Dreaming big

by Kimberlie Clyma
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 Rastelli
Ray Rastelli Jr. (left) hopes to hand off the family business he started 40 years ago to his son Ray Rastelli III, who is currently vice president. 
 
When Ray Rastelli Jr. opened the Meat Stop as an 18-year-old, his first goal was to stay in business. His second goal was to add more customers. His dream didn’t go further than that – at first.He never dreamed of being able to add additional stores years later. He never dreamed of turning his butcher shop into a meat processing operation and distribution center that would ultimately supply meat to clients all over the country. And he certainly never imagined his business would go global.

“At the beginning of any project, I think you aspire to what is just out of reach and what this business has become is so much more than that,” Ray Jr. says. “When we first opened, all we had time to consider was what we had to do to stay open. Eventually, hoping for any customers turned in to hoping for regular customers. That gave way to imagining what the business could be with larger customers. Our imagination for what the business would look like in the future grew gradually at each milestone and continues to evolve today.”

Today, the business – now known as Rastelli Foods Group – is more than a butcher shop. “We are in retail, foodservice, e-commerce and export. And we process beef, pork, poultry, veal, lamb and seafood,” says Ray Rastelli III, vice president of Rastelli Foods Group. “We cross a lot of different fronts. We are a unique diversified business model.”

Business Evolution 

Three generations of Rastellis are part of Rastelli Foods Group today (See “All in the Family” sidebar on Page 22), but in 1976, the Meat Stop opened its doors with only Ray Rastelli Jr. at the helm. His father, Ray Rastelli Sr., who then worked in the smoked ham business as president of Blue Bird Foods, gave him $10,000 to start a business. With it, Ray Jr. opened a 5,000-sq.-ft. butcher shop, called the Meat Stop, in Oak Valley, New Jersey. He wanted to fill a void in his hometown by giving people a place to go to buy high-quality meat.
 
The shop did well and Ray Jr. went on to open a second store a few years later. In 1983, he invited his brother Tony to join the business – the two have been partners ever since.

With the continued success of the butcher shops, the Rastelli brothers’ customer base started expanding beyond traditional consumers to area restaurants. The restaurants asked the Rastellis to cut steaks for them, and soon this became a core part of their day-to-day operations. In the mid-80s, in order to handle orders from local restaurants in South Jersey and Greater Philadelphia, the brothers opened a 1,500-sq.-ft. production facility in the back of their Meat Stop store in Deptford, New Jersey. However, after six months the US Dept. of Agriculture informed them that as a retail operation they couldn’t sell directly to restaurants. The company converted to a USDA-inspected facility and its wholesale business was born.

By 1990, the Rastelli brothers owned and operated eight Meat Stop shops. Eventually all but one of the Meat Stop locations (the one in Deptford, New Jersey) were sold to independent buyers as the Rastellis’ attention re-focused on foodservice and meat processing. The Deptford location was kept open because not only was it the largest in both volume and square footage, but it was the original Rastelli processing facility.

In the early 90s, business continued to boom which led to another expansion into a 6,000-sq.-ft. plant, in a former furniture store, in 1993. Two years later, Rastelli Foods went national with its partnership with US Foods Inc., a foodservice distributor serving chefs and foodservice operators across the US. The business grew and sales grew, too. By 1999, the company that started as a butcher shop had annual sales of $10 million; and by 2001, $19 million.

As Rastelli Foods continued to grow, so did the company’s diversification. But the goals remained the same. “Our goal has always been and will always be to provide premium quality food products,” Ray Jr. explains. “What changed was the scope of our goals.”

Rastelli’s scope went global in 2002 when it began exporting food to US military operations in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. At the height of the war in Iraq, Rastelli was a primary food distributor to the US troops (shipping 300 containers per week) and a global food distributor in the Middle East. With the addition of this new distribution channel, the company’s sales reached $38 million. Rastelli Global, now a division of Rastelli Foods Group that’s located at a separate location a few miles from corporate headquarters, continues to distribute Rastelli products, in addition to other non-food products to more than 80 countries worldwide.

“When you grow from one small store to an international business with a diverse buyer portfolio, it can be difficult to scale your production and logistics up to meet the needs of everyone from a local family to a major chain of high-end restaurants or hotels,” Ray Jr. says. “Our unwavering commitment to quality throughout the process drives what products, clients and projects we take on.”

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