Late last year, another chapter in the Chicago food industry closed. Local meat supplier, Allen Brothers, was bought by Chef’s Warehouse, Inc., a Connecticut-based food conglomerate, after a 120 year run of family ownership.
If you didn’t see one of the few blurbs about the deal, you probably haven’t heard about it. The company’s (recently revamped) website makes no mention of it, and it is business as usual on their fan page where holiday specials and New Year wishes filled their Facebook feed throughout December and into January.
Reports provided by a, “Chef’s Warehouse spokeswoman” claim, “…the Allen Brothers’ management team, including Todd Hatoff, [great grandson and grand nephew of the founding brothers] will be retained. The big question is, will this really matter going forward?
History (Does) Repeat Itself
When businesses change ownership structure from family to conglomerate and beyond, it’s tough to keep the “q” in quality alive. Reach replaces service and diversification destroys the very brand essence from which many local and family owned businesses were built.
Looking back to the 19th century, when Chicago was first being developed as a livestock mecca, there were the Armour brothers. Yes, Armour & Company was started by Philip and Herman Armour in 1867. The family owned the brand until the 1920’s when they sold to Frederick Prince, an investment banker and chairman of the Union Stockyard & Transit Company, due to financial problems. Prince continued building the meat brand and expanded into by-products, such as deodorant soap (Dial).
The Chicago slaughterhouse was eventually closed in 1959 and by the 1980’s, the Armour meat brand had morphed into two lines: “shelf-based products” (ie hash, chili, etc.) and “refrigerated meat products”. The lines were eventually split and sold to different entities.
Today, the refrigerated meats brand is owned by Smithfield Foods, notorious for their use of antibiotics in pork production and most recently, the ethically suspect sale of the company to the Chinese.
Swift Brothers & Co. was also started by two brothers, Gustav and Edwin Swift, in 1878. (The company name was changed to Swift & Co. in 1885.) Gustav Swift was credited with pioneering the refrigerated rail car and the use of animal by-products in the manufacture of soap, glue, fertilizer, sundries and medical products. Swift & Co. is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Brazilian company JBS, the “world’s leading animal protein processor”.
You have to wonder what the Swift and Armour brothers would have to say about that.
In an ultra fast paced global economy, it is easy to understand why Allen Brothers made the move from family run business to enterprise ownership. Maintaining market share and integrity against volume discount suppliers is challenging, to say the least.
Could Buedel compete head to head with a Smithfield? No. Nor, do we want to, because our customers deserve far better than that.
This is an industry where chef, restaurant and hospitality reputations are on the line with every meal served. It is a proud, caring and passionate arena. Our customers deserve the same blood, sweat and tears they pour into every dish, delivered in every center of the plate product they buy.
Buedel Fine Meats is now the oldest family owned meat supplier left in Chicago – 2014 marks our 107th year in business. We merged old world family traditions with the best modern practices of today. Delivering premium quality meats and professional personalized services remains our sole initiative.
Pride and passion can’t be commoditized.