Brian Cepek, Boelter Premier
Little did Brian Cepek know that attending a fraternity meeting while a student at the University of Minnesota would permanently alter the trajectory of his professional life. But that’s exactly what happened.
At that fateful fraternity meeting, Rick Palm, a member of the family that owned Palm Brothers, said the Minnesota-based foodservice equipment and supplies dealer had a part-time opening. Cepek took the job, pricing showroom items and working in the warehouse, etc. Upon graduating from college, Cepek took a sales position with Palm Brothers. At this point Cepek took a look at the salespeople around him and saw they had good and challenging jobs and started to see his career path unfold. “I really immersed myself into the products and started going to dealer schools and was hooked,” he recalls. “Starting that way, you get a good picture as to how everything works from selling the products to getting them into the space to the plumbing and electrical requirements.”
Cepek spent 17 years with Palm Brothers, which was rolled up into Strategic in the late ’90s before eventually being acquired by TriMark. He then went to work for Premier, which Boelter acquired in 2016. He focuses most of his time on design-build projects for restaurants, including some very high-profile operators in the
Twin Cities, as well as hotels and country clubs.
Q: You started in this business working with Palm Brothers, one of the more legendary names in the dealer community. What did you learn working for a company like that?
A: Do what’s right for the customer and don’t worry about where the money comes from all the time. I would rather lose money on a project than lose the relationship. By doing the right thing it will come back tenfold down the road. When something unforeseen happens and you take care of the issue, that’s your true test.
Q: Your book of business encompasses a variety of operator types, including some pretty high-profile restaurants in the Twin Cities. What’s one lesson operators can learn from these chef-driven concepts?
A: Creativity. Do something that’s different from everyone else. Those high-profile, chef-driven restaurants are doing things other people are not. Their attention to detail is up there. These clients will push the design limits as to what needs to be done. With higher-end clients come higher expectations, though. Working with the high-profile chef is great, but so is working with their teams like the sous chefs and other members. The next wave of restaurants often come from these team members. And when they go out on their own, they call you.
Q: There’s plenty of good equipment options out there. How do you know when you have found the right piece for the project?
A: A lot of it relates to the manufacturer’s representation in the market. Things will go down. Do I have a good relationship with the people that represent and service the equipment? If a piece of equipment goes down on a Friday night, can I get someone there to fix it? That’s how I choose. People want to buy something good but the people I work with understand you get what you pay for. I hate problems, so the last thing I want to do is sell something that will be a problem.