Southbend, a division of Middleby Corporation, is a leading heavy-duty industrial cooking equipment company that is bucking industry trends with its forward-thinking approach to quality, innovation, and new products. Barbara Kram reports.
It will come as no surprise that the Southbend company began in Indiana more than 100 years ago. But little else is predictable about this top industrial cooking equipment company, now located in North Carolina.
For instance, while competitors trim costs by reducing the use of stainless steel or seeking alternatives to the costly material, Southbend increases its products’ stainless content.
“We have added to the stainless steel portion of the range where our competitors are trying to save money because the price of stainless steel is going up. They are looking at other types of steel; we went the other way,” explains President Nestor Ibrahim. “The customer’s perception is that he is paying for the material. So we save money in labor and have become very efficient at building cooking equipment. We minimize the percentage of our cost that comes from labor and continue to eliminate waste from our processes. That way we can afford to improve on the quality of the materials that we use for a high quality range, built to last.”
Reducing labor costs is usually code for moving production to Asia, but here again Southbend breaks the mold. The company is bucking trends not only in maintaining domestic production, which is fairly typical in its sector, but by concentrating nearly all operations into one facility.
“Southbend is unique among the top producers of cooking equipment. We are the only one that is producing everything under one roof,” Ibrahim says. “Our engineering, technical support, manufacturing, customer service, accounting and other offices are all within feet of each other and are in the same building with manufacturing, so it’s easy for us to communicate to answer a customer’s question. If need be, customer support staff can walk right in the shop and look at the guts for the equipment and find the answers. It’s not the case with some of our main competitors. This is why we offer the best warranty in the industry: 24/7 – No Quibble Warranty: No Fine Print, No Hidden Fees, No Questions Asked, No “It’s Your Fault, No ‘It’s Not Covered.’ Simply, we will fix it or you can return it.”
If this sounds like a throwback business model, think again. The company places a priority on engineering and technical support and has designed its processes around driving out waste to run a lean, efficient operation. Its customer service imperative infuses everything Southbend does. Customers know the difference including a growing base of restaurants, hotels, casinos, stadiums, schools, and food producers.
The company’s corporate umbrella, Middleby Corporation, its trim staff and its operational precision are helping it survive if not thrive relative to other firms in the current economic downturn.
“The recession has affected everybody but we are lucky to be part of the Middleby Corporation, the leading operating company in the food industry, which allows us flexibility and resources to navigate the waters of this difficult economy.”
Last year was a record period for Southbend; and 2009, although off to a challenging start, is shaping up as a possible growth year also. While divisional figures are not made public, Southbend has had six years of back-to-back growth totaling over 65 percent.
THE RANGE OF PRODUCTS
Southbend’s restaurant ranges are known as the toughest equipment in the industry with a reputation for consistency and durability in the busiest kitchens. The newest range is the company’s Ultimate series, targeting the middle market.
“We gave it features and quality that puts it ahead of the high-end ranges of competitors. We have also created a way for the customer to interact in selection of the range,” he says, noting the online system at www.buildmyrange.com.
“The customer can use it like a video game to customize their own range and tell the dealer, this is the range that works best for me, mixing and matching a variety of BTUs power levels, burners, grates and other choices. In this middle price range, there are usually few options. We gave customers the ability to pick from 1,200 configurations. Do you want oven or cabinet underneath the range? We have standard and convection ovens and we can put a broiler in the cavity of the oven. Why not a gas top but with an electric oven as some residential kitchens have?” Sizes, grates, and other choices round out the customer’s dream kitchen.
While the Ultimate makes its mark, many customers choose the flagship in Southbend’s complete line of cooking equipment: the heavy duty sectional Platinum Series including open burner range, graduated or uniform hot top, griddle top, fryer, charbroiler, upright broilers, wood smoker, salamander, cheese melter, refrigerator and freezer base and other equipment. The line includes a new steakhouse broiler that is fast becoming the platinum standard at U.S. steakhouse chains.
Southbend sectional equipment batteries are designed to withstand the rigors of high-volume restaurants, hotel kitchens, and institutional kitchens. Southbend is famous for its standard patented 33,000 BTU burner with a lifetime warranty not to clog. This is the most efficient burner in the industry. The 45,000 BTU PyroMax cast iron open burners reduce cooking time, increase food production and reduce energy costs. The company also has the deepest standard oven capacity in the industry – sheet pans fit either way – allowing for even cooking and baking.
The units, in a variety of sizes, can be combined for a completely custom line-up to fit the needs of any high-volume operation. Southbend’s exclusive Battery Assistance Program simplifies installation by providing shop drawings, identification sheets, and more. This service is available at no charge to fulfill each customer’s vision for kitchen design. Options and accessories include spread cabinets, flue risers with shelves, an extra-deep 42-inch model, belly bar, continuous front rails, and others.
Perhaps the timeliest innovation is the splash-proof design to ensure that the system is reliable after today’s stringent cleaning protocols.
“One of the main problems with cooking equipment is that the cleaning crew comes at night after the restaurant closes to clean the equipment,” Ibrahim says. “Many times after hosing down the equipment it won’t start up in the morning because electronic controls shut down if water gets in. We have solved that problem with our splash-proof control design.
Southbend recently introduced its new convection steamer, which achieves the ultimate in engineering – no moving parts. It generates steam turbulence without a motor or blower fan by introducing steam into the oven cavity to force convection. “The green revolution doesn’t only save the planet, but if you do it right it saves money for the customer as well,” Ibrahim says.
The company’s convection ovens include the Marathoner Gold with 90,000 BTUs per deck, available in several configurations including a half-size and bakery depth. A stackable counter steamer is also available for maximum cooking in a small footprint. The SilverStar Convection Oven boasts 74,000 BTUs, and Bronze 54,000 BTUs. These ovens are so efficient that utility companies in some states pay up to $500 in rebate to the buyer.
What about broilers? In addition to the coveted Platinum steakhouse broiler, Southbend offers a full line to serve customers of different sizes. The upright broilers are used by some of the world’s best steakhouses. The infrared broiler series has a 1650° F tile temperature and preheats in 90 seconds.
Sectional match broilers are available to integrate with the company’s full equipment battery. Salamanders add high-volume broiling in a limited space to turn an unused counter, wall area, or range back into a high production broiling center. Cheese melters and wood smoker charbroilers round out the impressive line.
Food producers, restaurants and hotels are also warming to the benefits of cooking with steam, an extremely versatile method that cooks about 30 percent faster, provides gentle, penetrating heat, and prevents drying. Southbend has a great line of counter and heavy duty steam equipment. The pressureless counter steamers hold up to five table pans and are perfect to bring the most advanced cooking method to low or medium-volume kitchens. Pressureless compartment steamers include a boiler base and can be used in combination with a kettle for added flexibility, while steam kettles replace stock pot cooking with a faster, more efficient approach.
And don’t forget braising pans, perhaps the most versatile equipment of all to roast, fry, braise, boil, simmer, thaw, sauté, grill, warm, steam, proof, hold, and serve practically any menu item, as well as answer current cooking trends toward a renewed desire for braising.
Given the choices and quality of Southbend’s equipment, the company remains well positioned as one of the top cooking equipment makers. Southbend’s corporate umbrella also provides protection and added competencies. The Middleby Corporation has more than a dozen domestic manufacturing plants dedicated to producing innovative equipment for the hot side of the commercial kitchen. Southbend works closely with these divisions to give customers the best quality product and the latest cooking technology. The Middleby Corporation also has two international divisions, Middleby Worldwide and Middleby Philippines Corporation. This gives Southbend an unparalleled ability to supply the foodservice industry with complete kitchen packages on time, every time, anywhere in the world.
“The Middleby connection gives us the confidence we need to continue to innovate, develop new products and maintain our focus on quality,” Ibrahim says.
This industry is an art and a science, he explains, where few companies have the heritage to compete. Southbend’s motto says it all: Engineered to perform, built to last.
“Cooking equipment requires a tradition in building. You can’t gain this knowledge even in just a few years. That is why, although production could be done overseas to win the price war, it will never win in value. With the quality and price we provide, we can’t be touched.”