Industry: Food & Beverage
At age 14, Charon began his career as an apprentice at Geraults Bakery in Rennes, France, which led to a management career with Brioche Dorée/Paris Croissant. He went on to become executive pastry chef at San Francisco's Harris' Restaurant, and ultimately launched his own business, Paris Delights. Soon afterward, he teamed up with the owner of The Cheesecake Lady, Paul Levitan, and they merged the two companies together to form Galaxy Desserts in 1998
Charon's passion for French-inspired desserts led to the cover of Neiman Marcus and other catalogs, and he received more acclaim when his croissants were featured three times on Oprah Winfrey's annual "Oprah's Favorite Things" list. "At that time, I saw an opportunity for creating individual desserts," says Charon. "Individual desserts were time-consuming to make and most bakeries wanted to make big cakes, so we started focusing on individual mousse cakes."
The "Oprah Effect" helped the company grow nationally, but in order to reach new customers and a greater demand, Charon needed to mass produce his pastries without sacrificing quality. To do this, he combined automation and the flash freezing process into his business. One of the initial outcomes was the instant creation of the mail-order frozen croissant revolution. "We adhere to the best ingredients and flash freeze our products at -40 degrees Fahrenheit, to ensure they stay fresh for our retail and wholesale distributors," says Charon. "We are unique in that we craft, bake, and package our desserts for shipment worldwide."
With success in being able to mass produce pastries and ship them nationally, Galaxy's product line continued to grow. The company now offers a huge assortment of individual cakes, pastries, brioche, and other baked goods that are sold to restaurants, wholesalers and retailers nationwide. Galaxy's production capabilities can meet the demand, and as an example, Charon says that the company can produce 1 million French macarons per day.
The investment in automation doesn't alter Galaxy Desserts' commitment to quality. Charon says the company sticks to the same core values it did at the beginning, including sustainability, respect, service, and trust. He believes that these and other core values serve as guiding principles influencing hiring, strategic planning, and other areas. "Our company and employees pledge to combine the traditions of true French pastry with the freshness, beauty, and innovation of California cuisine," says Charon.
Charon is also committed to staying in the San Francisco area and to his local suppliers. "We were creating breakfasts for advertising companies here around 1995-96," says Charon. "I've been here for 55 years. I love San Francisco, and there is a lot of creativity here. Aside from being a hotbed of new products, Richmond is a good point for shipping products all over the country."
Challenges: "One of the biggest challenges we face are the regulations unique to California," says Charon. "For example, California's Proposition 65 mandates manufacturers statewide to report warnings of listed chemicals to comply with the safe drinking water and toxic enforcement act. It is necessary for us to make changes to protect our consumers, however, in the best interest of food safety, competitors outside of California are not mandated to take these same steps."
Opportunities: "Right now we are experiencing a tremendous amount of growth. Various types of food trends come and go in cycles," says Charon. "We make really good petit fours and macarons which are in high demand again right now."
Needs: "I need more workers," says Charon. "In this area of California, it's difficult to find workers due to the high cost of housing. Manufacturing in California is really hard and when you sell all over the country, the competition isn't subject to the same minimum wages."