D’Artagnan’s salesforce for teaching Wegmans, and its
customers, how to cook and enjoy these more exotic
proteins: “Nobody provides the same level of education.”
But as the company grew, internal tensions mounted.
When Daguin had a daughter in 1988 and then brought
her infant to the o;ce, Faison felt she was distracted
from the business. A listeria outbreak in 1999 sickened
customers, triggering a voluntary recall of 70,000 pounds
of meat during the all-important holiday season.
Then, in 2001, D’Artagnan opened a well-reviewed but
doomed Manhattan restaurant—weeks before the September 11 terrorist attacks upended the local economy.
The restaurant—one of Daguin’s passions, and another
source of friction with Faison—closed in early 2004.
Months later, Faison decided that their di;erences
were irreconcilable and that he wanted out. Or, rather,
that he wanted Daguin out. As chronicled in a 2006 Inc.
feature, Faison stunned Daguin in June 2005 with an
o;er to buy her D’Artagnan shares for several million
dollars. A shotgun clause in their partnership agreement
gave her 30 days to accept his o;er, or to buy him out for
the same price.
Daguin started cold-calling banks, and eventually
scraped together enough from a French lender and
some savings to buy out Faison. He went on to help run
another high-end meat purveyor—DeBragga and Spitler.
Daguin was left with sole control—but was deeply in
debt and overseeing a sta; with sharply divided loyalties,
not long before the global economy collapsed.
“It was—oof,” she says, with Gallic understatement.
Today, asking the former co-founders about each other
is a bit like talking to parents who went through a nasty
split but still see each other at functions for their adult
child. “Sometimes, divorce is the best thing. It was for
Ariane and me,” says Faison. “We are cordial.” Daguin,
who retains a sense of betrayal, is less diplomatic. The
breakup “was all his fault,” she says. They have done
their best “to avoid each other” at industry events for
years. Will they ever be friends again? She snorts:
Last year, Faison co-founded the Great American
Turkey Company, a startup selling humanely raised,
antibiotic-free turkey products to supermarkets and
online customers. Perhaps coincidentally, D’Artagnan
is expanding its turkey o;erings later this year.
That first year on her own was terrify- ing. Taking on another partner or giving up control was out of the ques- tion—“I learned my lesson,” she says— but she knew she needed someone to take over Faison’s operational and financial duties. “We were iconic, but we were a
little close to the cli;,” is how Andy Wertheim, a
consumer-products veteran who became D’Artagnan’s
president, describes what he found when he came on
board in 2006. “Our margins were very low. We were in
debt. And while we were ubiquitous in an East Coast/chef
world, we were largely unknown everywhere else.”
Daguin and Wertheim raised prices and slashed their
product line, from 2,500 SKUs to 800. They also stopped
selling to other distributors, to cut down on the inventory
they were freezing instead of selling fresh. To broaden the
customer base, Wertheim stepped up marketing, and
launched an e-commerce line to ship meat directly to the
well-heeled food obsessives who’d absorbed factory-
farming exposés like Fast Food Nation and Super Size Me
and The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Some were adopting
the reduced-but-deliberate meat consumption habits
endorsed by the likes of Omnivore’s Michael Pollan.
By 2009, D’Artagnan had climbed back into the black,
overcoming new setbacks from the ongoing
recession. (Spending $20 on an uncooked
organic chicken is tough to justify if you’ve
just lost your job or home.) Still, by 2011
Daguin had paid o; her loan—and was
mulling what she could do with her company’s returning profit.
Half goes to annual employee bonuses,
which Wertheim says “virtually everyone”
gets—and which can help with retention in
a company that’s as intense as its founder. (“The hours
are crazy; the chefs are crazier,” one former employee
recalls.) The rest has helped fuel expansion. To get
beyond those East Coast/fancy-chef confines, D’Artagnan
needs farmers and slaughterhouses and warehouses
across the country: The company can overnight what-
ever a chef in California needs for dinner service, but if it
wants to become a staple in West Coast shops, it needs to
supply such stores with chickens or ducks that were
raised a couple of hours away, so that days of shelf life
are not wasted as they get schlepped across the country.
D’Artagnan notched $132 million for the year that ended
in June, $11 million more than it did the previous year, and
triple what it made the year Faison left. Since 2011, it’s set
up warehouses in Chicago, Houston, and Atlanta, expanding its network of farms and suppliers along the way.
Daguin won’t disclose profit, but there was enough to buy
a distribution center in Denver last year—and enough for
her to start shopping for another in California, to give
“We agree with the vegan people, up to a point,” says the ever-droll Daguin. “And that point is when I kill my animals.”