Restaurant-supply firm Serv-U opens retail outlet

CHAMPAIGN – A major restaurant-supply company in Champaign has opened a retail showroom to serve area customers.

Serv-U, which sells furniture, equipment and glassware to restaurants and bars nationwide, converted 3,000 square feet of its space at 3201 N. Apollo Drive for the showroom.

"We have refrigerators, small wares, fryers, tons of furniture – you name it," said Mary Reale, the sales manager who oversees the store.

The showroom houses about 1,600 products, but an adjacent 65,000-square-foot warehouse stocks more than 10,000 products, she said.

"We can show you anything," she said, noting showroom hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays.

Among the most popular items in the showroom are bar ware, pizza supplies and refrigeration equipment, she said. But furniture accounts for the greatest percentage of products.

"Serv-U has been around 15 years, and our main focus has been through catalog," Reale said, pointing out the company sends out more than 1 million fliers and catalogs each year.

"We want to show more local presence," Reale said, explaining why Serv-U opened a showroom. "We opened a contract division, and it made sense for local customers to be able to come in and shop off the shelves."

Serv-U offers delivery not only to Champaign, Urbana and Rantoul, but also to Bloomington-Normal, Peoria, Pekin, Springfield and Decatur.

Catalog and Internet sales account for about 75 percent of Serv-U's business, said Chad Hemming, the company's vice president of marketing.

But in addition to that business, the company has begun doing commercial contract business for schools and other institutions, Hemming said.

Last year, the company supplied kitchen equipment for Sugar Creek Elementary in Normal, and now it's supplying Benjamin Elementary in Bloomington, said Brian Selk, the company's contracts and bids coordinator.

Serv-U also furnished concessions areas on the east and north sides of Memorial Stadium as well as the beer system for the stadium's Colonnades Club, he said.

Until recently, many Illinois kitchen-supply contracts went to companies in Indiana and Michigan, but Serv-U has decided "to become more aggressive" and keep sales in-state, Hemming said. He said he believes Serv-U can service Illinois clients better since it's closer.

The company recently hired a chef, Steve Smith, as project specialist to work with clients on menu development and on what kitchen-flow patterns best fit their needs. Smith most recently worked as executive chef at Allerton Park.

Serv-U also has a Spanish-speaking representative to work with Spanish-speaking customers, Reale said.

Altogether, the company has about 30 employees in Champaign, including call center, warehouse, administrative and marketing staffs, she said.

In April, Foodservice Equipment and Supplies magazine ranked Serv-U 65th among the 100 largest dealers in the restaurant supply industry. The magazine said Serv-U had sales of $16 million in 2008, up from $14.5 million in 2007.

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