers can toil in the trenches for years before cinching the kind of deal that basically fell into Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby's laps.

The food/housewares giant Williams-Sonoma has three sauces branded with the name Vedge, the couple's upscale vegan restaurant in Center City. They are to go on sale this week ($14.95) at more than 150 stores in the United States and the Middle East, and starting Jan. 17 on its website.

The arrangement began simply. In the spring, a Williams-Sonoma executive visiting Philadelphia had a good meal at Vedge and called, said Shannon Gomes, a Williams-Sonoma spokeswoman.

What was unusual, Gomes said, was that Vedge has a single location. Other Williams-Sonoma partners have a larger, national presence. "We love the name and we like what they stand for - that they're committed to vegetable-centric cuisine - and we love the fact they're not comdemning meats," Gomes said. Referring to the sauces, she said: "These showcase all the wonderful things you can do with vegetables."

Landau, the chef, said Williams-Sonoma wanted a lot of ideas - "soups, pasta sauces, vinaigrettes, glazes. A broad range." Landau sent ideas from the couple's previous restaurant, Horizons, and from their cookbook. Williams-Sonoma asked for samples. Landau cooked, packed, and froze samples and sent them by overnight courier to San Francisco.

"Nothing seemed to be working," Landau said. "I'll give them credit. They're not wishy-washy. They know what they want."

By July, Landau thought the deal would not come to fruition. But August brought success with sherry shallot glaze, tamari sesame glaze, and a barbecue sauce. That began an intensive back-and-forth on making the products shelf-stable while maintaining their vegan properties.

The sherry shallot sauce is close to what Landau calls "one of our French mother sauces at Vedge," and the Japanese-inspired tamari sesame glaze was developed especially for Williams-Sonoma. "You grill vegetables and throw it in at the last minute," Landau said. "It's a shot of flavor but not all sticky and sweet."

Williams-Sonoma's Gomes said a barbecue sauce was a must.

It had a side benefit for Landau. Customers ask him for the barbecue sauce he served at Horizons. Vedge's cooking does not lend itself to it, though. With the sauce in a jar, "I can say, 'Now leave me alone!' "

Landau and Jacoby don't stand to make a killing on the deal. "The first thing [the executive] said to me was, 'You're not going to make a lot of money from this and neither are we,' " Landau said. "But having your name in Williams-Sonoma is an honor."


Contact Michael Klein at mklein@philly.com.

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