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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!

A Look at Tundra’s History with Co-Founders Michael Lewis & Rob Fenton – Part II

20th Anniversary Logo TundraWith 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.

Read Part I.

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A Look at Tundra’s History with Co-Founders Michael Lewis & Rob Fenton – Part I

Tundra Co-Founders Michael Lewis & Rob FentonFrom 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.”

Continue on to  Part II.

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Tundra Restaurant Supply Turns 20!

20th Anniversary Logo TundraBack in 1993, Michael Lewis was traveling to Boulder, Colorado from back east and already had a dream about starting a new restaurant supply company.  He was so amped about this new adventure that he scribbled down the mission statement and company values before he even had a name for the company – the company that was later named Tundra Specialties.

Tundra Specialties was born in March of ’93 and started as a parts supplier.  Our first catalog was 10 pages long and only had 245 products listed.  All of our sales efforts were outbound, and Michael signed on Rob Fenton (employee #3 at Tundra) to help him get in front of more people.  Rob would walk from one restaurant to the other letting different restaurant owners and operators know about Tundra and how we were different from competitors – it was all about the customer from the very beginning.  This was the early beginning of Tundra.

Celebrating 20 Years

Today, we’ve grown from a mere 3 employees, to over 135!  Our catalog has grown to include restaurant, food service and plumbing supplies and equipment, and is well over 500 pages.  Our name has changed to Tundra Restaurant Supply and we now proudly sell over 60,000 products!  We have an in-house design firm, are able to accommodate large chain restaurants, and still hold true to our mission statement and values.

To celebrate our 20 years in business, we wanted to thank you – our customers, readers, and loyal fans – for helping us get to where we are today!  Because we truly believe we wouldn’t be where we are without you, we are giving away cash prizes to celebrate!

Again, we thank you for getting us where we are today!

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15 Year Veteran Employee, Alonzo Clemons

alonzo-clemons-sculpting One of our veteran employees has a gift that has inspired people worldwide.  His name is Alonzo Clemons and he has Savant Syndrome – “a rare, but spectacular, condition in which persons with various developmental disabilities have astonishing islands of ability or brilliance that stand in stark, markedly incongruous, contrast to the handicap (Treffert, n.d.).”

When Alonzo was three years old he had an accident that left him with a disability that harbored his mental capacity, leaving him with an IQ of 40.  It took a while for Alonzo to learn basic things that we all take for granite, like tying your shoes or being able to communicate your needs, but what Alonzo was brilliant at was being able to form a lump of clay into the most amazing masterpieces imaginable.  This gift came almost immediately after his accident, and Alonzo has been perfecting his gift ever since.

At first, Alonzo started his sculptures from looking at photography, which gave them a very 2-dimensional look.  But when Alonzo’s work really came to life was when he started visiting different animal habitats like the Denver Zoo, the National Western Stock Show, and local farms. His sculptures began to be more realistic and precise.

Such works of art, like Alonzo’s first life-sized sculpture called “Three Frolicking Foals,” can take most skilled artists months to create, but Alonzo created this sculpture in as little as 15 days.  He has an amazing photographic memory where he can simply look at what he wants to recreate, and bring his sculpture to life later on without staring at the object or using a photo; in fact, he can even sculpt in the dark.  His works of art have sold for as much as $45,000!

Little Rumba Alonzo Clemons

What’s Alonzo Up to Now?

Today, Alonzo lives by himself, and stays very active in the Boulder community.  He maintains his part-time job here at Tundra – where he’s been working with us for over 15 years – while also working at the YMCA doing ground maintenance.  He also visits the local schools to teach children about his gift and just how easy it is to sculpt (easy for him of course).  He also enjoys power lifting in the Special Olympics, and has been on numerous television shows, including Discovery Channel’s Brain and Intelligence.

Learn more about Alonzo on his website.


Treffert, Dr. D. (n.d.). About Savant Syndrome. Retrieved March 1, 2013, from:

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Restaurant Designs From Jeff Katz & The Tundra Design Group

Frasca in Boulder, ColoradoThe Tundra Design Group is a talented team that provides design services to owners, operators, developers, and design professionals involved in restaurant, hotel and resort food service facilities worldwide.

With restaurants including Frasca, Mountain Standard Vail, The Kitchen and Hapa Sushi on his resume, Jeff Katz has perfected the art and science of restaurant design. I recently sat down Katz, Vice President of Tundra Design Service, to learn the latest from him on his teams recent design projects.

Katz and his team designed, planned and completed kitchen and restaurant designs across the country, their impressive list includes:

  • Northside Coffee & Kitchen is nestled in the famous Vail Valley. Northside specializes in breakfast and flavorsome coffees not to mention they offer the only donuts in town! Northside offers a full bar and extended menu in the evenings.
  • Mountain Standard Vail is a fresh, pioneering restaurant. This rustic and relaxed tavern aims to set a new standard in the Vail valley by using an ancient form of cooking via the most primal cooking methods: over an open and live wood fire.
  • 5 Star Burgers combines gourmet burgers with some of the best wines and beers. With locations in New Mexico, Colorado and Missouri, USA Today recently rated 5 Star Burgers as one of the best burger restaurants in the country.
  • Pizzeria Locale is a contemporary pizzeria inspired by traditional pizzerias of Naples, Italy. Located on the trendy Pearl Street in downtown Boulder, Colorado, Pizzeria Locale is quickly becoming a foodie favorite.
  • Amante Coffee is the exclusive North American importer of Ghigo family coffee, the most popular coffee and espresso in Northern Italy. Based in Boulder, Colorado Amante is committed to bringing a piece of ‘old world’ charm to its customers. Amante offers a sleek yet comfortable ambiance.
  • Hapa Sushi has four convenient locations in the Denver Metro area where you can always satisfy your sushi cravings. Hapa’s menu is based on traditional Japanese cooking fundamentals, which are then amplified, muted, or mixed with influences from many different styles of cooking until they are something completely new.
  • The Kitchen is a community based restaurant where they are committed to environmentally-friendly practices and working with local farmers and ranchers.
  • Ace Restaurant is a Ping-Pong hall, fostering social gatherings, playfulness and healthy competition. Ace serves Asian inspired dishes that encourage sharing, drinking and hanging out.
  • Frasca Food & Wine is a neighborhood restaurant that is inspired by the cuisine and culture of Friuli, Italy. Frasca has continuously been ranked No. 1 by 5280’s Top 25 Restaurants to dine in the Denver Metro area.

Jeff Katz and his team choose projects that inspire, imagine and create tantalizing dining experiences. Whether they are creating a local neighborhood burger restaurant or designing a five-star fine dining experience, once you visit a Katz restaurant you not only see the difference, you can feel it.


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Tundra Culture: An Interview with Ryan Lewis, President

Ryan Lewis, President of Tundra Restaurant SupplyHere at Tundra we have team members that have been here since the company started in 1993, and team members that have worked in almost every department.  It’s a place that breathes fun and expression; in fact, it’s written in the values.  But these are only a few attributes that can be considered part of our culture.

I recently sat down with Ryan Lewis, President of Tundra, to interview him on the culture here at Tundra (including hard to answer questions that may have made him squirm).

1.    If you could describe Tundra’s culture in three words, what would you say?

Team Members. Experience. Connectedness.

2.    If you were going to give public tours of Tundra, what stops would you make?

Generally I’ll show them the photo board, I’ll show them the values on the walls, and the kitchen – it’s kind of social in there.  I think just standing in the showroom and experiencing the open nature of our office space is nice to show too, like how the big glass windows connect to outside and to the warehouse.  I think it’s important to show the way we all communicate and how we care for balance like with the Turtle room where people can rest and relax if they want to.

In general, I don’t think it comes down to a specific location though – it’s an energy.  Locations are attributes, but that doesn’t create culture. At the end of the day, culture is the look on people’s faces, the smiles, the comfort.  My goal is for people to come to work and have them be extensions of themselves, be able to express themselves.

3.    If the local paper were going to run a four-page article on Tundra’s culture, what would be impossible not to include?

Our values are absolutely imperative because that’s the framework.  I want people to express themselves fully, but it has to be within that set of values – that’s what ties everything together.  And our mission statement – it’s about our customers, and our success depends on theirs.  That’s critical too.  Our Culture Crew – we have a formalized group of people that focus on our team members experience.  All of these would be important.

4.    What’s the best part about working in this environment that someone wouldn’t be able to see from just a walk around the office?

It’s what creates that environment and the focused effort into it – the team members and customers experiences.  It can’t just be about the bottom line.  We care about making sure people are engaged, and if they aren’t then why?

We allow people to (within reasonable guidelines of course) work the way they want to work, dress the way they like, bring their dogs to the office.  It’s important to have a certain level of flexibility.

I really like the Megaphone, and we read every single one of those team member suggestions in our Culture Crew meetings.  We’ve gotten a lot of great ideas from that to help move the culture forward.

I try to make it to all of the Culture Crew meetings.  I tried to suggest that maybe I shouldn’t be in them so that it was more organic, but even as the members of the crew change, they always tell me that they feel that it’s important for me to be there, so I am.  For the Megaphone it’s anonymous, I want people to feel like they can be authentic and talk about opportunities here at Tundra.  I know it’s uncomfortable to talk about some things and make suggestions, and this gives people an outlet to still be able to communicate, and most peoples responses are very sincere and honest.

We can always do a better job though, there isn’t a finish line.

5.    What are the most common complaints team members make about Tundra’s culture?

I hear that the company is too focused on the bottom line or making money.  And I also hear that team members want more money and more bonuses.  It’s usually focused around compensation and finances.  You know, we are a for profit business, so sometimes its sort of low-hanging fruit when the team members are upset about something: not everyone is into the flexibility we have here, like dogs at work.  It’s one of those things that you’ll never make everyone happy in any one category.

But that being said, I can’t reiterate enough that we focus on every single team member; making sure we read each and every one of those suggestions at those culture meetings and listening to every team member.  When you have 130 people you’re going to have unreasonable suggestions from time to time, but I always try to go into matters with eyes and ears wide open.

6.    How would you describe your ideal workplace environment?

For people to come in here with an understanding of the values of how we operate and the mission that we’re trying to accomplish.

I would hope that our team members feel that they are fully an extension of themselves here – that they are living up to their fullest possibility everyday.  That they are fully engaged, feel safe and are able to communicate effectively between peers, customers, management and vendors.  Good communication is key.

Really the values are the vision of the culture – express yourself, have fun.

7.    What does it take for someone to be successful here?

I think people need to be authentic.  You know, people that come in here and start looking for a role, looking to be told what to do, given specific agendas and expect a routine wouldn’t really fit in that well here.  We need thinkers, people that challenge the status quo and aren’t afraid to express their thoughts.

8.    How are team members recognized for going above and beyond?

We line them up every Friday afternoon and throw water balloons at them.  No, I’m kidding.

I think this is another area that there’s definitely no finish line – we can always do a better job here.

But we do have the Star Card, where peers and managers can acknowledge a team member.  And at the end of the month there’s gifts given out for people that get these cards turned in.  I like to think it’s an iterative process.  It’s the culture saying, “Hey, nice job.”  This is more informal in that sense, but we do have a bonus program too that’s based on company and individual performance.

9.    Given that you adjust for each team member (because each person is different), what would you say your preferred management style is?

Controlled chaos.  No (laughing).

You know, I’ve asked people that about me, because I don’t necessarily, consciously try to follow a certain way, but I do like to look at the end goal.  Let me know if anything gets in your way.  Let me know if I can support you, or if I can accelerate your pace.  Let me know if you need anything, but otherwise, use your peers, use the company, use the resources you have.  I’m not going to manage how you get there.  Stay within the values, understand your end point, and let me know how I can support you or move hurdles.

10.    What do you love best about the culture here?

The community; I think the people that get the most out of our culture come here to work among friends, to be part of a community.  It’s more than a job.

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How Does Tundra Decide to Bring in New Products?

Good, Better & Best Cara Schlarb, Director of Product Marketing at Tundra, is the go-to-person for vendor relationships and product standards. She’s responsible for ensuring that the more than 60,000 products we sell are the best products available for our customers. And, of course, she’s also responsible for staying atop of industry trends so that Tundra continues to offer the best new products available.

So, this made me wonder, how do we decide to bring in new product lines? And for that answer, I had to ask the person in charge, Cara.

How does Tundra decide to bring a new product line in?

Like most industries, new products are constantly being introduced to the market. I follow several factors when considering offering a new product line.

The good, better, best philosophy is how I navigate through new products. I want to make sure that every product that comes in is needed by our customers. Yes, we are in the business of selling restaurant supplies, parts and equipment, but to do this well we have to ensure we offer a product regardless of price point. Following the good, better, best science allows us to thoughtfully add products to categories.

How do you feel we successfully accomplish this?

Good partnerships and good value are vital. Tundra will only work with brands that support their product lines; this means that the ‘after purchase’ support needs to be top-notch. For example, if a customer purchases a $5,000 oven they can trust the brand to follow-through with its warranty. Good value is also significant – we’ve all heard the economy is starting to recover, but as a nation we’re still looking for value. Tundra strives to offer products that improve the customers’ business. Fair pricing and quick lead times play into good value as well. Improving efficiency and quality are the top attributes when sourcing new products.

Any secret weapons on discovering the best products?

You have to always be listening – customer feedback is huge. In an age where customers voice their opinions and concerns on social media outlets, you have to be there to listen to that. It’s important for our product team to see this feedback and make decisions based on what customers are saying, not just industry news.

However, we also have to research industry trends for innovation and uniqueness of new products. The restaurant industry is constantly evolving and Tundra has to make sure we offer the products the end user needs to stay up with customer requests.

And finally, my team and I attend industry trade shows to search for new products that could offer something different, unique, helpful and efficient for our customers.

Even with Tundra’s stringent guidelines, we offer an amazing selection of products for restaurant operations. We strive to offer the best of the best at every price point.

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The Dog Days of Tundra

When you visit Tundra Restaurant Supply, you’ll often see one of our four-legged friends roaming the hallways, or lounging on their doggie bed. And we think that being able to bring our dogs to work is a great perk here, so we had one of our biggest friends (Royal, an Irish Wolfhound that stands well over 6 feet tall when standing on his hind legs) give you a grand tour of Tundra – which is really more of a “pet me, please” tour.

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Meet Royal, or Royal’s point of view anyway. Aside from lounging, eating and shedding, Royal likes to do his daily round of meet-and-greet at Tundra. We think he helps us build productivity, and overall staff camaraderie. HR thinks Royal, and his other K9 friends, help make Tundra a “Pooch-topia.”

And studies have shown that dog-friendly workplaces make us all happier. According to American Pet Products, about 1.4 million owners took their dogs to work last year – that’s a lot of happy people!

So, we asked Royal what he thought about being so prolific to our work environment. And we think he summed it up quite well…

“Got rubbed and petted… my favorite!”

Thank you Royal for helping us bring more to the table!

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Do You Have a Special Request?

“Bringing OVER 60,000 Commercial Restaurant Supplies to the Table” is an accomplishment Tundra would like to yell from the mountain tops! Our assortment of products includes everything from restaurant equipment and parts, to kitchen supplies and disposables.  And with all of these products – from over 600 manufacturers – it’s hard to believe Tundra doesn’t carry everything the food service industry has to offer.

Brining over 60,000 commercial restaurant supplies to the table

Well, I have news for you… you can special order just about anything you gosh darn please for your restaurant!

Custom Size Products: Tundra has developed unique relationships with a variety of custom fabricators that can manufacture just about anything you’re looking for. The best part is that in some cases, custom products will save you money by avoiding manufacturer branding. Here are the types of products you can custom order:

  • Gaskets
  • Cutting Boards
  • Wire Shelving
  • Walk-in Doors
  • Equipment Legs
  • Drain Covers
  • Hood Filters

Just make sure you use care for the measurements and specifications when ordering because custom products are non-refundable.

Low Price Guarantee Badge

Equipment Requests: Tundra can track down and competitively price just about any piece of restaurant equipment. Whether you’re looking for a stylish counter top griddle, jumbo walk-in cooler, trendy espresso machine or an entire restaurant remodel, let us know your needs and we can provide you with a detailed quote. You can lease-to-own on orders from $1,000 – $150,000! Oh, and did I mention the Low Price Guarantee?

Non-Stock Replacement Parts: Can’t find what you need on the eTundra site? Easy peasy lemon squeezy, Tundra can special order just about anything.  OEM parts, specialty shop supplies, equipment needs, you name it – we get it.

Special requests are welcomed by our team. We have an entire department dedicated to product sourcing to satisfy customer needs. Seriously, try to stump us… call 1.888.388.6372 or contact us here today!


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NAFEM Scavenger Hunt

What is NAFEM

The NAFEM Show (North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers) in Orlando, Florida is the largest food service equipment and supplies solutions trade show in the country with over 500 exhibitors on display – that’s 760,000 square feet of exhibits!  Dealers and distributors, end users, food service manufacturers, consultants, designers, specialists, service technicians and business services will all be in attendance to see what’s hot and what’s not, what’s new and what’s old, and what’s to come in the food service industry.

Tundra has approximately 10 Tundraroos (i.e. Representatives) traveling from Colorado to Florida to explore NAFEM’s offerings, chat with new and existing vendors, seek new products and consume industry knowledge.


Game Details

To liven things up, I’ve created a scavenger hunt for those who plan on attending the NAFEM trade show. The first  to complete the scavenger hunt will receive a 2 week promotion on Tundra’s website!

The web promotion will include:

  • 705 x 80 homepage banner (website generates 190,000 monthly visits on average)
  • 1 Dedicated email to 12,000+ contacts
  • 1 Blog post (blog generates 14,000 monthly visits on average)
  • Social media shout out through Twitter (1,000+ followers) & Facebook (2,500+ fans)

Here’s What You Have to do

To be a contestant in our NAFEM scavenger hunt you are required to take a series of photos with our Tundraroos and tweet them with hash tag #TundraNAFEM included.

Pick any 5 of the following photos to tweet. Take a picture with a Tundraroo ______________.

The winner will be announced on February 11th, 2013 following the NAFEM show on Tundra’s twitter page (@eTundra).

Good luck, have fun and tweet away NAFEM attendees! Can’t wait to see your amazing Twitpics with Tundra’s Tundraroos!


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