Ask 100 folks in Corporate Hospitality “who is the #1 supplier of restaurant supplies?” and 99 of ‘em will name drop “SysCo.” By most accounts, half of them hold nary a clue as to what exactly SysCo supplies their establishments with. But sure as Kim fancies her a successive string of (a) previously obscure ballers, swinging big sticks or (b) au current microphone fiends with [conversely] smallish peckers – both groups of lovers being pre-qualified as wealthy and of the darker persuasion – folks sure as shit know the name, and that what SysCo sells them must be yummy. Now that’s got to be a result of either (1) ungodly clever and effective marketing (2) ruthless mafioso-like sales and business tactics (ala Walmart strong-arming supply chains, buying out any/all competition, bullying those who won’t sell, etc.) or (3) a combination of both. Who the hell knows really? In the end, what matters is this: SysCo (and similar industrialized distributorships) are bearers of mediocrity pure and simple.
SysCo, at least here in the North-East and strictly from my own personal observations, is the single most industrialized food distribution Goliath there is. And, they’re entrenched in politically odd pay-to-play relationships with a huge percentage of bars, restaurants, nightclubs, hotels, country clubs, catering facilities, and the like. Consequently, you have the problem. SysCo is extremely effective, and consistently profitable (albeit, at often low margins), playing man-in-the-middle. They function primarily as a wholesale distributorship – a clearing house, so to speak, for hundreds of millions of dollars worth of mundane mid-grade crap passed off as “premium.” Think Toyota Camry, Olive Garden “gourmet Italian” entrees, Marcal paper towels, and Bob’s Furniture “quality” leather couches.
Sysco provides everything from bev-naps, straws, and glasses; really shiteous, out-of-season, rock-hard citrus, and “gourmet” Wagu beef (flavor-enhanced by Topeka Community College’s top-tier chemists), Fromage de Chèvre flavored American cheese, non-Swiss Chard, and a boatload of just about everything else your venue – catering to obese middle-Americans – might need.
See the point? Happiness for the masses of the last decade or two (us Americans at least) appears to be rooted in ease of access, mechanical/computerized processing, extensive biological and chemical “improvements,” efficiencies of industrialized scale, and “pay someone else to do it,” – in other words, straight-up lazebomb’ishness. Health be damned.
Shop for clothes at Target, The Gap, Old Gravy, H&M, etc., and not only will you wind up looking like everyone else, you’ll look like everyone else looking like ass. The modern day economic system, has millions of us getting paid to grow our asses in a Herman Miller Aero-Chairs, basking under warm fluorescent fixtures, growing malignant little friends in our heads from inescapable, invisible radio frequency, and basking in the gamma of high-resolution monitors. Combined with ridiculously easy access to nourishment via the over-industrialized/commercialized food production/distribution monopolies, and the result is that many of us growing very accustomed to accepting absolute crap for food – because it’s become easy to acquire, relatively inexpensive, and hugely beneficial for corporate Net Operating Income.
The truth is that the wholesale industrial food complex in the United States, and its restaurant supplies, (epitomized by poster-boy SysCo), suck some major royal ass. Their supplies are purchased by practitioners of mediocrity (Hospitality Managers) and breed nothing but a happy little zombie wasteland of mediocrity. Take a stroll into just about any establishment in this country (not only New York), spend a few minutes looking around and you’ll see that we’ve been largely conditioned to accept it from a consumer perspective. The widespread
diseases successes known as chain restaurants (most notably: Applebees, The Olive Garden, Unos, Bennigans, Ruby Tuesday’s, etc) as well as the billions in revenue generated by the fast food behemoths prove my point. Well, not everyone has bought into this sorry excuse for food – certainly not me.
Buy generic, mass produced junk as a building block for your bar or restaurant’s dishes and cocktails, and what you’ll be left with is a generic, mass produced heaping pile of junk product. But hey, if the masses are loving it, what’s the problem? The problem is that we can do better - far better. We can be exceptional and reap the rewards from being so – if we choose.
Having lived in NYC the majority of my 40-something years, I’ve grown to despise it at this point. My kids’ entrenchment in their surroundings, their familiarity and resultant happiness, along with my wife’s acting/singing career currently keep me enslaved in Dracoville, Bloombergistan. I’d love nothing more than to sell, uproot and start fresh, on 5 – 10 cheap-ass acres down South, The Finger Lakes, live-free-or-die New Hampshire, or even the French countryside. Spending endless days renovating an old Gothic Victorian or Queen Anne spooky abode, and keeping my 1940′s tractor operable in order to harvest my corn, sounds a whole lot more like paradise to me – at this juncture – than my current situation. Dodging sweaty, stinky, overweight, businessmen who seem hell-bent on rubbing up on my ass courtesy of the rush-hour 6 train, while having my face pressed against the window, is no longer my idea of entertainment. A breath-taking and endless sea of “delightful” concrete, asphalt, steel and glass architectural shit-boxes, devoid of 19th century-like craftsmanship, with nary a patch of living grass to marvel at, are not scenes I enjoy. Enabling my own premature death from decades of (a) sucking in unavoidable diesel smog along with (b) consuming all that aforementioned hormone and preservative-marinated commercial food stuff in my current hometown, has worn me down. I want out.
Well, one thing that I can revel in is the fact that there’s something for everybody in this town at least. Whether you have a fetish for one-legged circus midgets licking your big, crusty toe or if you prefer to dabble in fried camel testicle distance throwing, or anything in between, New York City is has surely got all your options covered. That also means that – in Hospitality – there are hundreds, if not thousands, of bars/restaurants which do not fall into the SysCo trap. I defy you to audit the operations of Alain DuCasse’s venues (or any of the myriad of upstart, hipster’ish or trendy establishments) in this town and not find that their chefs, bar managers, and G.M.’s don’t purchase local, farm-fresh, and freshly-caught ingredients on a daily basis. I challenge you to perform reconnaissance and note which delivery trucks roll up on their sets in the afternoons. Chances are, they won’t be SysCo’s trucks. I can tell you first-hand, those that seek quality ingredients and exceptional cocktails are frequenting the myriads of NYC’s Farmers Markets and local fish markets. They’re buying from boutique merchants, small scale distributorships, and unique breweries/distillers. Many of them are crafting their own concoctions and base ingredients in-house.
The problem with far too many owners, managers – or whomever functions as buyers – is that they’re short-sighted. It’s not unlike the nightly shenanigans that occur at the bar, where countless phony-ass dudes make every effort to simply bed the hottest piece of ass available, rather than making any attempt to keep it real or getting to know anyone at all. Masses of buyers see only immediate cost-savings, not long-term guest retention, creating truly unique, exciting cocktails and dishes, nor hiring/training/maintaining Front-of-House staff who are truly engaging and subsequently, assets to the businesses long-term bottom-line income.
So, go on… eat at the SysCo trough if you will. You get out of something what you put into it.