Three Generations strong
The 6,000-sq.-ft. processing plant and retail storefront, about 30 miles from New York City is landlocked, but the third-generation company isn’t allowing that to limit its growth or overshadow its institutional standing on the populous island where wineries, mansions and world-class restaurants dot the dynamic landscape.
“At one time we were the largest retail butcher shop on Long Island,” says Kent, who took over the company from his father in 1979 after working together for about 20 years. Today, that retail shop only comprises about 600 sq. ft., with the rest of the space used to cut meat for the wholesale business. “That is the way I learned the business; from my dad,” Kent says.
Growing up, Kent’s son, Lee, worked at the family business as a delivery driver until he embarked on a career as a music promoter after graduating from college. In his 30s, Lee shifted career gears and joined the family business in 2008. Now holding the title of president, Lee still works with his father and together the duo have seen annual sales grow about 20 percent in Kent’s first three years to approximately $15 million by 2011 and to more than $30 million today.
Kent attributes much of that success to expanding the customer base through the years, largely by establishing bonds with many of the up-and-coming chefs in the Northeast and solidifying those relationships by supplying them with premium meats their discerning diners expect and demand. Supplying customers that include New York’s iconic Peter Luger Steak House and the Garden City Hotel requires unwavering quality and relationships based on trust and quality assurance. The Bohlsen Restaurant Group is another one of the coveted, more prominently known foodservice customers the Seeligs work with in the Long Island market.
“They buy quite a bit of meat from us and that relationship is something that we are very proud of,” Lee says. The processor also supplies upwards of 70 country clubs and racket clubs in the Tri-State area it serves and also boasts high-profile hotels among its list of customers, including the Warwick Hotel and the Paramount Hotel as well as Trump Towers. With a fleet of delivery trucks, Main Street Wholesale Meats’ distribution radius is about 100 miles from its Farmingdale processing facility.
Main Street’s wholesale operations are comprised of several roles, including portion cutting, fabricators and order pickers. Portion cutting is led by a “head cutter” who’s been with the company for nearly 20 years. He oversees approximately five other cutters who fill orders that filter in throughout the day and into the wee hours of each morning.
Fabricators perform skilled processes, such as boning out legs of lamb, cutting up oxtails or boning out pork butts, Lee says, adding: “things you’re putting a knife to but it isn’t necessarily to a specific portion size.”
All of the positions require the expertise of a seasoned butcher, he says. “You may not need to be a master butcher, but you need to have very good knife skills.”
The human factor in meat cutting is essential to the success of the company and is a vital part of its history, as Kent remembers well and attests. Besides a single band saw used to portion bone-in product and a grinder for the chopped meat, “We do it all by hand,” he says, “the old fashioned way.”
The other part of the processing team includes order pickers, who typically don’t handle knives but must be knowledgeable about meat cuts and the company’s product line. Their jobs require familiarity with customer expectations and the ability to efficiently pull products and assemble orders.
Those orders come in at all hours, Lee says, some as early as 3 a.m. for delivery that same morning. “We don’t really have a cutoff. We’re doing everything essentially on the fly,” not unlike many of the restaurants the company serves, where customers’ meals are created to order. Order pickers, therefore, come in at 3 a.m. to ensure delivery trucks are on the road first thing in the morning.