Restaurant supply company expands local/regional presence

Restaurant supply company expands local/regional presence

CHAMPAIGN — A Champaign restaurant supply company that does business nationally is focusing on growing its local and regional presence.

Serv-U, which supplies restaurants across the country through its catalog and Internet business, is adding showrooms in central Illinois.

It's also working with regional contractors to furnish and renovate kitchens in schools, churches, nursing homes and other institutions throughout the area.

The company, based in Champaign's Apollo industrial park, opened a showroom in Springfield in early July and upgraded its existing Champaign showroom at 3201 Apollo Drive about the same time.

Company President Sean Hemming said Serv-U is also considering opening a showroom in either Bloomington-Normal or Peoria next year.

The showrooms — which caters not only to area restaurants and bars, but also to home chefs — carry items ranging from soup kettles to 60-cup percolators.

The Champaign showroom used to carry mainly close-out merchandise, Hemming said. But now more than half of the products are brand-new items advertised in the 268-page Serv-U catalog, he said.

Hemming and his brother Chad, the company's vice president of marketing, last year bought out the interest of former President Mike Ciolli, who cofounded Serv-U with the Hemmings' dad, Wayne, in 1994.

The Hemmings said they're going "the same direction" with the business as Ciolli and want "to push it forward" by expanding its regional presence.

They reason that although customers in other parts of the nation may order only once or twice a year, regional customers with access to showrooms are likely to buy much more often.

Sean Hemming said Serv-U has revenues of about $15 million a year. About 60 percent of that comes from catalog and Internet customers nationwide, with catalog sales beginning to shift to the Web.

However, Veterans of Foreign War posts and American Legion posts still tend to order from the catalogs, which come out six times a year.

Another 20 percent of sales comes from local and regional restaurants and bars, generally within a 100-mile radius of Champaign-Urbana, Hemming said.

The remaining 20 percent is contract work with schools, nursing homes, churches and restaurant chains, he added.

Those projects often tend to run from $100,000 to $250,000 and are overseen by Brian Selk, the company's contracts and bids coordinator.

Serv-U's presence in that market is a big change from eight to 10 years ago, when most local work went to firms in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio, Chad Hemming said.

Working with general contractors, Serv-U supplies and delivers kitchen equipment — convection ovens, commercial dishwashers, work tables, exhaust hoods — and makes sure it's set in place correctly.

The type of equipment being ordered for school kitchens is changing, Sean Hemming said.

With the emphasis on healthful food, fryers are out, and steamers are in. Many schools are ordering combi-ovens, which combine features of steam and convection ovens.

There's also increased emphasis on food safety, both in institutional and commercial settings.

Among the hot products are color-coded knives and cutting boards. Those help ensure that knives used for cutting meat aren't also used for slicing vegetables. Having a separate color-coded set can also be used to help ensure the safety of students with food allergies.

Serv-U is fulfilling equipment orders for Jefferson College, a community college in Hillsboro, Mo., and recently collaborated on kitchen projects at Blue Ridge Intermediate Junior High in Mansfield and the Urbana Early Childhood School.

Serv-U also has ongoing arrangements to supply Perky's Pizza locations with restaurant furniture. Tampa, Fla.-based Perky's has more than 600 locations, some of them in convenience stores, amusement parks, hotels and bowling centers.

About Serv-U

Business: Distributor of restaurant and bar equipment, including furniture, kitchenware and other supplies

Location: 3201 Apollo Drive, C. The showroom, at the building's north end, is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays.

Majority owners: Sean Hemming, the company's president, and Chad Hemming, the vice president of marketing

Employees: About 30

Founded: 1994


Sections (2):News, Business
Topics (2):Economy, Restaurants