Top Achievers

Top Achievers are award-worthy personalities with a single common trait: an unflinching ability to provide value on the customer’s terms.


2024 Top Achiever— Manufacturers' Representative

Roberto Clemente was known for his excellence on the baseball field, playing on a team that won two championships and being one of the absolute best at what he did. Clemente is also famous for this quote: “Anytime you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on Earth.”

Top Achiever Man Rep Larry CantamessaUnlike Clemente, Larry Cantamessa never played right field for the Pittsburgh Pirates or won a World Series in 1960 and 1971. Cantamessa, however, did have a remarkably similar personal philosophy to that of Clemente: Providing better opportunities, insight, support and guidance to all you encounter is what makes life worthwhile. Cantamessa died on May 29, 2023, at the age of 63 but not before crafting a career that earned him recognition as FE&S 2024 Top Achiever — Manufacturers’ Representative.

“Going into foodservice was a second career for Larry. And once he did get into the industry, Larry really found his passion,” says Sarah Bowen-Haviland, Larry’s wife and now primary owner of PBAC & Associates.

Humble Beginnings

After graduating from Rutgers University with a business degree, Cantamessa worked with his father in a family-owned business in the waste management industry. After the family sold the business, Cantamessa continued working there while looking for his next challenge. And that’s when he crossed paths with Michael Posternak, one of the founders of PBAC, a manufacturers’ rep firm based in Eastchester, N.Y.

“Nearly 25 years ago, Larry started as a trainee, and almost from the beginning he was identified as having leadership capabilities,” Posternak, who now runs the company, says. “After about 10 years, we put together a 10-year plan for PBCA 2.0, which actually took 12 years to implement.”

In 2017, Cantamessa became the president and co-owner of the company. “Larry was a good student and was very curious. In terms of food and foodservice, he loved restaurants and everything about creating that experience,” Bowen-Haviland says. “Most people will know him for being very determined. He did have this duality of his personality. He was very firm and determined and worked super hard. But it was balanced by this very generous inside. I hope people will remember him for being determined and fair. He had a sense of humor and a really dry wit.”

Industry Involvement

Cantamessa’s sizable influence extended beyond the confines of PBAC to the company’s customers, the factories it represents and more.

“Larry always sought win-win strategies for all parties involved, especially the customer,” says Joe Maresca, director of sales, Northeast region, for the ITW Food Equipment Group. “He never hesitated to step up to the plate and always viewed business through a long-term lens. At times, our conversations could be animated, but they were never angry. They usually ended with a laugh and his ear-to-ear grin that I can still picture on his face today.”

Indeed, Cantamessa’s warm and approachable personality was more than just a business persona. “It wasn’t just a sales persona that he turned on. Larry was genuinely a really good guy,” says Bob Doland, FCSI, principal of Jacobs | Doland | Beer, a foodservice design firm based in New York City. “I’ll remember him as a genuinely personable man to be around. Larry was a loving family guy — a great businessperson.”

Cantamessa had an intense desire to give back in the form of his time, talents and treasure with exemplary generosity to various foodservice industry organizations, particularly the Manufacturers’ Agents Association for the Foodservice Industry (MAFSI). During his 15-plus years of membership with MAFSI, Cantamessa served twice on its board of directors as well as president of MAFSI Region 3 — New York Metro.

“Larry was always the first person to volunteer. He was a doer. He moved the rep function so much forward with his attitude of wanting to do more,” Alison Cody, executive director for MAFSI, says. “He put in the work to make our goals come true. He made MAFSI and the foodservice industry a better world for others. We’ll all benefit from that for years to come.”

Education, particularly that which supported the future growth of the foodservice industry, was important to Cantamessa. “Larry focused on always wanting to lend his expertise to fellow reps,” says Cody. “His pivotal role was education and supporting the younger generation, but also manufacturers and partners. He had such a great love for the foodservice industry.”

Chris Jeens, president of W.D. Colledge Co., a Toronto-based rep firm, got to work with Cantamessa over the years on a variety of initiatives with MAFSI. In doing so, the duo formed a solid relationship. “He was a very analytical guy, and he did well for the research committee,” Jeens says. “He stood out because he was willing to stay on longer than most people do. … He became someone who everyone listened to when he spoke. His commitment was deep, and he was well-spoken. When he spoke, people listened.”

In recognition of his longtime commitment to the organization, MAFSI presented Cantamessa with the Michael Posternak Pacesetter Award in 2016 for demonstrating “the highest degree of devotion and distinguished service in conjunction with MAFSI projects and activities.”

“Larry was always willing to give his time and his knowledge to other reps. On a personal level, he had a zest for life and all that life had to offer. That enthusiasm transferred to his business life. His enthusiasm was infectious. He was interested in everything and was always up for trying new things,” Cody adds.

A Generous Spirit

Another example of how Cantamessa sought to enrich the lives of others was by being an active, contributing member of The Partridge Scholarship Foundation in New York City, which raises money for scholarships for students pursuing careers in the hospitality industry. The scholarships support such organizations as the Culinary Institute of America, Johnson & Wales University, New York City College of Technology Hospitality, Cornell University Hospitality and Paul Smith’s College. The organization also supports the New York State Restaurant Association’s ProStart program for high school students interested in culinary careers.

Posternak was the person who initially brought Cantamessa into The Partridge as a member. From there, Cantamessa later became a board member and then an executive with The Partridge. At the time of his passing, he was slated to become its president.

“Larry never missed a meeting. He was at every event. Larry was passionate about The Partridge and its mission,” Jill Ostaszewski, executive secretary of The Partridge recalls. “Larry was very soft spoken, but he was a leader who got things done.”

As it turned out, The Partridge had such profound purpose for Cantamessa that his family encouraged donations to the organization in his memory after he died. As a result, Ostaszewski estimates that one-third of the money that the foundation gave away at the end of 2023 was due to Cantamessa’s efforts.

Cantamessa’s generosity in support of The Partridge went well beyond simply writing a check. “Because we are such a small organization, nobody would know The Partridge without people like Larry inviting them to our events. We have members who come to our events but don’t invite anyone,” Ostaszewski says. “Larry was in the hospitality industry and that meant he knew a lot of people. Larry used his resources to invite people to our events and promote our events. He made a lot of people aware of The Partridge, and because of him, we have new members.”

That same focus and warmth that helped carve a successful career carried over into Cantamessa’s personal life. “He had a rigor to him about his work schedule, working and more. But when we would go to dinner on Friday nights, he had researched the restaurants where we were going,” Bowen-Haviland says.

Posternak adds, “Beyond foodservice, he was a perfectionist, be it as a wine connoisseur, a foodie, a competitive sailor, a runner, an expert skier, a cyclist or just as a plain sports spectator.”

Integrity served as a cornerstone of Cantamessa’s career. “Larry was thoughtful about his business and his reputation — and making sure he was doing right by his team at PBAC and the people he interacted with both on the customer side and the factory side,” Bowen-Haviland says. “That’s why he was successful.”