Springfield, MO

Five Questions: James Clary

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James Clary is a name synonymous with Ozarks’ dining. Best known for his restaurants – Clary’s, Gallery Bistro and Fish – Clary has spent the last four years working as a corporate chef and cooking instructor for Price Cutter. He also has teamed up with Scott Opfer of Opfer Productions to bring an instant soufflé to market. Now, their company has signed an agreement to work with a national food distributor to shop the soufflé to restaurant and banquet customers nationwide.

Closing Clary’s
“I’m proud of every decision I ever made, even the bad ones. The worst decision I ever made was to spend a ton of dough on a casual seafood restaurant called Fish. … The people who knew me came for diver scallops with truffle butter, they didn’t come for red beans, rice and a taco or shrimp quesadillas. So the immediate buzz was that people were disappointed. … I could have broken even at $1 million a year, and we brought in $950,000. We were on the cusp of making money, but we never got over the hump. … So what happened was I sold the original Clary’s and put all that money into Fish. I worked my (butt) off and never saw a dime. … Then, (Dave Fender), who bought Clary’s, went out of business, and I thought I’d reopen Clary’s. … I reopened Clary’s, but my rent was too high, and I made the decision to move it. Then I had lunch with Erick [Taylor, CEO of Price Cutter].”

Joining Price Cutter
“When I was tentatively offered the job, it went into my decision to not (move) Clary’s. … I work in the corporate office for Price Cutter. My responsibilities include creating new food programs, finding new and creative ways to utilize our products, and presenting them to customers. Chefs at grocery stores now are more common than 10 years ago, and our CEO Erick Taylor and I have been talking about me joining Price Cutter as much as 12 years ago. We never pulled the trigger, for whatever reason. Then, fast-forward to 2008, I had 20 years of operating my own place and 34 years of working in restaurants while trying to raise a family. I was working every night and every weekend, and … I was just tired. I was looking for a way out and I didn’t know how to do it, and he offered me this job. It was amazing.”

Soufflé Search
“Clary’s was known for a lot of things, but I think the one overriding thing we were known for was soufflés. I could be in the checkout line of a grocery store and talk to someone who had eaten there the night before and say, ‘How was the veal shank?’ and all they’d (say is) ‘Oh, the soufflé.’ I get e-mails still today from people who say they were in my restaurant … and it is always about the soufflé. Invariably, they’ll ask, ‘Where can I get one?’ And I had one of those light-bulb moments after one of those e-mails. … [I thought] what if I sold a soufflé kit? … Opfer loved the idea. That was about four years ago.”

Modern Technology
“I was at a chocolate seminar in North Carolina with a company called PreGel, and its division, PreGel America. It’s a huge company that specializes in desserts and gelato. … I met with Marco, the president, and he was intrigued with the idea. He said, ‘What we’ll do is develop the product for you on the proprietary level.’ For probably two years, (PreGel staff) did all the (research and development). They send me stuff here and there, and the end product, they nailed it. … We have an agreement in place where we have exclusive rights if we sell so much within a given time frame. … It’s a mix. You add water to it. You put it in your soufflé cup and bake it for eight to 10 minutes, and it is a perfect chocolate soufflé.”

Finding a Market
“Our idea is that, eventually, this needs to be a retail item. But we feel the wholesale applications are huge also, so we’ve started by pitching it wholesale. … The power of the soufflé, I know it because I read these e-mails. It is one of the only great French desserts that have never been brought to the masses. Why? It is too difficult. Now, think about every fast-casual restaurant being able to do one. The potential is infinite. There are 50 flavors we can do; we are only rolling out chocolate in the beginning. U.S. Foods and Sysco passed on it. Scott [Opfer] is acquainted with Fred Dallas of Roma Foods. Roma Foods is part of (Performance Food Group). PFG picked up our product, so we have nationwide distribution [capabilities] now. … We are not looking to sell this to mom-and-pop restaurants. We will, but we want to land a large chain as a client or seek banquet applications. If you have a wedding with 300 guests, you couldn’t offer soufflés. With this product, you can.”[[In-content Ad]]


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