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!