Marketing Your Family History

Since opening LoúSan Bed & Breakfast L.L.C., based in Castro Valley, California, in 2003, Louis and Sandra Langston could not help noticing that all the rage among the patrons was the old-fashioned tea cakes served at breakfast and at weekly teas. That sparked the idea for the owners of LoúSan to open another business.

A year ago, the couple decided to take their heirloom — a more than 100-year-old tea cake recipe — and launch LoúSan Old-Fashioned Tea Cakes, which sells tea cakes to Andronico’s Market in Berkley and Safeway Inc. stores Castro Valley locations. Louis says negotiations are underway to sell the tea cakes in 285 other Safeway stores. In November, the company introduced a new flavor, LoúSan “Green Tea” Old-Fashioned Tea Cakes. The owners intend to promote the new product’s organic, natural ingredients and convey its benefits for today’s health-conscious lifestyle.

Still, taking an old recipe handed down from 98-year-old Scelestine Conway Langston, Louis’ mother, and making it a viable commercial product was not easy. “Turning an heirloom like a recipe into a business can be a difficult transition,” says Louis. “While an older generation of people may know something about tea cakes, the younger generation is totally absent of that knowledge.”

For starters, the Langstons had to think about designing a package that attracts today’s consumer, yet conveys a unique sense of a time past. That meant hiring a public relations or marketing expert to do the job. Since the Langstons expected to increase their output by 79%, they outsourced the baking of the tea cakes to Beckmann’s Old World Bakery, a wholesale bakery company, which was required to sign nondisclosure forms to protect the original recipe.

According to Louis, their tea cake business, which brought in $30,000 last year, is a growing revenue earner for LoúSan, which posted total revenues of $140,000 in 2005.

Before profiting from an heirloom in the retail market, it’s important to take the necessary legal steps to protect the family property. Having a logo or trademark is essential to emphasizing the uniqueness of the product. In the case of LoúSan Old-Fashioned Tea Cakes, the company has Scelestine’s picture on a seal trimmed in gold that covers the package.

“The trademark can include the name, the packaging, the picture, the logo, whatever lets the consumer know where the product comes from,” explains Clyde Vanel, an intellectual property lawyer based in New York. Trademark law protects the owner of the trademark against companies that may create a similar trademark, says Vanel, while also protecting consumers. “The consumer wants to know that when they buy a product like these tea cakes, they know what they are getting.”

By using Louis’ mother’s picture, says Denver D’Rozario, an associate marketing professor at Howard University, the Langstons are effectively using nostalgia-based marketing, which is one effective way people can market their heirloom recipes.

“If they just made tea cakes and sold them as tea cakes that would be less effective than if they said these tea cakes are using a 100-year-old recipe,” says D’Rozario. “Nostalgia-based marketing