This year, Buffalo Hotel Supply Co. celebrates 75 years as a family-owned business. My grandfather, James M. Bedard Sr. founded the company in 1938, the last year of the Great Depression and not the best time to start a new venture. He had lost his job with the Buffalo-based Larkin Soap Company, one of the largest mail-order catalog companies in the world at the time and was experiencing significant financial difficulties. The Larkin Soap Company had founded and owned Buffalo Pottery Company, which eventually became known as Buffalo China and, eventually, a division of Oneida.
Buffalo Hotel Supply struggled those first few years and then the United States became embroiled in World War II, which made product scarce and credit tight for the fledgling firm. The company survived until 1946 when my dad, James Jr., returned from the war. Sales in '46 reached a record $36,000 and my dad went on to drive growth for the company during the next 50 years.
The changes that have taken place in the foodservice industry would have astounded my grandfather. Almost all china and flatware manufacturing now takes place overseas. The sourcing and purchasing of linens and textiles were specialties of both my father and grandfather but 150 of the domestic mills that made these products have since closed their doors.
On the positive side, we all understand the difference technology has made in our industry. For example, the speed of placing and delivering orders is much faster; combi-ovens with touch pads can store up to 250 pre-set cooking recipes, making food preparation easier; and monitoring systems on walk-ins that contact managers by cell phone if the temperature exceeds pre-set parameters — all of these and more allow operators to better manage their facilities. From a family business perspective, we now service customers ranging from Fortune 500 companies to neighborhood pizzerias and have performed major projects in 20 states, while shipping to all 50 and some international businesses. This was once unthinkable for our industry.
Despite all these changes, some things do remain the same from 75 years ago. Reviewing the company's application for incorporation in New York State from 1938, it is amazing to see that our enterprise has essentially maintained its mission:
"To manufacture, purchase, and sell, at wholesale and retail, china, silverware, glassware, linens, bedding, furnishings, complete hotel and restaurant institutional supplies, equipment and furnishings."
Of course, the more things change, the more they stay the same. So the key to long-term success? Remain true to the core of your business, run your operation with integrity and take care of your employees. That's why a number of customers have stuck with us for the last 75 years.
My grandfather and father were the pioneers who built this company from the ground up. My three sisters — Dona, Susan and Ginger — and I simply have had the sincere honor to carry on their legacy as the third generation. What about the fourth Bedard generation? Several youthful family members have worked at the company in recent years, and that chapter remains to be written.