Foodservice Equipment Reports

Vinnie Guarriello: Leader Of The Pack

Like many in the foodservice equipment business, I probably owe my job to Vinnie Guarriello. When I became chief editor at Foodservice Equipment Specialist in 1982, Vinnie was a towering figure in the industry. Head of sales for Blodgett and Pitco (Blodgett had recently purchased Pitco), key member of the so-called foodservice rat pack, and a big advertiser in FES, I’d have been in big trouble if Vinnie didn’t approve of me. I’m not making this up; he had that kind of power.

But Vinnie, in his sarcastic, back-handed way, gave me his blessing. After I’d been in the job six months or so, he told his friend Paul Considine (former publisher of FES and the FES sales rep who called on him):  “That kid Ashton smokes too much, but he seems to know what he’s talking about. I’d keep him.” Vinnie hated smoking.

It’s difficult to overestimate the influence Vinnie wielded in the equipment business from the late 1950s through the 1990s. His impact on the industry and the people in it was profound. He mentored scores of people. He angered a few, too. He was elegant, craggily handsome and could be very, very tough. The youngest of six kids in an Italian family, he grew up on the streets of Manhattan and served in the Marines.

I don’t know exactly how he came to the equipment business. Ken Jennings, the longtime rep from New England, mentions meeting Vinnie in 1956 when he became head of Blodgett sales. Blodgett was his home for decades, though as Nelson Deusebio, who worked for Vinnie for years, points out below, Vinnie remained a New Yorker, not a Vermonter.

He became friends with a group of powerful industry executives. George Shelley ran Shelley Equipment and helped assembled Alco Standard’s equipment conglomerate (most of the brands are now part of Manitowoc Foodservice). Fred Maione ran sales for Southbend Range. John Mosley was head of sales at Star Manufacturing. Dean Hutchison founded Dean and Dito Dean. They ran around with Barbara Greene, (who was our other sales rep at FES, but had entered the industry working for Maione at Southbend); Art Conway, who owned Foodservice Product News; and a few others. They drank and played cards together, bought and drove fast, expensive cars and had a lot of fun. They were among the most successful people in this business.

Vinnie worked his reps hard. If you performed for him, everything was fine. He mentored many of the leading reps in the industry. But if you failed, you didn’t work for him for long. He could sell to dealers on The Bowery in New York (and the dealer rows in all the other major cities in the U.S.). He could sell to the big chains. One of the realities of the equipment business he taught me early on was “You live by the chains, you die by the chains,” his aphorism explaining the boom and bust cycles of chain roll-outs.

He did some tough and unpopular things. After Blodgett bought Pitco, he aligned the Blodgett and Pitco rep groups. He was one of the first to do that. It was not a happy time. Many of the Blodgett rep groups also sold Frymaster. Vinnie made them choose.

But Vinnie could also be extremely kind and he was fiercely loyal to his friends. He stood by his factory and his products, his reps and the dealers he respected. He made a lot of money, for himself and for scores of other people. He led a long¸ productive and happy life. After retirement, he spent a lot of time with his family. I and many other people in the business learned a lot from him. It was an honor and pleasure to know him.

We asked several people who knew Vinnie Guarriello best for their remembrances.

 ***

Mark Suchecki, former Pitco marketing executive, former president-Southbend Range; president-Entrée Food Equipment: In 1982 I was working as a sales rep in the Baltimore/Washington are selling Guldens Mustard, Crunch n Munch and Chef Boyardee for American Home Foods (AHF).  My MBA was going to thrust me into New York City as a product manager for AHF, but they wanted me to work in the field for a year to get my feet wet.  During my field tenure, the person in New York who hired me left AHF, a new person and a new team came in, and I was stuck peddling mustard, popcorn and canned pasta between the inner harbor and our nation’s capital.

I answered an ad in The New York Times and spoke to Vinnie Guarriello, told him that I grew up and my family lives in Avon, N.J.—close to Red Bank where he lived.  We agreed to have lunch at the Molly Pitcher Inn in Red Bank, and it was a lunch that changed my life.  It is amazing when you make decisions at that age, how one change will change you forever. (I just had that conversation with my 25-year-old daughter.)  It was a great lunch, and Vinnie and I became friends after that for a lifetime.  He said to me that day, and I'll never forget it “Kid, I like what I see and I want you to go to New Hampshire to see Tom Cassin at Pitco.” 

That started my career in the foodservice equipment industry: It was Vinnie.  As it turned out I went to work for another lifetime friend. Tom is one of the best people you can ever know.  With Vinnie being a half an hour from where my family lived, I would see him any time I was in town, at trade shows, or during visits he would make to Pitco.  I remember one night, checking into the Del La Poste Hotel (now a W Hotel) for a conference; we would stay in the third-class steerage section there. The woman checking us in asked for our names, we said Guarriello, Deusebio and Suchecki.  For those of you who know Nelson, his laughter is contagious. The four of us started laughing—we sounded like the Italian-Polish hit squad.

Vinnie was a larger-than-life person who was very successful through his direct street- smart approach to business.  It amazes me how so many corporations today that drown in their over-meeting, over-analyzing, top-down approaches would still be able to learn so much from Vinnie.  He was way ahead of his time and he made Blodgett the leading convection oven manufacturer in the world.

I talked to him about six months ago; we would keep up every now and then.  His mind was still sharp but he told me his body was giving up, it was a very sad time when I hung up the phone.

There will never be another Vinnie Guarriello, our industry has changed too much for that to happen.  I owe a lot to Vinnie, and will never forget all that he did for me. Rest in Peace Vinnie. You had a great life and a great career as one of the true icons of the foodservice equipment industry.

Tom Cassin, former v.p.-marketing, Pitco: Vinnie was an industry legend.  He was recognized as a strong advocate for many of us in the foodservice equipment industry.  He probably developed the best, most professional rep force in foodservice,  which generated many years of successful sales for the Blodgett Oven Co.  Vinnie also had more professional contacts than most, and this allowed him entry into major accounts, both chain and dealer. He loved to drive. Fast sport cars.  I remember my first ride through an airport parking lot-at over 50 mph. Many memories-New York show, NAFEM, Minetta Tavern, George Dumbach. He will be missed.

Ken Jennings, former principal-Hatch-Jennings Associates: I first met Vinnie in 1956 when my father represented Blodgett in the Northeast, and he came to our house for dinner upon starting with Blodgett as the National Sales Manager. (I was 10!) In 1970, I joined Fred Hatch (my brother-in-law) representing Blodgett and having Vinnie mold my feeble brain to the ways of the industry. He was a true mentor and friend for the next 25 years until he retired. I consider Vinnie to have been pivotal in the development of the food service equipment industry as we know it.

Nelson Deusebio, fomer Blodgett executive: Vinnie hired me to be his "young legs" in November of 1974. He was my friend and mentor until he retired from Blodgett fifteen years later. I retired in 2000.

We worked out of his two car garage in Little Silver, N.J., and seldom visited the corporate headquarters in Burlington, Vt. We did everything by traveling all over the country and Canada and by phone when we were not working trade shows or holding training sessions for new reps. It was a constant go, go, go. He often reminded me that I was being paid by the year and not by the hour!

Being an industry leader he always emphasized honesty, immediate communications and high visibility. We were very fortunate in having a very professional and dedicated factory staff and workforce backing us up all the time day and night.

Once I asked him why he had hired me. Simple, he said:  "You're Italian, from New York, a former Marine and you don't smoke!"

So he basically hired himself!

The biggest accolade of my career with Vinnie and Blodgett was when a rep, Jim Howie of Chicago, began calling me "Mini Vinnie".

And I'll really miss him!

Bruce Goodyear, former Blodgett executive
: With as long as I have known Vinnie, it will be hard to do just a couple of lines. So, I’ll just ramble on and you can extract whatever you wish. If nothing, at least, it will allow me to reflect and mentally travel down memory lane.

It was 1964 when I first met Vinnie. I was just a 20-year- old small-town farm boy, working in the factory at Blodgett. No real formal education beyond high school and a small taste of the military. Anyway, I noticed a group of Blodgett management, standing around a prototype convection oven. There was Vinnie, dressed as dapper as if he just came off Fifth Avenue.

For some reason, he noticed me. Perhaps it was my look of curiosity. Regardless, at that point he kind of “adopted” me and took me under his wing. He became my mentor and guided me throughout most my career. I doubt I would be where I am today without his guidance and encouragement.

Since his death, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to some of the old-time reps. We all seemed to share the same thoughts. Vinnie had the talent to motivate and lead by example. Well, perhaps a little fear thrown in.

Within our industry, he was seen as “Mr. Blodgett.” I can remember attending trade shows in the early years, watching Vinnie holding court in the aisles with his peers; I believe that group was coined the “Foodservice Rat Pack”.

Growing up in a large family on a small dairy farm, having beef liver often wasn’t unusual. Tough as a board, but I had to eat it. I remember my first NRA. Vinnie took me to Eli’s and talked me into having calves liver. It was so fantastic I had to call my mother, forgetting there was a time difference.

Here I am at 71 years old, with over 50 years in our industry and still involved. I swear I got my passion for what I do from Vinnie.

May Vinnie rest in peace.

***

Amen.

Cheers,



Robin Ashton

Publisher 

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