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Interested in Tundra’s culture, employees or history? This is our story. This is what we believe in & how we work – it’s all fun here!
Nothing gets me more excited to tell a story or write a blog post than the passion of others. I was thrilled that we were all able to work together to tell Tundra’s story
Draw Chalk My Life style.
We started by interviewing Michael Lewis and Rob Fenton, our founders, and Andrew Call was able to pull together a two-part blog post from those interviews: part 1 and part 2. But we knew that we wanted to do more – enter the amazing chalk art skills of Stephen Garcia. Stephen’s (pronounced Steven) art can be seen on the big black chalkboard anytime you come into our showroom, and we thought he’d be the best person to help us draw out this story – great hunch, huh!
Michael Lewis: Hi, I’m Michael Lewis. I’m the original founder of Tundra Specialties. I’m sitting here today with my co-founder, Rob Fenton, who came on a few months after we started. I ran a company in New Jersey that was in the restaurant supply business. I sold my interest in that business and came out here, and therein became the birth of Tundra.
As I was leaving my last company, in 15 minutes I wrote down the values of what I, with starting over, what did I want to take with me from the prior experience. That’s where the 13 values came from. They’re unedited. The short answer is we had a high integrity for customers, for vendors, for employees, for product. We were going to deliver a level of service that we believed was not available up to that point.
Rob Fenton: One of the values is having “ways” and not policies. It wasn’t the policy, it was the way to take care of the customer. I came from a B2B application, and we took the B2B concept and applied it to a restaurant industry that at the point in time didn’t have that much focus on customer service, in our opinion.
Michael Lewis: We started very fundamentally, it’s the old story of starting in your garage. It literally did start in my garage, and was able to walk around the streets of Boulder and just introduce myself and at least say, “We have these in stock and we can get a whole lot more.”
The product line just grew from there, but it all came out of a concept that, the idea that the parts availability to restaurants with only through service companies, and service companies needed to install things, and it became a very pricey thing. There was a lot of items that restaurants could actually install themselves.
In order to grow, we could do one of two things:
- We could open branches in other parts of the country.
- The other way was the advent of the internet.
That was starting to have something to it. At that time, Ryan [Lewis] came aboard and was given the responsibility of developing our first website. Then we went on to the second one. With each one we were able to expand the amount of product we put on. We were able to get deeper into the customer world. We made a commitment to the web before the first site launched.
Rob Fenton: Our biggest concern, certainly the first ten years, was not how fast can we grow. The question was how can we keep up? How do we maintain, how do we keep our company values, which were important to us, and still provide the level of service that we were becoming known for?
Michael Lewis: What we did was listen. The product growth over the 20 years has gone from parts to smallwares to equipment to disposables to textiles. That was all customer pulled. Over the 20 year history, we’ve become a complete restaurant supply house, including installation and design services, as well as, providing any product a restaurant would need.
Rob Fenton: I’m proud to say that we have never lost a customer. Once we have developed a relationship, we’ve never lost one.
Michael Lewis: I really see Tundra as being probably one of the most significant restaurant suppliers in the country. To be able to be in the United States, to be able to distribute all the products we have in the most efficient way, and have one of the easiest ways for customers to transact business with that. I’m not saying we’re the largest, go back to a word I use is significant, whether that also means the largest, we’ll see.
Thanks to Nathan Combs for his awesome videography work, and putting up with me as I get excited to tell our story in a fun way!
Summer and grilling share a symbiotic relationship, and neither is truly complete without the other. So, whether you’re grilling outside (where grilling is meant to go down), in your kitchen, or just ordering a grilled meat at a restaurant, remember these helpful tips to get your meat just the way you like it.
Approximately two-thirds of chicken in America carries salmonella, so you need to be extra cautious when cooking chicken. Although it may be one of the most potentially dangerous meats, it is absolutely delicious and is perfectly suited for grilling. When grilling chicken, make sure the heat isn’t too high, or you risk burning the outside, while leaving the inside raw. Cook chicken on a lower heat and try to keep it away from direct heat until the center has been cooked through.
One way to bolster any grilled chicken is by stuffing it. Cheeses, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, peppers, meats, and rice are all tasty options to stuff in chicken breast. Stuffing is pretty darn simple too. Just slice the breast down the middle, cram in your choice of extras, tie it up with baking string, and toss it on the grill. Get creative, and do something different every time by experimenting with different foods, flavors, and spices.
The perfect medium rare steak requires a close eye and careful attention. If it’s left on the grill for just a minute or two too long, you could be chewing on an overdone hunk of meat. Some people prefer to use a meat thermometer so they know when it’s done just right, but if you don’t have one follow this tip.
You’re going to want to mostly cook the steak on one side, and when you prod it and notice it’s getting more firm, flip it over… but not for too long. Once you flip the steak, you probably only want to leave it on for another minute or two, eying it often to make sure it doesn’t get overdone. Don’t forget that meat continues to cook after it’s off the grill, so take it off before you think it’s the right temperature for you – in a matter of minutes it’ll be exactly what you‘re looking for.
Nothing is better than fresh fish on a hot summer day: it’s refreshing, healthy, and full of flavor. The most effective way to make fish taste amazing is grilling on a plank. Soak the plank in water for a couple hours, and then set it on the grill with the fish of choice on top of the plank. This indirectly cooks the fish, making it smoky, firm, and juicy. Try cooking salmon on a plank with a little salt, pepper, olive oil, and brown sugar.
Another way to make your fish delicious is by giving it a quick sear. This is especially good for really meaty fishes, like tuna. Get the grill plate really hot and cook the fish for only a few minutes on each side. The edges will be crispy and the inside will be naturally textured, juicy, and a deep rare. If you have any concerns about the quality of the fish, it is not recommended to consume it rare, but if you get high quality, fresh fish, there is nothing better than a quick sear and a rare interior.
To know for sure if food is cooked thoroughly, we’d advise following Foodsafety.gov’s recommendations in the following chart:
Keeping with the spirit of our values in giving back, Tundra’s Culture Crew is putting together a donation drive for next month. This time, we’ll be taking donations on behalf of the Boulder Safehouse Outreach Center, an organization dedicated to offering support and services to those impacted by domestic or dating violence in the Boulder community.
Now through July 25th our employees will be bringing donations into the office, and we’d love if you could help us! All you have to do is find extra things you have laying around that are unopened, and bring it into our showroom. Our front counter team will even help you unload!
Here’s a quick list of items that was sent over to us from the Safehouse for immediate needs:
- Ground Coffee
- Liquid Laundry Detergent
- Unopened Cold Medicines (allergy, pain relief…)
- Cleaning Supplies (sponges, brooms, 409, ajax cleanser etc.)
- Latex/Vinyl Gloves (for cooking and cleaning)
- New Combs and Brushes (hair)
If you can find anything around your house that you aren’t using, or come across a deal at the store next time you’re there, I’m sure ANY and ALL of your donations to the Safehouse are greatly appreciated.
SAFETY ALERT – Boulder Safehouse Outreach Center advises that if you are in danger, to please use a safer computer, or call 911, or call SPAN’s 24-Hour Crisis & Information Hotline at 303-444-2424. Learn more technology safety tips.
When I started doing research on the Suspended Coffee Movement I expected to find a lot of information on restaurants and people working together to support those in need, but what I actually found was that this movement has its flaws that causes many restaurants to turn their cheek the other way.
What is the Suspended Coffee Movement?
First, a little background on what the Suspended Coffee Movement is. Based on an Italian goodwill tradition, the idea is to pay it forward with coffee. It sounds simple, but the story goes that a couple of friends were sitting in a coffeehouse and one friend heard a patron say that they’d like to order 5 coffees, 3 of which needed to be suspended. This happens with the next few patrons until a homeless gentleman comes in and asks if there were any suspended coffees, and because people had paid for additional coffees (suspended the coffees), he was able to receive a free cup of coffee.
How could that be bad?
Well, if you’ve ever worked in the restaurant industry in front of house, especially in an area with a high homeless population, you can probably already answer that question. The argument is that the free coffees are actually causing more issues than good.
The baristas and staff that are expected to manage the suspended coffees are already working to do the jobs they are assigned. To then have to keep track of the suspended coffees, including managing the money (if the POS can even do that), would have to be figured out beforehand.
There’s also the issue of keeping the staff honest. Without proper rules and management set-up prior to offering suspended coffees, who’s to say where those coffees go… friends? family? favorite customers? There’s also dishonest patrons that may take advantage of the deal simply because they can.
And loitering (where I suppose was where I was going with the busy homeless population) is another issue. In cold places, like Colorado (and such), keeping homeless people out of seats so paying patrons can have a sit, is always a struggle. Drunk, belligerent vagrants tend to ward patrons away rather than encouraging them to suspend coffees.
But it’s the principal of the movement that we need to keep in mind.
It’s not about the coffee. It’s not about the homeless. It’s not about helping the less fortunate. It’s about helping the world be a better place.
It’s really a simple idea.
It’s about paying it forward: doing something, anything to spread a little human compassion, and encouraging people to pass it on. You could just as easily buy a cup of coffee for a homeless man, as you could just pass him a $10 gift certificate so he could order an entire meal. You could also leave a rather large tip for a waitress that went out of her way to make your day, and maybe that encourages her to do something nice for someone else.
The point is that all of these small things add up to big things. You could continue to look at the world as a big disappointment and hope to get by, or you could look for opportunity to make it a better place.
From May 17th – June 14th we’re running a photo contest on our Facebook page. The grand prize is a Metalfrio Beverage Cooler valued at $949.95 and this puppy is packed with features including auto defrost by thermostat cycle, an LED temperature display and a front facing ventilation grill at the base for built-in applications. But above all, the HBC60 Beverage Cooler keeps beer at temps below freezing – how cool is that?
You can pack in 51 12 oz. bottles or 48 12 oz. cans, it has a 115V electrical rating which is perfect for any residential or commercial space and its only 15”W x 23.3”D x 34.5”H.
So… it’s obvious this arctic beast is a desirable piece of equipment and you probably want one, am I right? If so, you should enter our kick ass photo contest. It’s easy peazy and fun! Just go to the Facebook Photo Contest App, like our page and submit a picture of yourself enjoying tasty beverages with family and/or friends.
TIP: The Digital Marketing Team at Tundra will be judging the contest and picking one of the top 5 photos with the most votes. (that’s right – there’s voting involved!) The marketing team is a bunch of goof balls and will most likely select a humorous photo.
You can submit a different photo and vote every 24 hours so don’t forget to share your submission and invite your pals to vote!
The winner will be selected and notified via email. How terrible would it be to win and not know about it? Make sure you enter an email you check frequently. The winner will have 7 days to respond before another submission will be selected.
What are you waiting for? Submit a goofy drinking picture before you forget! Who knows, the winner could be you!Enter Now
Culture is a concept that seems to elude and confuse companies from one end of the business spectrum to the other, but a company’s culture is an ever-present aspect of any establishment. From the Mom & Pop corner diner to the highly-polished chain restaurant – and on up to the corporate offices calling the shots – each setting has a culture waiting to be understood and encouraged to thrive. Unfortunately, as business picks up and companies expand beyond the family-sized start-up, a healthy company culture is harder to harbor, and all too often as numbers grow, employees start to grumble and the culture well dries up.
As Tundra Restaurant Supply celebrates its 20th anniversary, focus on company culture remains strong, and the idea of evolving and expanding that culture as business booms has become a shared effort.
“When I started the recruitment process and we talked about what Tundra has to offer a prospective employee, Culture Crew and the culture of Tundra was brought up. It was really big for me that it was brought up,” Steve Trujillo, current face of the company’s Culture Crew, said of his hiring in August 2012. “I’ve worked for big box companies, huge companies, where I’m just a cog in the machine and I’m just a number [and] it’s more about what you can provide to the company in environments like that.”
Coming from a broad-spectrum background, with experience in both small companies and corporate powerhouses, Steve shares his enthusiasm for connectivity and community throughout Tundra, while realizing the pitfalls inherent to a growing business.
There’s Something Unique to Every Company
“I think there’s something unique to every single company,” Steve remarks regarding whether or not a culture template works across the board. “The individuals within that company need to kind of go through their own trials and tribulations to develop what that culture is and what kind of programs need to be done to keep culture strong. There are some loose methods, like communication. Every company should communicate across departments. There should be social events in every company. Those kinds of things can be thrown into a general template or process, but I think the key for every company is that [culture] just needs to be addressed.”
It’s important to evaluate a new employee’s potential to thrive and mature personally, as well as professionally, within any company. Being one of the few places Steve has worked where culture was actively discussed, Tundra’s approach to finding the proper fit in terms of employees and attitudes appealed to him from the very beginning. Throughout the interview process, professional skills and competency were discussed as well as whether or not his piece would fit into the puzzle of Tundra’s company culture.
“It felt like questions at that time were leaning towards “will this guy fit personally with the people and the team he’s going to come into, and on top of that will he fit within the company,”” Steve remembers. “It’s good to know that everybody gets some sort of question and answer period about who that person is and why they would be a good fit.”
Finding an employee that fits is only the first step of a long, tricky staircase that leads towards immersion in company culture and being a part of making that culture work. Many workplaces have a top-down “system” of culture where attitudes are dealt out like cards and employees just go with the flow. This can lead to varying views of exactly what a company’s culture means to different people, and a superior who stresses and instructs over involving and engaging employees isn’t really helping anyone.
“At the beginning it really felt like one person was doing everything related to Culture Crew,” Steve says. “What we’ve done a really good job of, at least this year, is that we’ve all got a shared piece of the pie. Everything from Friday Funday to planning social events; everybody’s got an active role. Everybody’s all hands on board.”
With member representatives from a majority of departments within the company including warehouse, accounting, human resources, sales, and marketing Tundra’s Culture Crew meets weekly to discuss company attitudes and employee concerns as well as brainstorm team-building activities and events. Enjoying a company’s culture is an invaluable aspect of employee satisfaction that just can’t be built into the job. It’s a feeling of belonging that makes people want to refer friends and tell family about their fantastic company, and facilitating this feeling needs to be a daily, company-wide effort.
“I think culture is kind of all encompassing. Are you happy with the day you come in to? Is your workload easier to handle because your environment makes it that way,” Steve says of how he sees company culture in general. “To me, the culture aspect comes into play as external factors. The work’s going to be there every day no matter what. The whole idea behind why we have a Culture Crew is to keep this family, I mean it started out as a family business, we want to keep those family values and aspects.”
Tundra Restaurant Supply’s growing family of 135 employees all contribute on some level to the company’s evolving culture. Plans for the year include a company barbecue, pancake breakfast, ski trip, baseball game, softball and kickball leagues, and monthly Friday Funday and employee birthday/anniversary cake days. The company’s Culture Crew, with its rotating members, continuously tries to bring the fun back into the workplace.
We don’t brag often, but the time has come! Some amazing partnerships have recently formed and we want to shout our excitement on the Back Burner blog!
Tundra has joined hands with the Big Red F Restaurant Group and Jax Fish House Boulder to support the Veterans Expeditions – a Colorado based non-profit that uses wilderness challenges to connect veterans, create community, and raise awareness. Their work supports the reintegration of veterans into society and empowers them to overcome the challenges many face following military service.
On Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013 Jax Fish House Boulder will host the First Annual High West Oyster Fest. Picture, if you will, 1,000 folks gathered at The Boulder Theater enjoying live music by local funk-phenomenon Juno What?!, slurping fresh oysters and sipping Odell Emersum Oyster Stout. There will be an Oyster Eating Contest and an Oyster Shucking Competition featuring the fastest shuckers from the finest oyster bars across the globe!
Proceeds from the High West Oyster Fest will go to the Veterans Expeditions. What a fun way to support such an amazing organization! Interested in attending?
Our next marvelous partnership is with the “I Have a Dream” Foundation of Boulder County. On April 27th and 28th beautiful and unique kitchens throughout Boulder will be featured, many with a culinary cooking theme. There will be demonstrations and cooking ideas — all in beautiful home and loft kitchen settings. Tundra is donating Chef Wear for the event!
All proceeds from the Kitchens are Cooking! Tour will support “I Have a Dream” Foundation of Boulder County’s Fitness for Life program – provides low-income children with life skills focused on nutrition and well-being, participation in a variety of recreational activities, and healthy after-school snacks so they can be successful in school and life.
Our third most recent partnership is with Milk + Bookies™ – a nationwide charitable organization that inspires children to give back, using books as its currency. March 10th marks the 4th Annual Story Time Celebration which is a family fun day featuring celebrity readers such as Ginnifer Goodwin from ABC TV Series Once Upon a Time, Max Greenfield AKA Schmidt from FOX’s TV Series New Girl and Adam Scott from NBC’s TV Series Parks and Rec. The event also has story inspired arts and crafts, photo flip books, literary characters, lunch (that’s where Tundra comes in – we donated the disposables!) and delicious milk and cookies!
Children do the giving and a giant bookstore is available for families to pick books, inscribe them with personal messages and then donate them back. Milk + Bookies then gives the books to local school children who simply have no books of their own.
Check out this video to learn more about the Milk + Bookies Story Time Celebration:
Tundra’s 10th value is to “share the gains with our people, our customers and the community” and that is exactly what we intend to do! We are thrilled about our new partnerships and community involvement and can’t wait to see who walks through the door next…
With the expansion into the online marketplace came the potential for Tundra to bring business to the national and global fronts, providing large establishments as well as the at-home consumer an avenue to shop equipment and parts from the comfort of a computer. A bare-bones website, constructed and maintained by Michael’s son Ryan Lewis in the early 2000’s, generated a single order on the day the site launched, (“for one cutting board,” Michael laughs) and after a few months the company had carved out a place for itself online.
“The first website was very primitive, very clunky, but it was sort of cutting edge at that time,” Michael jokes. “Then we went on to the second one, and with each one we were able to expand the amount of product we put on. We were able to get deeper into the customer world. We became far savvier with web marketing. I think the rest of that’s history to where [the web] is one of the most significant growth engines in this company today.”
The push into web sales and marketing also added to Tundra’s ability to cater to customers on a different level by providing a convenient, customized shopping experience for larger businesses.
“At that same time we started to get a lot of interest from different groups that we worked with. Restaurant chains. They were interested in utilizing and liked the idea of having their own website,” Rob reflects regarding Tundra’s chain sites. “We were able to create a lot of uniqueness for them. It’s amazing how many people are involved in that and want that. It’s worked out well.”
While technological advances assisted in the company’s growth, it’s a core set of values on which Tundra finds its footing for day-to-day interactions and ethics. Jotted down as Michael left his old company, and unaltered as they were cemented into how business is conducted, the thirteen values are painted on the walls and keep the company focused.
“In fifteen minutes I wrote down the values of what I wanted to take with me from my prior experience and hold on to,” Michael explains. “It was the stuff that was successful or wished to be successful. The things that when we had difficult times held us together. That’s where the thirteen values came from.”
As years progressed and times changed Tundra’s culture continued to blossom, and with more product and sales came more challenges. Adjusting to additional business and providing customer and employee satisfaction may not have always come easy, but working back toward the values that helped form the company proved invaluable.
“That’s the beauty of culture, and values, is that they drift.” Michael says of the Tundra’s strong values. “You know the old saying is ‘to be off the path is to be on the path, because at least you have a path and you know you’re off it,’ and having a core set of values to return to was always a centering point.”
And with that centering point always in mind the business has continued to expand. Bringing high quality parts and equipment to restaurants and cozy kitchens around the world has proven fruitful, and both Rob and Michael see the possibilities for Tundra as endless.
“I think it’s unlimited,” Rob says. “As we go forward, always going back to who we are and what we do and the ability to focus on the customer and take care of them as we have in the past, the future’s bright. There is no limit.”
As Tundra celebrates its 20th anniversary this month orders will continue to ship, customers will continue to browse the showroom, and calls will continue to come in. Those humble beginnings of a three employee effort have grown to a well-oiled 135 person team, with each member contributing to the expansion of ten products to nearly 70,000, and the company’s culture and drive for customer care continues to evolve with no limits in sight.
“It’s been one hell of a ride,” Rob remarks.
From a garage based one-man parts company, to a recognized national supplier of literally everything including the kitchen sink, Tundra Restaurant Supply has grown as a business and evolved as a concept for the past twenty years. This month Tundra’s crossing that anniversary line, and co-founders Michael Lewis and Rob Fenton have been along for the ride since the company’s conception. Keeping business practices and employee relations grounded in a solid “ways not policies” mentality, both men can still be seen laughing with vendors or conversing with co-workers on a daily basis. Michael and Rob recently took a trip down memory lane and reminisced about the early days, what makes Tundra special, how things have changed, and how staying the same where it counts has kept the company strong and unique over the years.
“When I came out here it started very fundamentally,” Michael remembers of his move from New Jersey in 1992, “It literally started in my garage. I came out here with the idea of starting a smaller, regional restaurant dealership that emphasized parts and brought what my prior company did at the wholesale level to the retail level.”
Printing and passing out product fliers, in person, to Boulder, Colorado’s budding restaurant scene in early ’93 helped Michael get familiar with the area and the restaurateurs he’d be doing business with. “Well, we have these in stock and we can get a whole lot more,” was his pitch, and pretty soon it was time to print the first official catalog. This is when Michael and Rob crossed paths.
“It’s kind of an interesting story,” Rob recalls. “Out of hundreds of printers in the Front Range, Michael picks three out of a catalog. I was one of the three. I was working for a printing company, and we were able to win and secure the business.”
Those first few small catalogs solidified the duo’s working relationship and paved the way for Tundra’s future.
“We were comfortable with each other right away. I liked his history, where he came from, what he had done in his past life,” Rob says. “My only statement was ‘I know this is going to work. I believe it will work. I just don’t know how long it’s going to take to get there.’”
The answer was: not long. With three employees (Michael, Rob, and a fundamental team member named Nancy Hogan) Tundra powered forward, securing space, building a customer base, and working with vendors to acquire product. By mid-1993 the shelves had product on them, the phone was ringing intermittently, and the company was able to purchase and ship orders.
“One of the things that worked well at the start was we had a strong value base,” Michael explains. “We had a high integrity for the customer, the vendors, for product, and we were going to deliver a level of service that we believed was not available.”
“At that time we did something really revolutionary. We listened to the customer,” Rob agrees. “I think it was key timing too. Timing was perfect.”
With a value system in place that focused on customer service, having fun, respect, and forward progress, paired with a desire to provide customers with the parts and products they needed, the business began to grow. Restaurant supply had been a niche market up until the early 90’s, and as Tundra expanded, so too did the local restaurant scene. Over twenty years of building and maintaining relationships in and outside the area, Tundra’s product offering has gone from parts to small wares, equipment, disposables, and on to textiles and design all with help from the customer. “That was all customer pool,” Michael says. “It wasn’t necessarily a back room creation or we thought this was what the customer wanted. It was asked, and we were able to deliver.”