Will Seppi continues his family’s bakery business and the legacy of community support
By Tim Tesconi
When Healdsburg native Will Seppi graduated from high school and went off to university he was eager to leave behind small town life and the family’s Costeaux French Bakery. Young and ambitious, he wanted to unleash himself on a bigger more exciting world.
“There was no way I was going to come back to Healdsburg and work in the family bakery business,” Seppi, 48, recalls when he dusted himself off and headed for a degree in accounting at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. The university education was followed by a career in public and private accounting in the Silicon Valley.
But years later small-town life and the family business beckoned in that bigger, dog-eat-dog world where Seppi was so firmly entrenched. Living in the kinetic-paced world of teched-out Silicon Valley, Seppi was ready to return to his roots in the Wine Country community he realized was home. It was the anchor he needed for a purposeful life.
Seppi acknowledged that Sonoma County and its agrarian heritage was more attuned to his personal values than the slick urbanism of Silicon Valley. Then, too, his parents, Karl and Nancy Seppi, pillars of the Healdsburg community who had dedicated their lives to running the historic bakery, were worn out and ready to retire from the daily rigors of running such a demanding business. It was a golden opportunity as two generations of the Seppi family sought lifestyle changes and transition.
In 2004 Seppi returned to Healdsburg and a year later took over day-to-day operation of the family bakery that has been a beloved mainstay in Healdsburg for 100 years. He rolled up his sleeves and put his entrepreneurial skills to work innovating and expanding. Today, Seppi is one of Healdsburg’s – and Sonoma County’s – most respected business owners and civic leaders as he determinedly carries on the legacy that is Costeaux.
“I absolutely love being here and doing what I am doing,” said Seppi, whose bulls-eye business acumen is combined with a go-get-em attitude focused on family, business, church and community. It’s a winning combination, accounting for Seppi’s tremendous success in expanding the family baking business and his place in the community.
Seppi has been honored and celebrated for his prize-winning breads and amazing array of baked goods as well as his commitment to building community and helping others. He is on everyone’s A list to get things done and seems to be everywhere at once.
“It’s just part of our philosophy, both personal and the company itself, to support the community that has supported us for 100 years. We have a clear vision of who and what we are and we remain engaged every day to make that happen,” said Seppi.
Sonoma County Farm Bureau is one of the many organization’s Seppi and his dedicated team at Costeaux support on so many levels. For years, Costeaux has baked sourdough bread whimsically shaped like Dungeness crabs for Farm Bureau’s annual Great Sonoma Crab and Wine Fest, which this year will be held Feb. 4 at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. The crab shaped bread is one of the many special attractions that has made the Farm Bureau Crab feed one of the biggest and most popular in Sonoma County.
“We really do have fun making the crab shaped bread for the crab feed,” said Seppi, who loves challenges. Like baking a 418-pound pumpkin pie that earned a place in the Guinness World Record book.
Costeaux and Sonoma County Farm Bureau are neighbors on Westwind Boulevard off Airport Boulevard in Santa Rosa. Seppi built the sprawling 30,000 square foot Costeaux Baking Center and moved operations there in 2015 to centralize baking, packaging and distribution. Solar panels provide 75 percent of the electrical needs for the operation.
The company, with 130 employees, produces 250 different products and delivers its goods from San Francisco to Mendocino. Many of the employees have worked at Costeaux for years. Head baker Ramon Santana has been with the company for 20 years. Anne Vercelli, who works in the downtown bakery and café, has been serving croissants and good cheer for 25 years.
Since taking over Costeaux, Seppi has been strategically growing the business while focusing on the company’s core values of family, community quality and service. Seppi said it’s all aimed at positioning Costeaux for its next 100 years.
Costeaux’s flagship bakery and café in downtown Healdsburg has been honed and polished into a classic European style eatery. It’s a popular destination for both area residents and tourists, offering breakfast and lunches that feature Costeaux baked goods.
In 2016, Costeaux established a satellite in-store bakery at the remodeled Big John’s Market in Healdsburg. Two years later he opened Tia Maria, a traditional Latino style bakery, in the Roseland area of Santa Rosa. In 2019 he opened “Costeaux on the Go” at the Sonoma County Airport. It’s a smaller version of the bakery café in Healdsburg, featuring full-service coffee, morning pastries, desserts and quiche. This summer Seppi will open a satellite cafe in the Hotel Petaluma, near Volpi’s bar and restaurant, another historic family-owned business in Sonoma County. The new Costeaux location, which has walk-up counter service only, will sell coffee, bread, pastries, lunch and desserts.
Many consider Seppi and his wife Brandy Seppi, an executive with Summit State Bank, one of Sonoma County’s leading power couples. Brandy also grew up in Healdsburg and has strong community ties. The Seppis are both actively involved in community organizations including the Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce, Healdsburg Education Foundation, Italian Catholic Federation and St. John the Baptist Church in Healdsburg.
The couple has three children, Natalia, 11, Beatrice, 10 and Oliver, 8. The Seppi children, like their father did, attend St, John’s Catholic School in Healdsburg. Will Seppi went on to attend Cardinal High School in Santa Rosa where he met many of his lifelong friends like Teejay Lowe, a member of the family that owned G & G Markets in Santa Rosa and Petaluma. As a businessman and civic leader, Lowe knows the energy and time that Seppi devotes to his many endeavors.
“Will and the Seppi family have a heart for our community that is second to none. They exemplify the best of Sonoma County,” said Lowe, a director and past president of the Sonoma County Fair. Lowe also is a director of the Harvest Fair where Costeaux has been a frequent best of show, sweepstakes and gold medal award winner for its bread and baked specialties for two decades. Costeaux has consistently been recognized as the Sonoma County’s best bakery by Press Democrat readers and has been voted as one of the best places to work by the North Bay Business Journal.
What is now Costeaux started in 1923 as the French American Bakery making hearty loaves for immigrants, mostly Italians, who worked the farmland around Healdsburg. The venerable bakery changed names and owners over the decades until it was purchased in 1973 by Jean and Anne Costeaux of Reims, France, who named it Costeaux French Bakery. The Seppi family bought the bakery in 1981. Seppi’s father Karl Seppi, a former golf pro, learned the art of bread baking, particularly, sourdough from Jean Costeaux.
Karl and Nancy Seppi expanded facilities and sales, building a thriving business and a solid reputation for their community involvement. Since taking over the family business 17 years ago, Will Seppi has harnessed his energy and talents to continue moving Costeaux forward, keeping it in tune with changing tastes and times.
Few businesses ever reach the century milestone. Will Seppi and Costeaux’s director of marketing Rose Jimenez said the perseverance and hard work that has kept Costeaux going for 100 years will be celebrated throughout 2023. The first event, to be held Feb. 14, will be a culinary exploration of olives and olive oil featuring olive expert Don Landis and the Dry Creek Olive Oil Co.
More events will follow as the Seppi family, their staff and loyal supporters reflect on Costeaux’s colorful history and toast its next century of baking.