Back in June, when we planned the next year’s editorial calendar, we discussed the fact that 2016 would mark the 20th anniversary of Foodservice Equipment Reports and we were amazed at how quickly it’s come. That got us thinking about others in the industry who might be enjoying major anniversaries and, at News Editor Jan Ashton’s suggestion, the FER staff agreed to start keeping tabs on companies who shared their anniversary news with us. Jan’s idea: Invite celebrants to participate in a special sponsored Anniversary section in this last issue of 2015.
Through the rest of the year we heard about quite a few companies with anniversaries this year or next. Vulcan is 150, Edlund is 90. Stafford-Smith, Salvajor and Dairy Queen are 75 while Thompson & Little and Service Ideas are 70. A.J. Antunes, Alto-Shaam and Prince Castle are all 60 and New Age Industrial and BUNN are just under and over 50—although the very first BUNN business, a grocery, sold goods to Abe Lincoln. A couple of youngsters, Halton Foodservice and Wood Stone, are 25, and there are more. It’s remarkable to think of what the world looked like when some of these companies began—the Civil War!—and the changes they’ve seen since.
We offered everyone a chance to have their histories written up for this special anniversary supplement, and six companies took us up on the offer. The stories in the pages ahead are wonderful, and some are surprising. Congratulations to everyone; may we all enjoy decades of good business to come.
Gill Ashton: Foodservice Media Group
By Beth Lorenzini, Fe3, Editor-in-Chief
Those of us who began at Cahners Publishing in Chicago back in the 1970s and ’80s when Reed owned it were fortunate to be a part of a unique corporate culture. The spirit of the hospitality industry, bigger-than-life personalities, great bosses and colleagues, creativity, collaboration and fun pervaded every aspect of our work lives.
By the ’90s, Reed had merged with another company, Dutch-owned Elsevier; business got big, pressures increased and, frankly, things just were not as fun as they used to be.
At Foodservice Equipment & Supplies Specialist (FE&S for short), ideas were brewing. In 1995, then editor-in-chief Brian Ward and then senior editor Jennifer Hicks were contemplating an exodus to start a new creative venture. Ward was nearly a 10-year vet of the magazine at that point, and Hicks had been with FE&S since ’92.
Robin Ashton, former FE&S chief editor and publisher, but at the time heading up another Reed Elsevier publication, R&D, was highly regarded by corporate leaders as one of the company’s most promising publishers—he’d already helmed FE&S, Packaging and R&D magazines at this point, but he, too, was getting restless after 17 years with the company.
In the summer of 1995, Ashton, Ward and Hicks sat down at a local pub—no surprise to those of you who know us—and launched into blue-sky brainstorming mode. If they could create a new foodservice equipment magazine, what would it look like?
The ideal model, what they thought would be most useful to the industry, was a Consumer Reports-type magazine for foodservice equipment. New magazine idea in hand, Ashton approached his friend Ken Gill, an industry icon and then president of The Gill Co., who had won FE&S’ prestigious Dealer of the Year Award in 1984.
“Ken told me if I ever wanted to start a business to come see him,” Ashton says. “In 1995, I vetted our idea with him, and what I thought might be a loan to start the magazine actually became a full-fledged partnership with the Gill family.” Ashton, Hicks and Ward left Reed Elsevier in 1996, soon followed by Christine Palmer—Ashton’s right hand at R&D—as well as sales leader Rich Chrampanis. Together, they created Gill Ashton Publishing.
Launched after one preview issue in October 1996, Foodservice Equipment Reports began publishing monthly in January 1997. Of course, an advertising-supported publication could never succeed when the advertisers’ products were being rated—even if the reports and ratings were generated by intensive research and certified by third-party lab data. Instead of the Consumer Reports model, FER switched to a Car and Driver model, which names manufacturers and reports the technical details of their products for comparison, but stops short of ranking them.
Throughout the years, our staff has remained small. Patricia Elliott joined in 1997 to head sales for the western half of the country; Robin’s daughter Emma Ashton took over for Elliott in July this year. We launched our digital news enterprises, beginning with the FER Fortnightly e-newsletter in 2004, Dealer Report in 2010 and our Worldwide Report in 2008 and permanently in 2013. All news and news products now fall under News Editor Jan Ashton’s watch.
Beth Lorenzini joined Gill Ashton in 1998 from Restaurants & Institutions magazine as well as the custom-publishing division of Reed Elsevier’s Food and Lodging Group. She started as a senior editor and director of custom publishing, creating the custom-publishing division of Gill Ashton. Clients included the National Restaurant Association, the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers and the Foodservice Consultants Society Int’l., among others. Lorenzini took over editor-in-chief duties in 2012 after Ward left to pursue his own marketing business; he currently heads up the NRA Kitchen Innovations Awards program. After Hicks’s departure, Managing Editor Megan Hernandez joined by way of information-services companies Questex and, previously, Penton. The company also is completely reliant on its core of senior contributing editors, freelancers Michael Sherer, Janice Cha and Allison Rezendes.
Our portfolio of business and information products also has grown. In addition to the newsletters and custom-publishing products, the very first of our online products and the foundation of our website—FER Worldwide Buyers Guide—continues to be the most comprehensive, up-to-date database of foodservice equipment manufacturers in the world.
FER’s Multiunit Foodservice Equipment Symposium (MUFES), a high-end, highly technical biennial meeting for chain equipment specifiers and equipment manufacturers, was born out of our early relationship with the folks involved in the NRA’s Multi-Unit Architects, Engineers and Construction Officers (MAECO) study group. MUFES key influencers were Steve Grover, formerly with the NRA and now head of purchasing for Steak ‘n Shake, and Tim Bohan, then MAECO president and a well-known construction and facilities veteran, with stints at Victoria Station and California Café. One of Ward’s and Ashton’s first calls in 1996 was to Don Fisher at the Pacific Gas & Electric Food Service Technology Center, operated by Fisher-Nickel, San Ramon, Calif. Our friends Don, Judy Nickel, Richard Young, David Zabrowski and the whole FSTC crew play an integral part in the credibility and relevancy of FER as well as the MUFES meeting to this day. Our next MUFES is around the corner, Jan. 23-25 in Austin, Texas.
In 2016, we celebrate our 20th year in business. In a move both bittersweet and exciting, we bid farewell to the Gill family as business partners and look forward to a new era with Wolters-Althoff Investments. We send a heartfelt thank you to the Gill family for helping us to create Foodservice Equipment Reports and keeping us all happily employed in this wonderful industry. We’re ready for the next 20 years!
Alto-Shaam: 60 Years Of Innovation
By Michael Sherer, Senior Contributing Editor
Nothing spurs innovation quite like an entrepreneurial spirit. Alto-Shaam has been building its reputation and sales on innovation for 60 years, largely due to its entrepreneurial Founder Jerry Maahs. Back in the ’50s, Maahs and his brothers owned several Chicken Delight franchise stores in and around Milwaukee. Home delivery accounted for a large percentage of the business, and Maahs wanted a better way to deliver hot food, especially during cold Wisconsin winters. He’d seen thermal heating cable used in other applications and tinkered with it, wrapping it around an insulated carrier.
The hot holding cabinets worked so well that Maahs wanted to make and sell them to other restaurants, but the parent company gave him an ultimatum: run his restaurants or make and sell equipment. Though not an easy decision, Maahs chose to sell the restaurants and entered into manufacturing.
Maahs quickly found a chain customer willing to purchase the company’s hot holding cabinet, and then another. Within three years, the company grew from nothing to half a million dollars in sales, and the factory workforce expanded to five people.
One of those early customers, known for its prime rib, challenged Maahs to make a cabinet that could not only hold product, but cook it first. With more tinkering, Maahs invented a low-temperature oven that created the cook-and-hold oven category. The company exhibited at its first trade show—the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show—in 1968, and Maahs insisted on giving out samples of the foods cooked and held in the oven to demonstrate the quality of the product.
The Halo Heat concept expanded to other equipment segments as well, from heated carts to merchandising and display cases. “What Jerry realized,” says Jerry’s son Steve Maahs, President and COO, “is that customers need systems, so we added product lines to fulfill those needs.”
With the company well-established, some of Jerry’s passions became travel and expanding the company’s exports and international business. During those travels, Maahs saw combi ovens being used throughout Europe. Recognizing an opportunity, he negotiated a deal to distribute Combitherm ovens in the U.S. and later licensed the technology so the company could build the ovens here.
It was a prescient but controversial decision.
“For a company that built its business on low-temp equipment, selling a high-temp oven was almost blasphemy internally,” Steve Maahs says. “But in the ’80s, we were the first U.S. manufacturer to distribute and then make combis. By the early ’90s, only four oven manufacturers sold combi ovens here in the U.S., including us.”
While the company entered the combi market with a customer already in hand, it quickly learned that the smaller European models it initially sold weren’t well-suited to for the American market.
“Recognizing that combi ovens had to be large enough to hold a standard sheet pan was a pivotal moment for the company,” he says.
As combi ovens took hold, Alto-Shaam developed complementary products that could be sold as part of a system. The company added high-production rack-management systems and blast chillers to its line to provide operators with safe, efficient high-volume cook-chill systems. Increased capacity of its product line opened up new markets, with high-volume operators, such as Las Vegas casinos, hotel resorts and cruise ships, turning to Alto-Shaam products.
In the mid-1990s, the company expanded, doubling the size of its manufacturing facility in Menomonee Falls, Wis., and adding state-of-the-art equipment, such as programmable laser cutters, to increase productivity. Jerry’s daughter Karen Hansen, now CEO, joined the company to help Jerry develop products for an entirely new market: healthcare. Enthermics Medical Systems, an Alto-Shaam subsidiary, was established to sell warming equipment to medical facilities.
Throughout its 60-year history, the company has continued its tradition of innovation, winning numerous awards along the way. But it’s remained a family-owned and run company that adheres to its founding philosophy of exceeding customer expectations in every way. Many employees have stayed with the company for decades because of its values and think of Alto-Shaam as family.
“I started working here in 1979 when the company was smaller than it is now,” says Art Off, Manufacturing Engineer. “I even met my wife here, and it’s never lost that family touch. The company really values its employees and offers lots of programs geared toward us.”
Although founder Jerry Maahs passed away in 2006, the company he helped build still feels his presence and represents what he valued most: inspiring customers with innovative products and services.
Halton: Pioneering Quality Indoor-Air Environments
By Michael Sherer, Senior Contributing Editor
Evolving from a manufacturer of checkout counters and other retail-store fixtures to one of the world’s leading providers of indoor-air-environment products may seem like quite a leap, but The Halton Group, based in Helsinki, Finland, managed the feat in relatively short order.
Founded by Seppo Halttunen in 1969, family-owned Halton started out as a manufacturer of store furnishings. From the very beginning, though, Halttunen’s interest—and what he saw as the company’s future—lay in the indoor-climate industry. His vision was to establish an international company offering customers world-class manufacturing, R&D and service in indoor-climate equipment and systems.
Thanks to continuous and stable sales in the store-fixtures division, the company was able to invest heavily in R&D, which resulted in successful new products and increasing sales in store fixtures as well as the promising new technology in indoor climate products. To fulfill Halttunen’s vision of an international presence, the company expanded into the rest of Scandinavia early on and soon exported its products to Central Europe.
The strategy was so successful that the company grew at an annual rate of about 30% in its first decade, and by 1978, it established its first foreign subsidiary, entering Canada with a plant that manufactured sophisticated checkout counters under the name Oston Ltd. The North American market for store furnishings continued to be viable for quite some time, but in Finland, the company saw its future in new technologies in indoor-air-quality control. Halton began R&D efforts in commercial kitchen ventilation and sold its store-furnishings operations.
By 1989, Halton had invested heavily in indoor-air-quality management with the purchase of Anemotherm in France and construction of new manufacturing facilities in Bethune, France; Lahti and Heinola, Finland; and for the first time, in the U.S., where it manufactured commercial kitchen ventilation products under the Halton Foodservice name.
“When we came into the U.S. foodservice market in 1989, short-circuit ventilation hoods were mainstream,” says Rick Bagwell, President of Halton Foodservice. “They weren’t energy efficient or effective at all. We took an entirely different approach to commercial kitchen ventilation and helped change the paradigm of how kitchens exhaust effluent.”
The Halton Foodservice team under Bagwell’s direction became one of the initial members of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers Technical Committee 5.10, which is responsible for establishing the kitchen-ventilation standards used today. Halton Foodservice worked with other manufacturers to establish the science of heat rejection and the capture and containment of cooking effluent. It is a pioneer in demand-control kitchen ventilation systems.
“We were really the first company to look at the commercial kitchen as a ‘factory,’ and base airflow rates and demand on the heat generated in the kitchen,” Bagwell says. “By calculating exhaust flows on heat gain, it allowed us to design hoods that could capture the heat plume and use only the necessary airflow to exhaust it. Right off the bat, our hoods saved 30% in energy over what was the industry standard at the time.”
The company’s work in its own R&D labs and with others in the industry led to the development of an American Society for Testing and Materials Int’l. test method for commercial kitchen ventilation and hood design that evaluates energy use and calculates potential savings.
In 1997, Halton Foodservice opened a new factory and headquarters building for Halton Foodservice in Scottsville, Ky. An R&D center opened on the site in 1998, and the entire factory has been expanded four times since.
The Halton Group, parent to Halton Foodservice, increased its expertise and international reach in indoor climate management with acquisitions of the leading Finnish supplier of clean-indoor-air products, Clairia Oy, in 2003 and Vent Master Europe Ltd. UK, in 2005, along with Vent Master’s Canadian and U.S. business operations specializing in commercial kitchen ventilation and air-purification technologies. Halton Foodservice gained additional ventilation expertise in 2006 when it purchased Wimböck, the technological leader in high-quality ventilated ceiling systems for foodservice facilities.
“Kitchen exhaust is the most important component of a building’s HVAC system,” Bagwell says. “Makeup air and HVAC load all can be calculated based on kitchen airflow.”
Already looking to the future, Halton is focused on sustainability and what its technology can do to reduce CO2 and ozone-depleting emissions. That includes easy-to-maintain hoods that produce cleaner commercial kitchen exhaust air.
New Age Industrial: Made In America
By Michael Sherer, Senior Contributing Editor
A half-century ago, in a small town in the heartland of America, a consortium of businessmen—a baker’s dozen, to be exact—pooled their resources to start a company with the goals of representing quality American workmanship and making products with pride. Their vision was to bring a “new age,” of industry to Norton, Kan., and so New Age Industrial was born.
In 1966, the company started extruding aluminum pieces for window and door manufacturers, and word of the plant’s quality products slowly spread. In the ’70s, under new ownership, the company branched out into livestock pens. Its strong, durable, corrosion-resistant extruded aluminum was the perfect material for farm operations raising swine or other livestock.
New Age also made some racks for a local supermarket, which an independent sales rep saw at a show. He signed on with New Age and quickly brought in a pizza chain that needed a can rack for all of its units. By the 1970s, the plant had expanded to 40,000 sq. ft. and 63 employees were working two shifts making products for the foodservice and retail grocery industries, including carts, racks, shelving, tables and cabinets. New Age’s success enabled it to develop specialty products for specific segments, such as healthcare and corrections.
It all nearly came to a crashing halt in April 1996 when a devastating fire destroyed most of the factory. Undeterred by the extreme challenges posed by rebuilding, the company started from scratch and designed a new facility from the ground up that would be stronger and more efficient than the original. Practically the whole town chipped in on the effort, and within five weeks the company was shipping product again.
“Even today, our recovery from that catastrophic fire really represents who we are,” reflects Engineering and Production Manager Dan Porter. “We fought to make ourselves stand out by offering high-quality products with the longest warranties in our industry when many of our competitors headed the other direction.”
New plant equipment, including robotics, helped make employees more efficient and the company’s products even better. And employees’ skills and expertise resulted in increased flexibility and innovation in solving customers’ problems and fulfilling customized requests. Currently, more than 15,000 product designs reside within the company’s database; skilled designers, engineers, welders and fabricators easily customize those designs every day into products for the foodservice, supermarket, material-handling and other industries the company serves.
Celebrating its 50th year in business in 2016, the plant has grown to more than 300,000 sq. ft. with a staff of 165. From its engineers and machinists, welders, cutters, robotics specialists and maintenance crew, to the packing, handling, shipping, routing, pricing, as well as office and sales personnel, New Age’s employees represent what is best about the company—pride.
“The work ethic of New Age’s employees is second to none,” explains Director-Engineering Jim Sharp. “We all take immense pride in delivering a premium product to each customer we service.”
Every product the company makes is touched in some way by every department in the company. And every product, from catalog items to specially designed custom-made pieces, leaves the plant with a “Made In America” sticker prominently and proudly displayed.
“The numerous possibilities for our custom designs, and the awesome employees who meticulously meet our customers’ needs, are what makes us special,” Porter emphasizes. “We’ve been here for 50 years, and we plan to be here for 50 more.”
Salvajor: Small Company, Big Roots
By Allison Rezendes, Fe3, Senior Contributing Editor
For the team at Salvajor, sticking to core competencies and focusing on quality products and reliable service has enabled the small but well-rooted company to thrive for more than 70 years.
Led by President Chris Hohl, the privately held, family-owned company manufactures waste-handling systems for the foodservice industry. In 2014, the manufacturer reported its historically highest revenues and sales; it is on track to do even more record-breaking business in 2015.
“We’re proof that slow and steady wins the race,” Hohl says. “We might’ve missed some market opportunities by not bringing on another product line or venturing into new markets; those are big risks for small companies. But when times get tough, like during this past recession, we were able to fall back on what we’re experts at—waste-handling systems.”
Earning a reputation for providing customers with a quality experience, from top-notch products to after-sale support, also has contributed to the company’s longevity,” he says.
The company makes as many components in-house as possible, and it always has operated out of facilities based in Kansas City, Mo. Since 1944, the manufacturer has moved three times, each time to larger buildings, before settling into its current facility. Plans are in the works to expand again to a bigger building—in Kansas City, of course—that would allow the firm to accommodate the boom in business.
Originally a manufacturer’s rep, George Hohl Sr., Hohl’s grandfather, founded Salvajor. Salvajor stems from the word “salvage” because one key benefit of the company’s original collector system, the Salvajor Senior, was how it trapped flatware in the basin during the process of scrapping soiled tableware. Food waste floated out while metal sunk to the bottom for easy retrieval.
On a mission to offer the Salvajor Senior to the foodservice industry, Hohl Sr. went to the war production board in Washington, D.C., in 1944 to request a steel allotment. The U.S. was at war at the time and steel was hard to come by. He was able to prove that the product could save thousands of dollars in flatware, which was being destroyed by inferior waste-disposal systems found in military camps. In turn, the board members approved the necessary steel for him to make his product and recommended it to the U.S. Army, which ordered 600 units.
For the next few decades, Salvajor concentrated on building a solid customer base and promoting the Salvajor Senior at tradeshows worldwide. Then in the late 1960s, George Sherman, a member of Hohl Sr.’s extended family, headed the engineering team that revolutionized waste disposers, solidifying Salvajor as a leader in the field of waste-handling systems.
“Many companies manufacture disposers the same way, but Sherman came up with a better design—instead of an assembly of parts, he developed an exterior housing, built of corrosion-resistant aluminum, for all the parts to fit inside,” Hohl explains. “The housing makes the disposers incredibly durable and visually appealing.”
Sherman’s housing fits all Salvajor models regardless of their horsepower, allowing the company to standardize certain parts, something no competitor has been able to do, Hohl adds.
George Hohl Jr., the founder’s son and Chris Hohl’s father, took the role of president and chief executive officer of Salvajor in 1970. He oversaw the group’s launch of the ScrapMaster and TroughVeyor, two systems designed to increase the speed and efficiency of scrapping soiled tableware. He also hosted seriously fun holiday parties.
“My dad used to host Christmas parties that were well-known by our vendors and suppliers as absolute blowouts; they rivaled wedding receptions,” Hohl laughs.
Hohl Jr. passed away in 2011 and Chris Hohl stepped up as President. Chris, who works alongside his two brothers, Gregg (Asst. Plant Manager) and Matt (Sales), started working for Salvajor during his summer breaks as a teenager. He later earned an engineering degree from The University of Kansas and joined the company full time in 1995.
More than anything, Hohl enjoys running a small business because he has the chance to help employees sort out all types of issues, from manufacturing to sales, on any given day. “I feel satisfied knowing I’ve helped set the company up for success,” he says.
Tomlinson: Strength Through Diversification
By Michael Sherer, Senior Contributing Editor
Celebrating more than 100 years in business, Tomlinson Industries originally was founded by A.E. Tomlinson in 1911 as the Tomlinson Steam Specialty Co. (TSSC). Tomlinson represented a line of steam valves, but grew very interested in the invention of local toolmaker Gustave Mueller, who serviced La Tourine coffee urns. At the time, an urn and its faucet were integral; to repair a faucet, the entire urn had to be taken to a repair shop. Mueller developed unique ground-plug faucets models A and R—that were separate from the urn and could be removed and replaced on location. A ground plug, or ground-key faucet, controls flow by means of a slightly tapered plug with a hole in it. When the faucet is on, fluid flows through the hole; when the plug is turned past 90°, the flow is stopped.
A.E. Tomlinson purchased the patent from Mueller and formed a business—the Tomlinson No-Drip Faucet Co.—to manufacture and sell the faucets. In 1922, his son, Ralph E. (Tommy) Tomlinson, joined TSSC to run the Tomlinson No-Drip Faucet Co. While production was low at first the company made improvements to the faucets that made them even more durable.
In the 1940s, Tomlinson introduced the Model P, a smaller ground-plug faucet for consumer coffee percolators, as well as the Model W faucet used to dispense boiling water. During the 1950s, the company engineers invented the Model S, a self-closing diaphragm faucet.
Tomlinson experienced a dramatic surge in demand and began selling product outside of North America. The company continued to develop new faucets and enter new markets, including the PS Series faucets for small coffee percolators in the 1960s, and the HFS Series faucets for water coolers. This growth positioned Tomlinson as a leader in the bottled-water market in the 1970s.
Strong business during the 1970s allowed the company to diversify and expand its product lines. In 1972, Tomlinson purchased Melco Foundry. Melco specialized in cast-aluminum items, such as thermal platters, skillets and casseroles in addition to condiment holders and table organizers, giving Tomlinson a deeper tie to the foodservice industry.
In 1976, the H.J. Heinz company asked Tomlinson to develop a soup kettle it could use to compete with Campbell’s Soup. Although the unit was a very basic kettle that could only hold soup warm, it led to the development of new kettles that could cook and hold soup.
The company added several other successful product lines, including Modular Dispensing Systems in 1989, Glenray foodservice equipment in 1994, Marston wood products and cast-iron cooking and serving skillets and platters in 2001, Pro-Flo plumbing products in 2001, C&K food safety products in 2005 and the Fusion Commercial product line consisting of pizza and snack ovens, display merchandisers, buffet warmers, servers and heat lamps in 2010.
Tomlinson Industries itself was acquired by The Meyer Co. in 1974, but since has operated as an independent division. Today, the company consists of two divisions:
Foodservice Products includes soup cooking, warming and merchandising kettles; wood products; cast-iron cooking and serving skillets, griddles, fry pans and wood underliners; thermal platters, skillets and casseroles; food-safety products, from cutting boards to gloves; the Fusion line of products; and Modular cup, lid, condiment and napkin dispensers.
The other division, No-Drip Faucets, manufactures faucets and fittings for a wide variety of beverage dispensers and includes Pro-Flo. No-Drip and Pro-Flo commonly are used as water-dispensing components for the OEM market and are used by water-cooler and drinking-fountain manufacturers around the world.
Tomlinson Industries’ headquarters and manufacturing facilities are located in Cleveland, and its products are distributed and sold worldwide. Tomlinson is certified to ISO 9001: 2008 and received the President’s “E-Star” Award for exporting excellence in 1982.
Wood Stone: Take Care Of The Customer
By Janice Cha, Fe3, Senior Contributing Editor
“Find a need—and fill it” is the unofficial mantra that led Wood Stone Co-founders Keith Carpenter and Harry Hegarty down the path to developing industry-leading equipment.
Back in 1989, then-equipment salesman Carpenter called on a regular customer who had been trying—and failing—to find a stone-hearth oven to use in his commercial kitchen. Carpenter’s resolve to help his client put him in contact with Hegarty, an engineer who had been building large-scale, high-temperature ceramic incinerators for the forest-products industry for 17 years. A year later, they launched Wood Stone and started manufacturing stone-hearth ovens.
Fast forward to the present day. Wood Stone has grown from building ovens one by one in Hegarty’s workshop to manufacturing an extensive line of ovens and more in a 117,000-sq.-ft., 128-employee facility in Bellingham, Wash. The factory features an R&D laboratory, a state-of-the-art integrated metal-fabrication system, and the crown jewel: a 1,500-sq.-ft. test kitchen equipped with Wood Stone’s signature hearth ovens as well as rotisseries, charbroilers and specialty cooking equipment. In the test kitchen, corporate chefs immerse visitors in all things Wood Stone, testing out visiting companies’ recipes and helping customers gain first-hand experience with Wood Stone products. Clients come from operations of all sizes, from “mom and pop” pizza parlors to corporate chain restaurants to hotels, casinos and huge educational institutions.
Wood Stone has entered into an exciting new chapter under the leadership of President Kurt Eickmeyer. In January 2014, Wood Stone was acquired by Eaton, Ohio-based Henny Penny, a leader in foodservice equipment solutions and the inventor of the first commercial pressure fryer.
Throughout its history, customers always have been the source of Wood Stone’s new advances. “Listening to them has helped us reshape our company and, we believe, in a small way, revolutionize a segment of the foodservice industry,” Eickmeyer says. “Before 1990, stone-hearth ovens were a fringe product used by a handful of celebrity chefs. But with the technological improvements, you now see stone-hearth ovens in signature restaurants as well as in grocery stores, university dining halls, corporate cafeterias, hospitals and more.”
In recent years, partnering with key clients has led Wood Stone to expand its product line beyond stone-hearth ovens. One example is the development of the Wood Stone plancha, initially created for Chipotle Mexican Grill.
“In order to make our food better and tastier, Chipotle needed something that didn’t yet exist,” says Carolyn Roberts, Executive Director-Development for the Denver-based chain. “Wood Stone listened to our desires and got to know us as a company. [The result was a new piece of equipment that] has changed the way that our food tastes and how quickly we can serve it.”
The new plancha is a flattop griddle that cooks at high temperatures, has precise temperature control and experiences almost no heat-recovery issues. “We think planchas might be entering a phase akin to what stone-hearth ovens did 25 years ago,” Eickmeyer says. “Planchas easily fit any size kitchen that’s equipped with a hood,” he adds.
Another innovation can be seen in Wood Stone’s rotisserie oven. “Our Whatcom Gas Vertical Rotisserie allows chefs to hang product vertically, eliminating such challenges as cross-contamination but also making it a showpiece for display kitchens,” Eickmeyer says.
The vertical rotisserie, plancha and other innovative equipment lines are leading Wood Stone in new and exciting directions. The new product introductions are far closer to “plug and play” equipment, which makes “quite a shift for a company known for creating products from very, very large pieces of stone,” Eickmeyer notes.
Today, Wood Stone counts more than 14,000 installations in 80+ countries. “We are really fortunate,” Eickmeyer adds. “People bring us their passion for food, they bring their passion for their customers, and they let us be a part of that.”