By NASH NUNNERY
One could argue that the trend toward luxury home kitchens, cooking shows and celebrity chefs was launched in the heart of the Mississippi Delta.
After all, Greenwood-based Viking Range introduced the first professional cooking range for residential use in 1986, essentially creating the modern luxury kitchen market. A ‘Mississippi-made’ company, Viking eventually opened an 87,000-square-foot manufacturing plant and a separate distribution center to handle the expansion into cookware, high-end appliances and cutlery.
Founder Fred Carl, Jr., hosted 16 Viking Cooking Schools annually, drawing more than 70,000 to the small Delta town known more for cotton than cuisine. Carl also renovated what became the plush Alluvian Hotel and Spa in one of over 20 historic buildings he refurbished in downtown Greenwood.
Employing more than 1,000 Delta residents and with annual sales of $300 million, Viking Range became the ultimate Mississippi economic development success story.
But in 2013, Carl sold the company to Middleby Corporation, the world’s largest commercial equipment manufacturer, for $360 million. News of the sale was the top story on Mississippi newscasts and produced banner headlines from Biloxi to Tupelo for several days.
Many Mississippians feared the company would exit the state, leaving economic devastation for Greenwood and the impoverished Delta region.
But, to paraphrase Mark Twain, the five-year old rumors of the relocation of Viking Range have been greatly exaggerated.
Proof? Check out the Mississippi Business Journal’s 2018 Mississippi 100, a list of the top 100 privately-owned companies with headquarters in Mississippi. Viking is slotted at 25th.
“There is a new sense of excitement about the Viking brand in the community and appliance industry,” said Tim Tyler, Viking’s director of marketing. “It is a turnaround story with lessons to learn – the ingredients in the company’s recipe for success have been new product introductions, innovations, improvements and quality initiatives.”
Viking/Middleby Residential now employs 700 worldwide and 540 in the seven Greenwood facilities, Alluvian Hotel and Viking Cooking Schools. In 2018, the company was chosen one of the MBJ’s “Best Places to Work in Mississippi” for the 11th time.
It’s been said that design is the soul of Viking Range but Middleby has brought improved engineering and quality to the company’s product line. And, technology has revolutionized Viking from Fred Carl’s humble beginnings in the 1980s.
The Viking range put the company on the map but its 7-series wall ovens and refrigerators, which feature a patented air purification and food preservation technology to extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables, have turned heads in the appliance industry. In some laboratory tests, cauliflower has lasted as long as three months in the 7-series refrigerator.
It’s one example of Middleby-influenced innovation.
Others include commercial grade convection ovens, infrared broilers in the oven cavities, and tower burners that are powerful on the high end and also allow gentle simmer on the low end.
Tyler, who has worked at Viking for nearly 25 years, says the company is firmly entrenched in Mississippi.
“Due to Viking’s manufacturing expertise, combined with Mississippi’s friendly business environment, and attractive costs of living and manufacturing, the company plans to bring more jobs to the area in support of other Middleby companies,” he said.
“Another growth strategy is to continue to expand and build upon the tourist experience and bring more people from around the world into Greenwood and the Mississippi Delta.”
According to Tyler, Viking is driving tourism and has forged a solid relationship with the Greenwood Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, which has been recognized at the state’s top-ranked CVB for the past two years.
“Greenwood is packed every weekend with tourists that come to shop, dine, attend a cooking class, do the spa, stay at The Alluvian and experience the people and culture of the Delta,” he said. “This impact to Greenwood is huge and creates and supports hundreds of jobs related to the tourism industry.”
Multiple efforts to reach Greenwood mayor Carolyn McAdams for comment on this story were unsuccessful.
Viking also is focused on increasing brand equity by leveraging relationships with designers, television programs, and celebrity chefs, said Tyler.
Viking products are featured in several prominent locations, including the White House, which has had an “all Viking” resident kitchen since the Reagan administration. In addition, the brand is used by celeb chefs Gordon Ramsey and Giada De Laurentis, and represented Mississippi at the White House “Made in America” Product Showcase.
Kevin Brown launched his career with Viking in 2007, when he was hired as chief engineer and operations manager. Now the president for Viking Range, LLC, he takes great pride in the company’s commitment to the state.
“Viking is an iconic American brand founded and proudly made in Greenwood, Mississippi,” said Brown. “We appreciate the support and look forward to continuing to work with local and state officials to create jobs and spread the word that the world’s finest luxury products are made right here in Mississippi.”
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