St. Louis produce wholesalers report strong demand from the area’s restaurants and other foodservice channels.
Sun Farm Foodservice specializes in white tablecloth restaurants, president John Pollaci said.
“We’re not opposed to chains — that’s just kind of the niche we fell in to,” he said. “We’re more service oriented.”
That focus has evolved, Pollaci said, as more restaurant chains have moved toward sourcing from big suppliers.
“They want you to be able to cover three states, and we only ship within a 50-mile radius,” he said. “We made a conscious decision” to focus on smaller restaurants in or near St. Louis.
Pollaci describes the St. Louis restaurant industry as “pretty healthy.” The restaurants that stay healthiest are the ones that stay on their toes when competition enters the market, as it frequently does.
“There are waves of new openings, where everyone flocks to the new thing,” he said. “Some of the older restaurants that haven’t evolved fall to the back burner. The ones that know how to innovate stick around.”
One change has been that many of the white tablecloth restaurants have taken away the white tablecloths, Pollaci said — either literally or they’ve made cuts in other services or traditional features of fine dining.
“They’re staying upscale with the food, but refinements like the white tablecloth or the bread service — those things are starting to go away.”
The tighter focus on the food is a boon to wholesalers like Sun Farm.
“They’re paying more attention to food, and produce is a large part of that,” he said. “They need the vegetables to green up, fill up the plate.”
The company recently has focused on working with area parochial schools to replace frozen vegetables with fresh.
Restaurant business has been thriving since the extreme summer temperatures kicked in, said Sal Pupillo, co-owner of H.R. Bushman & Son.
“The heat has actually helped,” Pupillo said. “No one wants to barbecue when it’s 100 degrees.”