Three Sisters Reinvent the Family Farm into a World Class Cheese Producer
After nearly 100 years of dairy farming along the Northern California coastline, the Giacomini family dairy farm had reached an impasse. The farm had grown to its limits at the same time that profitability for dairy farms nationally had fallen, and its owner, Robert "Bob" Giacomini, was in his 60s. Also, his daughters, who had grown up on the farm, had all moved away to start their own careers in different industries around the world.
Faced with this situation, Bob called in the family in 2000 and asked the daughters if they would like to help re-envision the farm. The daughters, Diana Hagan, Lynn Stray, and Jill Basch, weren’t passionate about the dairy operation they had always known, but they were united in a common love for fine food and sustainability. That was enough for the sisters to leave their careers and come home, where one of the early decisions they made was to pivot the family business from milk production to environmentally sustainable, artisanal cheesemaking.
They started off slowly, using the cash flow from the dairy operation to build the cheese business around just a handful of well-produced cheeses. By 2015, the sisters’ business had both successfully gained the love and admiration of cheese lovers nationally and throughout the bay area, but the farm also plateaued in its ability to grow larger.
“We had to decide at that time if we wanted to grow more or not,“ said Lynn Stray, “And that was not an easy decision to make because it would mean moving cheese production off of the farm and into a facility.” After a significant amount of soul searching and getting the buy-in and support from their employees for the decision to grow, the three sisters drafted a plan to take the Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company to the next level.
Central to that new plan was the construction of a new $7.8 million creamery and distribution facility in Petaluma, CA, which was made possible through the SBA 504 loan program and approved by Capital Access Group, a local 504 lender. At over 20,000 square feet, the facility offers enough room for the family-owned business to quadruple its space for aging pasteurized cheeses and manufacturing large batches of their new flagship Toma-style cheese.
“I am so pleased that Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese was able to take advantage of the SBA 504 program’s low down payment and low, fixed interest rate to purchase a new facility to grow their business,” said Julie Clowes, U.S. Small Business Administration District Director, San Francisco District Office. “We know it’s not easy to run a business, so we are happy to offer resources, like the 504 program, to help support business growth and expansion.”
Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company currently employs 85 individuals across their new creamery, farm, and culinary and event center located on the farm. They’ve already begun to export their cheeses to Hong Kong, where demand for fine cheese has been rising.
“With our immediate and future growth plans in place, we have a real opportunity for leadership… in specialty cheese, in North Bay agriculture and maybe most-importantly, as a successful, women-owned business,” said Jill Basch. “We’re excited for the many ways we can make a difference through cheese.”