Wouldn’t it been fun to serve a Lean Cuisine or Healthy Choice frozen entree as a principal dish at a well-known restaurant, and let the customer assume the entree was prepared fresh by a chef? Think of the profit margin.
After the senses are lulled with linen tablecloths, music, candlelight, and parched paper menus, only a discerning few would ever question whether their served entree was prepacked and frozen.
That’s exactly what’s happening in restaurants across the country. From the Potato latkes at the Four Seasons in Manhattan, to the sirloin steak at Applebee’s, top food supplier Sysco Corporation serves nearly 400,000 American eating establishments with thousands of ready-made frozen items to five-star restaurants, all the way down the food service chain to fast-food eateries like Wendy’s — apparently even meals served at Gitmo come from Sysco.
At Mickey Mantle’s upscale sports bar, they serve Sysco’s pre-made soups like Manhattan clam chowder and vegetarian black bean. New York magazine reported that Thomas Keller uses frozen Sysco fries at his Bouchon bistros.
At Edgar’s restaurant at Belhurst Castle, which has won numerous awards of excellence from Wine Spectator magazine, they defrost a Sysco Imperial Towering Chocolate Cake out of the box, then sprinkle the cake with fresh raspberries before serving it to diners. “We’ve had a lot of success with that cake,” executive chef Casey Belile says. The Edgar’s menu does not list the dessert as a Sysco pre-made cake.
Houston-based Sysco Corporation is the largest food-service distributor in North America. With 172 distribution facilities, they supply 400,000 customers including restaurants, colleges, hospitals, nursing homes, movie theaters, summer camps, amusement parks, and hotels and motels with every imaginable food and food related item on the market, including canned foods, dry foods, fresh and frozen meats, seafood and poultry, imported specialties, fresh produce, disposable napkins, plates, and cups, tableware, cookware, restaurant and kitchen equipment, and kitchen cleaning supplies.
Eight years ago, Sysco bought a company called ChefEx, a program designed to deliver gourmet products to discerning chefs. Through their ChefEx program, Sysco acts as a middleman connecting chefs to product suppliers.
A restaurant owner can order candied ginger, mustard seeds and fennel from ChefEx instead of ordering from several different providers. “I just used to think they [Sysco] were the regular food-supplying store,” said Verma, owner of an Indian restaurant. “They are really more of a service industry. They help you develop your own business.” Verma now buys many more items from Sysco for kebabs, samosas and other dishes because of ChefEx.
“We are happy when we hear the fax machine,” said Paula Lambert, owner of the Dallas-based Mozzarella Co., who gets 10 to 20 orders a day from ChefEx. “You’re able to sell to these customers all over the country who normally wouldn’t be our customers. Some of these people order every week.”
Sysco has also become a cult-like food guru akin to Scientology — they even send their own operatives into restaurants to cut costs, maximize efficiently, and advise small companies on everything from hiring to marketing needs.