As the global health crisis is slowly becoming more under control, entrepreneurship is alive and well. Azureazure’s Nicole Muj has unveiled a new interview series featuring some of the top international entrepreneurs in the areas of food, wine & spirits, art, and design.
In part two, we meet two visionaries behind some of the latest innovations in their respective fields: Antonio Salto, co-founder, Polanco Caviar and Jonathan Primeau, founder, CellArt.
Antonio Salto, Co-Founder, Polanco Caviar
NM: Tell me a little about your background, please.
AS: I was born in Mexico City to Spanish (Catalan) immigrants. I have a BA in industrial engineering and an MBA and post-degree specializations in business and integrated supply chain. In 2007, I moved with my family to the USA, initially for an ex-pat assignment to work for an international food corporation where I held executive positions with global responsibilities. Six years ago, I invested and fully dedicated myself to my passion which is high-quality food, including Polanco Caviar, which is the best caviar in the world for me.
NM: When did the business start?
AS: Polanco Caviar started as an ambitious endeavor from Uruguayan visionaries who wanted to invest in sturgeon-sustainable aquaculture back in 2008. That was when fishing wild sturgeon became highly restricted, prohibited by the United Nations, and regulated by CITES (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). Russian scientists and biologists discovered that the Uruguayan Rio Negro basin was ideal for having a farm to grow sturgeon for caviar production. After many years of dedication, sacrifices, and investments diligently following the best practices to sustainable farm sturgeons, the farm started to produce caviar in 2017 and quickly got recognition that same year for its superb quality and was awarded three gold stars by the International Taste Institute in Brussels, Belgium – their maximum recognition. After falling in love with their unique story, ambitious project shared values, and bold vision, I started my relationship and partnership with Polanco Caviar in 2016 with the objective to increase the global reach and develop strategic markets, expanding into the North American region.
NM: What is the inspiration and philosophy of your brand?
AS: There are around 150 caviar farms recognized and approved by CITES worldwide. What makes us unique is our commitment to total quality versus volume, strict adherence to the best traditional caviar methods with the implementation of state-of-the-art technology, and best practices of aquaculture sustainability. Our inspiration is that caviar, arguably the most iconic gourmet food, is created by artisanal hands from a small fishermen community in a remote and beautiful habitat in one corner of the world.
NM: What makes Polanco Caviar so special?
AS: To simplify it in one word, it would be “flavor.” We are one of a handful of aquaculture locations capable of farming sturgeon directly in the river. This creates the best conditions as close as it could be to their original habitats in the Caspian Sea and east European river basins, which translate into the health of the fish, developing the right balance of fat and proteins to produce the highest possible quality of caviar. Being a sustainable certified farm, we produce our own food rations and utilize the best local sea salt for the curation by following the traditional method “Malossol,” which means low salt in Russian (3.2 -3.5%). We use 100% Russian genetic Sturgeon Species Acipenser Baerii (Siberian), Acipenser Gueldenstaedtii (Oscietra or Russian), and Acipenser Ruthenus (Sterlet). We don’t create hybrids just for the sake of reducing cost, increasing volume, and producing particular colors. Again, total quality versus quantity sustainable farming.
NM: What is the most important lesson you learned about “doing business” during the pandemic? What challenges have you faced?
AS: The pandemic has and is still presenting significant challenges for aquaculture producers, including caviar. We first were forced to minimize and, in some areas, to stop operations due to workers’ safety priorities. With the disruption of the foodservice chain, including the closing of stores, restaurants, and hotels, it was a challenge to keep the sturgeon well-fed and manage the regular harvest cycles under an uncertain demand environment.
It was truly a challenge from all fronts: scientific, biological, logistical, commercial, and financial. Due to diligent management, and most importantly, with the support and trust of our clients, we are seeing a fair recovery this year. A key lesson learned: farming sturgeon in natural aquaculture means we are highly dependent on variables we can’t control or change, like climate or fish natural biological cycles. So, we need to be prepared in advance to remain flexible in quickly making appropriate adjustments in our farm and production processes to minimize the impact of global changes affecting demand and the entire supply chain.
NM: What’s new on the horizon for Polanco Caviar?
AS: When we began producing caviar, we were mainly supplying to big global brands and distributors. We are still supplying caviar to key and selected distributors in different regions (we export and have a presence in more than 30 countries). We are now developing the Polanco Caviar brand in strategic markets to sustain and grow our recognition as an undisputed high-quality brand and producer.
Jonathan Primeau, Founder, CellArt
Montreal-based Canadian serial entrepreneur Jonathan Primeau spent 15 years in executive-level positions in the corporate world before realizing his dream by founding CellArt, a company that designs and creates bespoke wine cellars and tasting rooms. He became an entrepreneur to share his values and his love for what brings excitement to his life. His lifetime project, CellArt, fulfills his passion for wine, design, engineering, and art, feeds his creativity and builds his business legacy.
NM: What is unique about your business?
JP: It is uncommon in our industry to have an artistic director, and Thierry Forbois’ signature on each piece is an important part of CellArt’s uniqueness – as is our savoir-faire, our multidisciplinary team, our constant innovations that challenge tradition, and our love of art.
We not only produce custom wine spaces that are a piece of art unto themselves, but we also create them from the very beginning on a white page, then we bring them to life thanks to our extraordinary craftsmen and engineering team. However, the true experience begins when the wine space is installed, and we elevate that experience with customer services as unique as our client’s collections and personality. Our primary focus is on residential spaces, wine libraries, and wine amenity spaces.
NM: What is the inspiration and philosophy behind CellArt?
JP: To constantly reinvent yourself. While respecting each of our clients’ singularity, we can create their masterpiece by constantly adapting and reinventing ourselves as artists, engineers, and designers.
We create art pieces and symbolic wine objects that go beyond pure functionality. We engineer the best possible conditions to perfectly age a personal wine collection and encase it in the art form that allows the client to rediscover their collection from a different angle.
NM: Things are starting to get back to normal. How did you manage during the pandemic to keep your brand and business “alive”?
JP: We focused on building a strong relationship virtually with our clients and their contractors, connecting with them in their homes, more intimately.
Imagine a virtual meeting with the client and their designer, our creative team and project manager, their builder/architect/contractor with our technical team, all speaking the same language to bring the most complex of projects to life! We frequently regrouped over Zoom sessions and always stayed on the same page at each major step of every project, so nothing is left behind: perfect execution comes from perfect preparation and strong communication. All our expertise is now provided remotely everywhere globally, thanks to newly developed tech tools that allow us to oversee the project from afar.
NM: Who is your ideal customer?
JP: Anyone who loves art, wine, luxury, design with a touch of the sacred.
NM: What’s new on the horizon for CellArt?
JP: Virtual reality, ultimate creation experiences, and new art pieces (we only create a maximum of 52 projects per year) will all be revealed this coming year. We are also releasing ARGOS, the world’s most comprehensive wine monitoring system offering round-the-clock support and emergency response, a new cutting edge innovation in cooling, and a wine space concept in a bunker… It’s going to be an exciting year!
NM: Second that, Jonathan!
Next in the series will be interviews with the leaders of the top names in fashion, design, and art. ■