By Jack Weatherly
For its 4,000 Mississippi and Louisiana restaurants and institutional customers, US. Foods has returned in a big way.
Its 272,000-square-foot facility has opened in Flowood. But division President Gil Smith said the new center is deceptively larger than the old one in Pearl, which encompassed 200,000 square feet. The new facility is much taller, making it twice the size of the old one in terms of cubic feet, 8 million cubic feet, compared with 4 million, Smith said.
The old facility was destroyed by a tornado Monday night, April 28, 2014. The distributor immediately launched its disaster contingency plan put in place company wide a year earlier to handle such a crisis.
Two days later, US. Foods was making deliveries from nine divisions around the Southeast, Smith said with a point of pride.
“I can’t imagine any other company doing what we did,” Smith said.
The center, which employs 315, held an open house on July 17 to show off its new place, including a state-of-the-art kitchen where it regaled customers with gourmet dishes prepared by its chefs from around the country.
The chefs work with customers to enhance their menus, at no charge.
Andrew Addington, executive chef in Jackson, joined the company June 1, moving from the River Hills Club, where he held that position and after his training at the French Culinary School in New York City.
His skills were on display at his table, one of many around the kitchen area. Among his hors d’oeuvres were: Seafood Grit Cake with Crab and Brie and Mornay Sauce; Blackened and Grilled Alligator with Collard Green Chimichurri Sauce; Sweet Tea and Serrano Chicken Drumettes with Blue Cheese Slaw, and Catfish on a Stick with Smoked Onion Crema.
That’s the haute end the culinary range, but Addington said US. Foods also likes to work with mom-and-pop restaurants.
Virginia Broocks said she “caters to farmers” — with a full breakfast and a lunch menu that includes catfish and pizza — at Broocks Express Shop in Mendenhall, whose deli provides 30 percent of the convenience store’s income.
She’s been a US. Foods customer for 10 years. “They come around periodically and bring new food to try. When the tornado hit the facility they went above and beyond their service to ensure that we would get our merchandise” by bringing it from Tennessee.
Scott Welch, owner of the Wynndale Steak House in Byram, said that when he opened his restaurant in 1990, Hardie Hays, a salesman for PYA/Monarch, which was later bought by US. Foods, came down two days a week for four weeks to help him set up his menu.
For Welch, Hardie Hays is US. Foods.
That support was crucial during the depths of the recession, Welch said. In 2008, he almost went out of business, but now things are better than ever at his 122-seat eatery, where he offers Angus steaks (on Hays’ suggestion), St. Louis-style barbecue ribs, seafood and burgers.
It seemed that Welch might soon be buying his food from another company, Sysco Corp., the largest food-services company in the nation, which planned to buy No. 2 US. Foods for $3.5 billion, but a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction after a lawsuit was filed on grounds that the deal would hurt competition. The Federal Trade Commission also opposed the deal. Sysco announced on June 29 it would not pursue the acquisition.