Jordano’s CEO, who navigated the company through rough waters, emerges stronger, smarter and ready to celebrate its 100th anniversary.
For 99 years, Jordano’s Foodservice has embraced its roots as a family-owned, passionate purveyor of food.
From its early start in 1915 as Jordano Brothers Grocery Market in Santa Barbara, to the full-service distributor Jordano’s Foodservice is today, Jordano’s has faced its challenges head on with dedication, innovation and service.
For nearly a century, Jordano’s has weathered many a turbulence– from the Great Depression to the great recession. Its secret? Whether changing the way people shop for groceries or realigning an entire business, adaptation has been Jordano’s key to survival and success.
The story of Jordano’s Foodservice began long ago when sacrifice and a family promise to stick together propelled the food distributor through decades of economic ebbs and flows. The Jordano’s story continues today due to an unwavering commitment to quality, customer service and serving the community.
Call Me “Pete”
At the current helm is Peter C. Jordano, son to one of the four founding Jordano brothers, who repositioned the company away from delivering fresh food and into distributing fresh food.
People don’t call him Mr. Jordano . . . he’s Pete.
Pete’s no-nonsense approach to his name parallels his 56 years in business. To Pete, it’s a simple equation where people, plus a dedication to quality and customer service, equals success. Frankly, that mentality hasn’t changed since the early 1900s when his grandfather, James Jordano, paved the way for the Jordano family.
As an industrious Italian immigrant, James saw that America offered great opportunity and taught his four sons the value of hard work and enterprise. They opened a small Santa Barbara grocer and grew it into a successful tri-county store chain. Their steadfast mentality has never waned, and today Jordano’s maintains that same tireless spirit of prospect.
In the mid-70s, Pete took a progressive stand, turning the family-owned company away from the debt of a post-Vietnam recession and carrying Jordano’s through a reinvention. He will be the first to tell anyone that difficult decisions mean refocusing, not losing sight.
“That was a terribly tough decision to shift the business away from the roots as a successful family-owned grocery chain and restructure it as a distribution business,” says Pete, whose leadership saved the company and grew the new business, Jordano’s Inc., 500 percent within the first decade.
Dedication to Employees
Recognizing the value its employees bring to the table is a strong link in the company’s success.
Pete takes a great deal of pride in the longevity of his 546 employees. The average employee has a 16 year history with the company, and 106 employees have been with the company an astounding 20+ years.
Pete says he considers the entire team at Jordano’s to be extended family. A company picnic is held annually for employees and their families at the Santa Barbara Zoo to celebrate the family facet that Jordano’s so strongly embodies.
Top-Notch Service to Customers
Above all, service to its customers has always been the paramount focus of Jordano’s. That is why, for Jordano’s, customer loyalty has always been earned in simplistic ways and never taken for granted.
“At Jordano’s we practice a lost art – thanking people for their business. We stress to our drivers and order- takers the importance of saying ‘thank you.’ It’s the most basic thing, but we don’t take those orders for granted …ever,” Pete emphasizes.
Even when Pete travels, whether to New York or Dallas, he’s always thinking of his customers. His favorite traveling pastime? Menu collecting.
“If I’m in another city for a meeting, I stop into a steak house or a pizza shop and bring back the menus. Then I deliver them to some of our customers. It gives them new ideas of what other establishments are serving,” says Pete, who has even purchased rare stamps from various countries for a stamp-collecting customer.
Adaptation and Innovation
Much has changed from those early days of business to the high-tech world of today, but Jordano’s ability to adapt and innovate – all toward the goal of customer service – has been critical to its success and longevity.
For instance, customer service requires accuracy. Technology has afforded Jordano’s the ability to elevate order taking and fulfillment to precise levels. To lessen the incidence of any errors, Jordano’s implemented a voiced hearing order system which helps fulfillment teams walk to the exact aisle and bin and, not only read what a customer needs, but hear it, too. “It simply eliminates errors. When an order picker reads ‘5-pound pack’ and then hears it, the error rate drop is phenomenal,” says Pete.
Creating a proliferation of products and making them available to customers also breeds culinary innovation. Take, for example, the use of a product Jordano’s introduced 25 years ago: arugula. “You just didn’t see that spicy green on the menu then. In order for our customers to survive, they too, need to be fresh and innovative with their menus. It’s only natural that a food distributor should be as innovative with products,” says Pete, who insists on providing continuing education.
Every two years Jordano’s hosts its extremely popular Food & Equipment Show at the Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara. The show is the largest foodservice industry event in Central California and draws nearly 250 manufacturers to introduce new products to the Jordano’s team and its customers. Jordano’s also has an on-site test kitchen and Jim Tapee Training Center (with seating for up to 65) for spotlight cuttings, product trainings and related events.
Jordano’s also utilizes its partnership with UniPro Foodservice, Inc. – the largest foodservice distribution network in the United States – to bring its customers unique training opportunities and tools like Operator’s Edge which is a monthly, online newsletter from UniPro offering exciting industry news and trends along with access to UniPro+Plus where Jordano’s customers can access features like menu design engineering and discount credit card processing services.
As a full-service distributor, Jordano’s takes pride in being the sole supplier to a wide array of businesses. Being the sole supplier allows Jordano’s to pass along great savings to its customers. When customers use a handful of suppliers to operate their business, the cost efficiencies decline and it’s likely they aren’t getting best pricing from each supplier. It’s also taxing on the customer who is charged with coordinating orders from multiple sources.
“We hope people choose to work with Jordano’s, but ultimately we want them to enjoy long-term success, so we’ll suggest they consolidate their needs into one supplier for the profitability and viability of all parties involved,” says Pete, adding that the most important part of the relationship with his customers is open, honest communication. “Sharing openly about what our customers need from us as a supplier and what we as a supplier need from our customers to be fiscally healthy is extremely important.”
Succession – No Easy Street
As a family-owned business, a blood line doesn’t entitle anyone to anything at Jordano’s. Instead, bringing value to the table along with experience and a strong work ethic might get you invited to the interview.
In fact, less than one percent of employees actually belong to the Jordano’s bloodline, and Pete says the company has evolved from a family business to a very professional family-oriented company. The company is run by an outside board of directors – three out of the five have no direct relationship to the company.
While Pete has no interest in retiring, he is looking to his 52-year-old son, Jeff, to take the reins someday. Jeff has already proven his fierce work ethic and drive to succeed as the current President and General Manager of Jordano’s and Pacific Beverage Company.
“He’s had to prove himself with an education and experience outside of Jordano’s. You have to earn your way into the business, that’s the only way it can continue successfully without baggage,” says Pete, who’s been integral in making that a prerequisite since he earned his own stripes 56 years ago.
Pete’s experience with the highs and lows of the industry has shown him that a commitment to service and an eye to adaptation and innovation will continue to earn Jordano’s customer and employee loyalty and success into the next 100 years.