While Tampa economic development officials chase a starry corporate headquarters — GE is one target — the Gulf Coast region has a shot at a quieter triumph.
That company, Metz Culinary Management, doesn't have a globally recognizable name. But in the foodservice industry, especially in colleges and medical facilities, Metz is a big player.
With a concentration of business on the east coast, Metz has about $200 million in annual sales and more than 6,000 employees. It's a top 20 foodservice firm in the country, according to rankings from trade publication Food Management.
Metz is based in rural northeast Pennsylvania, in a town, Dallas, that's about 125 miles from both Philadelphia and New York. That's where executive chairman John Metz founded the business in 1994, in his second go in the industry. Although Metz, a Pittsburgh native who started his career in the 1960s washing dishes at a family-style restaurant, has roots and connections in Pennsylvania, he says it's not likely a forever home. The corporate office has about 75 employees; most of the payroll is dispersed on the sites of clients.
“It's something we consider every day,” says Metz in regards to a corporate relocation. “Florida is a business-oriented state, and Pennsylvania is not a business-friendly state.”
Metz Culinary Management has had business in Florida for years, mostly on the east coast and mostly by following requests of clients in the Northeast with additional business here.
Metz himself is no stranger to the Gulf Coast, having vacationed on Anna Maria Island and other area spots for 40 years. He's also a Florida resident, and he recently sold a home on Bird Key. He now lives with his wife in a downtown Sarasota condo.
Besides Metz living here, the company has another connection: In 2013 it opened a regional office for the Southeast in Sarasota, run by area executive Jack Brill. That office has been a big growth spot for the company, adding accounts at colleges in Sarasota, Tampa, Tallahassee, Orlando and Miami. Area accounts include New College of Florida in Sarasota and Hillsborough Community College. The company is also considering opening a commissary in Florida.
“We're really excited about the growth here,” says Metz. “People are moving to Florida. It's a growth state. There is a ton of business for us.”
In Florida and other markets, Metz attributes a chunk of the firm's success to nimbly combining two opposite traits: One is executing a big-company approach on service, training and food quality. The other is maintaining a family-focused, folksy approach, where clients get answers quickly. Metz, for example, will join Brill on sales calls, both in the Sarasota area and as far away as Tennessee. “When people talk to our company, they are talking to the owners,” says Metz. “We compete with the big boys, and they don't have that.”
Metz's first foodservice company was Custom Management Corp., which grew to $450 million in annual sales and 12,000 employees. He sold it to Morrison's Hospitality Group in 1987, and then left the industry for a bit. But he was drawn back, both from a passion for the industry and to work with his children. Says Metz: “The challenge of growing a business is the most fun you could have.”
Follow Mark Gordon on Twitter @markigordon