You order chicken wings with your favorite sauce to go. You put the bag in the passenger seat. When you arrive home, you pick up the bag to find that the container has tipped and the sauce is now pooling on the upholstery of your new SUV. No! This is not supposed to happen. Experience ruined.
This problem — carryout leakage — had become a huge challenge for Wings, Etc., a successful chain based in Fort Wayne, Indiana. And leakage was not the only problem. The wings were retaining moisture and losing their crispness on the drive home. As a result, Wings vice president, Eric Stuczynski, turned to the chain’s distributor, Stanz Foodservice for a solution.
Wings is a restaurant and pub chain with 45 self-described “happiness centers” in five states, with seven more units under construction. It was founded in 2004 and is managed by three partners: Stuczynski, Jim Weaver and Rob Hensmann. In 2005, they decided to franchise the concept. There are now 12 company stores, with the remaining stores operated by franchisees. The menu features wings with a number of sauces, but diners can also order burgers, ribs, seafood, sandwiches and salads. The carryout business is handled by each unit’s bartenders.
Enter Stanz Foodservice
Stanz became focused on foodservice in 1945, but it had its beginnings as a retail cheese distributor in 1923. Founders Emil and Henry Stanz added product categories over the years and, by 1945, seeing the new opportunities in the institutional side of the business, they left retail behind and became a broadline foodservice distributor.
Todd Stearns, vice president of sales, has been with Stanz for 13 years. A foodservice distribution veteran, Stearns has been in the industry for 35 years. He loves working with a smaller independent distributor, especially appreciating the personal interaction with the customers.
“It’s still a people business,” he says, noting that the large national distributors are advocating online ordering over order-taking by a sales rep. “We train our reps to be consultants. We’re in small towns where people still buy from people. They still want the interaction and, I’m sorry; you can’t do everything online.”
Wings has been a Stanz customer since it was only a two-unit chain. Stearns, Roger Taylor, Stanz’ multi-unit sales consultant, and Barbi Felchuck, the multi-unit account support representative, meet monthly with Wings management to discuss everything from service issues to new products to reducing costs. Stearns also meets quarterly with Wings’ president Rob Hensmann and Stanz president Mark Harman to discuss top-to-top issues. In fact, it was at one of these meeting that Stuczynski and Hensmann threw down the challenge to find new carryout containers.
The challenge and solution
Stuczynski made clear the importance of the need for new containers. “We had a less-than-efficient system,” he explains now. White paper bags, used for appetizers, got wet and soggy. Styrofoam clamshells for wings and other menu items leaked. Customers complained.
Stearns and Taylor went right to work. At an IFDA (International Foodservice Distributors Association) Distribution Solutions Conference they located a vendor who offered an upgraded version of the clamshell, one that was clear and vented. Taylor ordered wings from a local unit and repackaged them in samples of the product obtained from the vendor, taking photos of the old versus the new. At the next monthly meeting, they presented the new concept. Stuczyinski was sold. He did a six-week test run at the company stores. Results were positive and the new packaging was rolled out systemwide.
“The clear clamshells that are vented work very well,” Stucyznski says. The leakage problem was solved and the venting provided another welcome benefit. “The vents allow the steam to escape, which keeps the moisture off the wings,” he explains. “It keeps them crispier longer and allows them to travel better. We haven’t had a complaint from a customer since we switched.” As an added plus, the clear anti-fog lids allow bartenders to double-check orders without having to open the containers, which took time and let the product’s heat escape. Both the guest experience and food quality are improved.
Stuczynski “can’t say enough about Stanz” and the productive relationship between the two companies. “They’ve done a great job of growing with us. They go beyond the normal call of duty. We open a new store and Stanz will do everything to make that customer happy. I can call Roger on a Saturday night with an emergency order and somehow a truck will get to us on Sunday. No questions are ever asked.”
Stearns sums up the relationship, saying, “We have a great partnership where we work together to solve problems and issues.”
Distributor: Stanz Foodservice, Inc.
Headquarters: South Bend, Ind.
Year Established: 1923
Owners and Operators: Shirley Geraghty, CEO (daughter of founder); Mark Harman, president; Wendy Gilliam, vice president (Harman and Gilliam are third-generation family)
Distribution Area: Northern Indiana and regions of Michigan, Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky
Distributor Group: F.A.B. (Frosty Acres) member since 1978; Mark Harman is a board member