Long-term business success requires a lot more than luck. In fact, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), around 66 percent of all new businesses make it to the two-year mark, and only half of all companies survive past five years. Here, brothers Bruce and Scott Kern of Curtze Food Service in Erie, Pennsylvania, share their thoughts on business longevity and the significance of the family owned “food distributor of choice” marking its 145th anniversary in 2023.
Curtze Food Service was founded by C.A. Curtze in 1878 and is now a sixth generation, family owned business, supplying fresh meats and seafood, produce, cleaning supplies and foodservice equipment. In your opinion, what sets your products apart from your competitors?
One of the key components of our company values is an absolute commitment to quality at all levels. When sourcing, our purchasing team is excellent at researching both new and existing products and procuring the finest quality regardless of the category. If we carry multiple quality levels of a particular product line, we continually monitor each one for consistency. This process is vitally important to maintain our standards and has become something our customers can count on.
Additionally, we have been custom processing fresh meats and seafoods at a high level for many years, decades before our broadline competitors entered that part of the business. Our experience and expertise in these categories gives us a huge advantage over the competition. It enables us to generate the critical mass of volume needed to ensure the quality will always be there.
Tell us more about the size and scope of your operations, your team and your customers today.
We operate out of four distribution centers located in Erie, Cleveland (OH) Rochester (NY) and Bedford (PA) with over 800 people on our team. We are considered a super-regional distributor serving independent restaurants, hotels, country clubs, assisted living facilities and hospitals in nine states.
Every business has its share of ups and downs, yet successful ones seem to find ways to navigate the storms. What do you consider to be the biggest challenge for your business in the past five years and how did you respond?
Clearly the pandemic was the biggest challenge we have faced in the last 60 years. In March 2020, we lost approximately 70 percent of our business. We did not qualify for any of the government assistance programs and were forced to lay off nearly 400 people. During this time, we did all we could to ensure long-term care and assisted living facilities continued to receive the products they needed in the face of extraordinary supply chain problems.
As the summer of 2020 unfolded, we helped our customers with “to-go” and delivery solutions to help with their survival. By the end of the year, we were within 30 percent of our normal volume and were able to bring back all of those teammates that had been laid off and wanted to return to work. Shortage in the labor force hurt us in 2021 and much of 2022. Supply chain issues have reduced but continue to be a problem in some categories.
What are some recent opportunities that you have embraced and how have they impacted your operations?
We broadened our geographical reach when we acquired a small distributor in Bedford in 2018. We strengthened our presence in south central PA and service customers in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. We have also added some high-quality products designed to help our customers with labor savings and consistency.
What is your outlook for your industry / business in 2023?
The signs right now are strong. While the economy may be facing headwinds in 2023, people have shown a willingness in the past to continue to go out to eat regardless of economic conditions.
How would you define success, and what do you believe is the best advice for long- term business success?
Success is surrounding yourself with the right team to exceed the expectations of your customer. Know your values and do what it takes to build your culture around those values.
What’s next for Curtze Food Service?
We plan to continue to grow within our market and to expand our geographical reach. We will continue to focus on what brings us success — provide the best possible experience for our foodservice customers and help those customers provide the best possible dining experience for you, your family, and friends. This will allow us to ensure that personal and professional growth opportunities will be available for our team. Bon appetit!
For more information, visit curtze.com.