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Past Winners


Culinaire Inc.

Culinaire is a food manufacturing company that produces hand-made, high-end hors d’oeuvres, entrees and desserts. The company sells both frozen and fresh products to wholesale customers in the Denver area and nationwide, including Wild Oats Markets, Colorado Convention Center, Marriott Hotels, Hyatt Hotels, Adam’s Mark Hotels, Embassy Suites Hotels, Holiday Inns, local caterers and country clubs.

Owner Leo Reiff founded Culinaire in August of 1997 in the Denver Enterprise Center’s (DEC) kitchen incubator. Reiff saw an advertisement for the incubator and decided it was the perfect opportunity to start his business. While working in the hotel industry, he became motivated to start a business that would (literally) cater to hotels and other food-service clients that have downsized their food production facilities or do not have adequate staff: "There are no other businesses nationwide that do what we do. We saw a market need, had an idea and ran with it," Reiff says. Culinaire’s growth was so astounding that the company graduated just one year later and became DEC’s first kitchen incubator graduate. "Leo and his following best business practices from A to Z has really made this company successful," says Executive Director David Gonzales. "Many companies are afraid to admit that they need help developing a business plan or don’t know how to get financing. Leo wasn’t; he never hesitated to ask for business help from us about something he didn’t know." Reiff says the program’s flexibility — in both space and hours — low overhead and help from the staff with financing were valuable. "It was great to spend a year there, experimenting with our business plan and making sure the concept worked before we moved into our own facility," he says.

In August of 1998, Culinaire graduated and moved into its own building. DEC staff helped the company utilize the Denver Mayor’s Office of Economic Development Loan Program to purchase and remodel a building. The 2,200-square-foot facility, located in an inner-city Denver neighborhood, includes a state-of-the-art kitchen that is both FDA and USDA certified. Culinaire’s growth has been phenomenal. By the end of 2000, it had grown to 30 employees from five employees in its first year. Corresponding revenues had grown from $250,000 to $2.2 million, and the jobs Culinaire has created and retained have employed low-income Denver residents, 80 percent of whom are minorities.

Culinaire is looking toward the future. It is expanding again to a new Denver location, which will contain a 10,000-square-foot production kitchen. The company is looking forward to the marketing opportunities the NBIA award offers. Both Reiff and Gonzales are excited about the honor. "I’m quite pleased Culinaire received this award," Gonzales says. "I’ve always thought this company was a winner; Leo never missed a beat from the moment he walked into the incubator. Culinaire’s success really underscores the credibility of the incubator and serves as a great motivator for the other companies. Leo’s success is our product."

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