Ramar Restaurant Equipment & Supplies’ involvement in the buying group Excell Marketing led Mark Raber and his wife Kathy to nominate The Center, an addiction recovery center, in Palos Park, Ill., to receive a new commercial kitchen. Ramar Supply donated consultation services as well as kitchen design, general contracting, warehousing, delivery and installation to the project. Mark’s involvement was both professional and personal.

FE&S: Let’s start with your very personal connection with The Center.

MR: A year ago, on February 6, our son, Dennis, passed away at the age of 29. He entered the program at The Center inMark RaberMark Raber December 2014 and was there for 60 days. The Center gave him a great foundation, and he was sober and getting his life together, and then he had one slip and that was it. One of the problems of recovery is how easy it is to underestimate the strength of opioids — they don’t offer a lot of second chances. We have done a lot of kitchens, but this one had the most impact and support without question because it was so personal.

Dennis would have been the third generation of our 45-year-old business. This kitchen is dedicated in his memory and honor, along with all of those who fight the battle of addiction every day.

FE&S: Tell us a little about The Center.

MR: The Center is an addiction recovery center for men, and they also have a farm with animals, a school, a church, and they run seasonal camps for kids. It’s open 365 days a year, and the front door is never locked. They have 15 beds and will do a quick interview to see if you’re a good fit for everyone. The length of the program is one of the reasons it’s so successful. It’s not just about a 28-day detox; these guys develop a new way of life and new habits over the course of months or even years.

FE&S: Tell us about Excell Marketing’s Cooking Up Better Lives program.

MR: Excell founded Cooking Up Better Lives in 2007. It’s a collaborative effort with Excell dealer and vendor members. The program seeks to improve the functionality, efficiency and value of community-based nonprofit programs, such as shelters, homes, hospitals and other community-based entities in need of foodservice products or funds. Cooking Up Better Lives also sponsors an annual kitchen renovation project, which is what The Center won — the 2018 Better Lives Makeover.

FE&S: What was the kitchen like before the renovation?

MR: The kitchen was literally about 100 years old, and we completely gutted it and expanded it so that it can now provide 33,000 meals a year, including banquet capabilities. In all, the project took about 7 months and cost about $250,000.

The immediate response from our vendor community, once they learned about the project, was incredible. We also had about nine dealers who stepped up to help. We received countless pieces of donated equipment — walk-in and upright coolers and freezers, double convection ovens, ranges, griddles, deep fryers, stainless steel fabrication and more — from about 30 vendors, along with donated HVAC and electrical services.

Mark Raber TheCenterAfter2

FE&S: Was it difficult to manage your business and this volunteer project at the same time?

MR: Without the support of staff from top to bottom, I couldn’t have done that project or any other project like it. They were very aware of the project, and any time we had to run something over there or inspect an installation, everyone jumped in to help get it done. The project was just as personal to them because Dennis worked with us and was loved by everyone, so his passing hit them hard, too. He did a lot for our company — he contributed heavily in sales and to the structure of the business and had many amazing ideas of how to update the company and be present online. He was very likeable, extremely loyal and everyone asked for him by name, from the dishwashers to the kitchen managers. Even a year later we get calls for him, which makes it hard.

FE&S: The name of your company is very similar to your last name — we had to double check we got it right! What’s the story behind the name?

MR: Ramar is a combination of Raber and Mark. It came about when my parents were trying to name their business in Mark Raber TheCenterAfter3Multiple equipment dealers stepped up to donate countless pieces of equipment to the renovation of the kitchen space at The Center, an addiction recovery facility.1975, and they copied what a lot of people were doing those days — combining two names — and put them together until they had something that sounded good. I pretty much go by Mark Ramar as much as Mark Raber.
If you call me that, I’ll answer.

FE&S: What do you love about your job?

MR: We have 14 full-time employees who manage the day-to-day sales and projects, but I’m often the one on job sites, overseeing installations and pre-installations. My favorite thing to do is be on hand for planning, setup, construction and menu development — that’s the fun part for me. The same goes with working on The Center’s kitchen. The whole project was a great “distraction” for us and so exciting to be involved. I never left them alone. I was there often during the week and even on the weekends during the project. Because it was a 100 percent volunteer project, I just wanted to keep the ball rolling.

FE&S: Do you plan to stay involved with The Center?

MR: I will definitely try to remain involved. We are planning on bringing out some celebrity chefs for demos and fundraiser events. They do a lot of great things, and we are ready to continue to offer support in any way we can.