It’s a dirty job cleaning restaurant napkins and hotel sheets by the thousands but Ridgeland-based First Class Linen LLC has turned its linen rental and cleaning business into annual sales of around $10 million.
First Class Linen was founded in 2003 by Bert Rubinsky, who serves as the company president, and Kenny Perry, vice president of operations. It serves restaurants, hotels and other customers in the Jackson and Memphis markets.
“We started doing something most people don’t want to do — clean napkins, tablecloths and bed linens,” Rubinsky said.
Over the years, First Class Linen has developed a fine-tuned routine to pick up, clean, press and then deliver products back to customers. “It’s all an assembly line,” said Rubinsky.
The linens are transported by 18-wheeler to its large Durant plant which contains heavy duty appliances including washers that can clean 2,000 pounds of linen every hour.
The process starts when an 18-wheeler leaves Jackson with dirty linens that are off loaded in Durant. Fresh products are loaded up and taken to Memphis where they are exchanged in the truck with more dirty linen.
The first shift in Durant begins at 4 a.m. followed by the wash crew at 6 a.m. and the ironing crew at 7:30 a.m. Employees work 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, Rubinsky said.
In all, First Class Linen’s 176 employees clean 400,000 restaurant napkins and 28,000 tablecloths a week and enough bed linen and terry cloth towels for 2,800 hotel rooms a day.
Rubinsky gained business and work experience at Jackson Industrial Uniform Service which his parents opened in 1959. JIUS provided uniforms for food processing facilities and other large businesses.
He joined the family business in 1983 after earning his degree from LSU. Later in the ‘80s he ventured out on his own with a denim finishing facility, washing and tagging blue jeans when the acid washed look was popular.
When JIUS was sold, he transitioned into the food and beverage and hospitality market which he recognized was underserved at the time.
Today, First Class Linen’s customers number around 1,100 and include Broad Street Bakery & Cafe, Bravo Italian Restaurant, Sal & Mookie’s, Ruth’s Chris, Seafood R’evolution and all the country clubs in town.
“Our main markets are fine and casual dining restaurants, casinos, churches, schools and hotels,” Rubinsky said.
Five years ago he saw another opportunity and introduced the innovative EnviroNapkin, a microfiber napkin that requires just half as much energy as regular polyspun napkins to clean.
The napkins, favored by owners of mid-level bistros, are popular with diners because they’re soft to the touch, and they are long lasting, something owners appreciate. Also, the microfiber napkins can be washed in cold water and take up less room on the delivery truck, Rubinsky said.
“It’s about 25 percent of the napkins we’re using,” he said. “We were the first ones to come out with a microfiber napkin in multiple colors.”
Rubinsky credits his employees and good customer service for the company’s growth over the past decade. “Our whole team is the reason that we’re first class,” he said. “We have first class people working for us.”
Soon, Rubinsky said, his company will pursue a major asset capital investment to update equipment at the Durant plant and add more jobs “because our growth has been tremendous.”
That’s more good news for Holmes County, where First Class Linen is already one of the area’s largest employers and where officials this month honored the company with an award for its top growth industry for 2014.