Food service companies go global while staying local


“Technology, and the Internet specifically, are changing the way we work and live, and the food service business is no exception. Two local companies in the food service arena have found their own creative ways to use the Internet to grow their businesses. One company is a supplier to food service businesses worldwide, and the other is in the restaurant business locally but uses the Internet to sell certain of it products on a much broader geographic scale. These are very different businesses, but each provides a useful lesson and success story that all businesses can learn from.

Pizzaovens, Inc. operates a business with the Web site www.pizzaovens.com and is based in Nicholasville, Ky. Founded in 1999 by local entrepreneur Fash Asvadi, it brings together buyers and sellers of pizza equipment from all over the world. Asvadi aspires for his company to be the number one source for buying, selling or just learning about pizza ovens. He developed the idea for the company while experiencing pizza equipment frustrations as a restaurant owner/operator himself. He gained valuable experience operating pizza establishments in England before moving to Lexington, where he opened up West Coast Gourmet Pizza in 1989 and grew it into a small chain of six stores before selling the chain. He had accumulated extensive knowledge of pizza equipment but also experienced problems dealing with equipment companies. Like many individuals who start businesses, the idea was born out of a frustration that resulted in seeing an opportunity in the marketplace. He started small, grew steadily and now has a solid reputation in the pizza industry and a vendor network of over 200 companies worldwide. He estimates that approximately 30-40 percent of his business is international, and Pizzaovens is experiencing solid growth in both domestic and international markets.

Because he is in a niche business, he does only a small percent of his business locally. However, it is also because he is in a niche business that he has been able to differentiate himself from others by focusing on that niche, having great customer service and by being extremely knowledgeable of pizza equipment. A pizza business owner who discusses an issue with Asvadi is talking to someone who has been in the same situation and can help find the equipment solution that is best for the owner. Pizza oven and other foodservice technologies continue to change and improve, and this company keeps on top of these changes. Asvadi and his business savvy spouse, Nathalie, who is also involved day to day in the business, have multidimensional growth plans. Their next steps include a thoughtful expansion into other equipment, but only by offering the same high level of service that got them where they are today. Fash Asvadi saw a problem, turned it into an opportunity and now profits by providing a valuable service to foodservice operators worldwide through Internet technology.

Approximately 15 months ago, Joe and Christy Sweeney purchased a coffee shop in Tates Creek Centre located at the corner of Tates Creek Road and Man O War Boulevard. They renamed the store Honey Bean Coffee and over time have slowly made changes. It is now a wonderful little cafè, and one of my personal favorites, with free Internet access, great coffee and a variety of other tasty menu items. However, in addition to this small coffee shop is a related and growing e-commerce business that sells over 200 types of coffee and a variety of loose leaf teas over the Internet through their Web site www.honeybean.com. They sell coffee to loyal customers from New York to California. This segment of their business has several benefits, including an additional business revenue stream, higher turnover of their coffee beans (which means a higher level of bean freshness), and also a higher volume of coffee purchases, which results in purchasing economies of scale. Customers can purchase online a wide variety of their products that are also offered in sampler combinations and through coffee clubs. All this did not happen by accident. Joe Sweeney’s passion for coffee is matched by his extensive knowledge of the subject. Additionally, Joe is a local entrepreneur in another field, as President and CEO of JCS Technology, LLC (www.jcstechnology.com), which provides e-commerce and other solutions to clients. Christy Sweeney is also an attorney with a keen sense of culinary and customer service principles. Therefore, it should be no surprise that together they have found creative ways to use technology to grow their business. They are very Internet savvy and know how to use SOE (search engine optimization) and SEM (search engine marketing) strategies to optimize their e-commerce coffee business.

These are two different restaurant and foodservice examples of being local but selling global. The power of the Internet can harness an entrepreneur’s passion for his or her business and take it to new levels and markets.

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