During the daytime hours, Curtze Food Service hums with activity. Warehouse workers steer forklifts among towering shelves, and seafood cutters keep busy slicing into fresh fish.
But the real action starts after normal business hours, when that hum turns into a hubbub.
The warehouse staff hustles to fill orders as delivery trucks rumble in, ready to be filled up and sent on their way, whisking Curtze customers’ orders to points across an eight-state area.
On a recent tour during a relatively quiet afternoon, company President Bruce Kern gestures to a line of 10 bay doors.
“These doors will open and close five times a night” as trucks pull in, says Bruce, who runs the family business with his brother, company Vice President Scott Kern. The warehouse operates round-the-clock during the week to fulfill orders for grocery items, produce, fresh seafood and more.
The efficient, streamlined operation is quite a change from the company that started back in 1878, when an enterprising Curtze ancestor launched a wholesale business to serve the oil drillers and lumber camps that populated northwestern Pennsylvania.
Today, the company – now run by the fifth generation of Curtze descendents – operates three distribution centers (in Erie, Cleveland and Rochester, New York) and utilizes a fleet of 125 refrigerated trucks to serve about 8,500 customers.
And, as Bruce Kern says simply, “We’re growing.”
About Curtze Food Service: The company, which distributes all manner of food and food service equipment – everything but alcoholic beverages, the Kerns say – specializes in “center of the plate” products like hand-cut fresh seafood and meat. The company also distributes fresh produce, some of which comes from growers in the Erie region. All told, Curtze employs between 650 and 700 employees – around 270 of those in Erie County.
Why Erie County: The company’s roots long predate the Kerns, but they seem content with their company’s home. “I’m not one of these guys who is down on his hometown. I happen to think we have a lot going on in Erie,” Bruce Kern says. In addition, Curtze Food Services has found valuable resources in local organizations like the Manufacturer & Business Association and the Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership.
Challenges of Erie County: The biggest challenges facing Curtze Food Service come from location – both at a local level and, more broadly, at a regional level. The company’s current footprint, as Scott Kern describes, “is not a perfect fit” – surrounding properties have the company penned in, preventing expansion at its eastside Erie site. As it is, the company’s specialty meat-cutting facility is down the street from the main office and warehouse. In addition, situating a distribution center on a lake shore has its own set of challenges – namely, that it restricts distribution to a swath of territory to the north.
Fun fact: Curtze’s meat cutters must complete an 18-month apprentice program.