By KAREN SCHLOSS-DIAZ
Everyone gets what’s cool and fun about restaurant-going: the fabulous food. The rock star chefs. Being waited on. Decadent treats from fiendishly talented pastry chefs. But what about the not-so-glamorous side of the business? The side you probably never think about. The side that’s invisible to the outsider but needs management and tending day in and day out.
Pest control. Phone systems. Point of service (POS) equipment so orders are kept straight. Dishwashing and disinfecting to exacting standards. Supplying, maintaining, and repairing the coffee machine. Laundering linens. Bankrolling a new operation.
I’m not just talking about fine dining restaurants. When you stop at your local “Gas & Go” to fill up, do you ever run inside for a quick coffee? I have. And I’ve never thought much about who provides that coffee or services those machines. Have you?
I mean, I didn’t … until I joined the New Jersey Purveyors Association six months ago – and, hell, I’ve been in the business 20 years. Luckily, NJPA members think about that “invisible-to-the-public” side of the hospitality industry every day.
A business networking group, NJPA is all about providing the best service and products (from specialty meats, mushrooms, pastries, and exotic fruits to phone systems) with integrity and fairness at great value to clients in the hospitality arena.
Frank Purdue is NJPA president, and he’s been a member of the group for 13 years. When we caught up recently, he shared that it was founded in 1987 by David Katz, who worked for Cappuccino Connection, selling and servicing espresso machines. “The original group was six members,” Frank reminisced.
Frank’s a VP at True & Associates in Westfield, where they focus on insurance. “We offer effective risk management solutions to two business segments,” he told me, “hospitality and construction. When we meet with a new client, we review current policies, reading over the terms, conditions, endorsement, and exclusions. We also do site inspections to determine if there are safety issues that need to be addressed. We handle not only property and casualty |for commercial business[es] but have contract surety, personal lines and a benefits operation that sells life, health, disability, and long-term care.”
At each monthly meeting, the “spotlight” shines on a particular member, who provides a tour of his workplace and a mini-tutorial on the ins and outs of the operation. The first I attended was at Newark’s Law Coffee Co. It was given by Sales Director David Mendez, whose father was an NJPA member before him. Dave’s been in the association for almost three years, and is currently the group’s vice president.
My “great-grandfather founded our family’s company 102 years ago in Dunellen by distributing coffee throughout that area,” Dave shared recently. Law Coffee provides sales and service for coffee, espresso, and tea (hot & iced) and equipment throughout northern New Jersey, Connecticut and New York.
The site tour at Law Coffee was pretty fascinating. We drank good coffee (duh). We saw dozens upon dozens of sleek coffee and espresso machines in need of repair. We learned about the build-out and servicing of coffee counters at quick-serve sites like gas stations. There’s a Law Coffee private labeling program and online store, along with an allied product sales division (someone has to provide cups, lids, and Equal, right?!).
According to Frank Purdue, one of the things he most appreciates about NJPA’s monthly meetings are those spotlights. “[They've] helped me understand the many challenges each member of the group experiences.” He cites as an example what he’s learned about governmental oversight and regulation of the meat, vegetable, and fish businesses. “What I learned about produce,” Frank added, is that “in the vegetable business, product is flown in daily from all over the world. So there is no longer ‘a season’ for the various fruits and vegetables that are being grown somewhere in the world all year long.”
Herb Allen is president of Paterson-based Allen Linen Supply. They rent and sell tablecloths, napkins, aprons, towels, chef apparel, and entrance mats, as well as restroom supplies. Guess what? Allen Linen is another family-owned business (since 1902) and Herb is the fourth-generation owner.
What does he like about the purveyors’ group? “The members are hands-on and not concerned about getting their hands dirty – [which is] a big difference from other industry groups I’ve seen,” he offered. “The group is small, but very involved in their customer base. They know any changes customers are experiencing – from changes in staff, new openings, or menu [updates] at their various restaurants.”
He’s been a member of NJPA for three years, joining after sitting in on one of the meetings. “I saw that this was a group of business owners who really cared about their customers,” Herb said, “and they also cared greatly about the direction that the restaurant industry as a whole was heading [in].”
What would Frank Purdue like to make happen while serving as president? “My biggest challenge,” he relayed, “is trying to increase the exposure of the Purveyors Association in the restaurant and hospitality industry. I would like our members to be considered the expert in each of their business segments.” One major initiative that needs to be addressed (with the help of another member, Anna McKenna Lange of PowerPage Inc., a web design and hosting company), “is the redesign of the group’s website. We need to [bring it] into this century!”
Dave Mendez of Law Coffee gets the last word. “By being part of the Purveyor’s group, I’ve benefited by meeting a lot of new restaurateurs and purveyors and creating strong relationships with them.” It also helps him remember that every “business is facing the same issues I am in this sector, given the economy.”
So the next time you’re hanging out in a restaurant or country club (or an assisted-living facility or coffee kiosk in a convenience store), take a look around. What you don’t see happening before your eyes may be the most interesting story of all.