Petaluma vegetarian food maker scaling back operations

Petaluma vegetarian food maker Lydia's Organics and Lydia's Sunflower Center restaurant will close this month, resulting in the loss of about 85 jobs.|

Petaluma vegetarian food maker Lydia’s Organics and Lydia’s Sunflower Center restaurant will close this month, resulting in the loss of about 85 jobs.

Despite years of hard work, the businesses proved unsustainable, owner Linda Kindheart said Wednesday. That was partly due to not knowing enough about making a growing company thrive. “I didn’t learn the business world.”

Lydia’s Express, a Sebastopol restaurant Kindheart owns separately with a partner, will remain open. Kindheart also hopes to keep her commercial kitchen operating.

Kindheart, 50, whose website describes her as “a gypsy at heart,” loved making raw and vegan organic food, but found she lacked a structure to deal with everything from personnel matters to managing the purchase of all sorts of materials.

“If you don’t have your systems in place,” she said, “it’s not going to work.”

She also noted that food costs had risen in recent years, making it more difficult to hold down prices.

Kindheart, a native of Paris, opened a small raw foods deli-cafe in Fairfax in 1996. She relocated to Sonoma County more than two years ago, opening the Sunflower Center restaurant and soon after the commercial kitchen, both in Petaluma.

She sells online and in local stores a variety of raw and vegan food products, including snack bars, cereals, crackers, plus fresh soup, salads and spreads.

Until Sept 21, the Sunflower Center will continue to host events, including drum circles, a knitting and crochet group, presentations, massage therapy and Tui na, a form of Chinese physical therapy.

The restaurant will hold a farewell party on Sept. 20, with a final sale of restaurant supplies, tables and other goods on Sept. 21.

After hearing of the coming closure, Santa Rosa business owner Sue Libby said she felt compelled to visit Kindheart. Libby, owner of Baraka Sinus Products, a maker of neti pots, said that Kindheart had accomplished something rare among women business owners.

“Eighty-five employees is pretty impressive, what she’s done on a shoestring,” Libby said.

She said she first met Kindheart almost 20 years ago and has long heard her tout the value of natural, healthy food for both people and the planet. “She’s so heartfelt about it,” Libby said.

Kindheart said she tells herself that her business efforts were not a failure.

“I did touch a lot of people,” she said.

Moreover, customers with diabetes, cancer, allergies and digestive problems have expressed interest in still getting her food.

As such, she will try to find a way to keep her commercial kitchen open for online purchases and direct sales at festivals and other events. To do that, she said, she may seek help through a crowd-funding website.

Kindheart said she plans to keep making healthy foods, but must “regroup and get through this stage.”

“I don’t even remember the last time I had a day off,” she said. “It’s been more than a year.”

You can reach Staff Writer?Robert Digitale at 521-5285 or? On Twitter @rdigit

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