Featured SEFAPros Archive – 2019

Tom Hubbard, Dick’s Restaurant Supply, Seattle, WA

Tom would say he has been in the foodservice industry almost his entire life.  After several jobs as a dishwasher, prep cook and line cook, he earned a degree in Hotel/Restaurant Management from Oregon State University and moved into management.

After managing restaurants for twelve years, he purchased a restaurant in Washington. “My first hard knocks lesson came from purchasing a restaurant that was right in the middle of a highway construction project. It became an off ramp after two years,” says Hubbard. Following his restaurant he worked at Sysco Food Service for seven years and moved on to Food Services of America and Restaurant Depot.

Tom has been with Dick’s Restaurant Supply for almost five years and couldn’t be happier. “I would say my primary role is to work with one of the largest foodservice distributers in the NW as their equipment supplier.  I work with about one hundred sales reps between Southeast Alaska and Washington State. We provide full service sales opportunities from receiving the product to inspection, assembly, and delivery,” says Hubbard.

Chad Johnstun, Vice president of Dick’s Restaurant Supply said, “Tom is dedicated and always looks to add value with a how-can-we-do-it attitude.”

Understanding the needs of your customers and striving for their success puts you in a whole different league.

Tom has a passion for turning problems into opportunities.  “I believe in strengthening relationships with customers by building trust and providing solutions.  I enjoy selling the right tool for the right job, it may not be what they were originally looking for, but becomes the correct solution,” says Hubbard.

Tom enjoys taking the consultative approach with customers, making their purchases less overwhelming. “I look for ways to show foodservice professionals how much profit they can potentially earn with a change of equipment. On expensive items, I may create an excel spreadsheet where they can enter information and manipulate it based on their personal knowledge.  For example, a soft serve ice cream machine can be scary when you show the price, but when you also show the potential sales and profit to provide a return on their investment it makes sense and their decision becomes easier,” says Hubbard.

Tom is very successful in the SEFAPro program. He recently reached Level 3 status. “After attending my first SEFA conference, I knew that I was part of an elite training organization. I could never have achieved my success without Dick’s Restaurant Supply sending me to SEFAPro training. The training is well organized and direct to the point. I have learned different sales methods and solutions just by having discussions with fellow SEFAPros at meals and functions. The factory relationships I have made are valuable and instrumental when challenged with a production challenge. I take advantage of SEFA’s ongoing live web-based training and the ability to search their recorded training webinars at any time for new ideas or to learn just about anything in the industry,” says Hubbard.

Tom had this to say about people who have inspired him and helped in his career along the way, “When I decided to focus on equipment instead of food, I quickly learned how much I didn’t know. I relied on several people for help. One person in particular was Mike Hoye, a factory rep with Vollrath at the time. I can’t tell you how many stupid questions I asked him, even on items that were not in his product mix. He helped me a lot!!  There is a reason that almost 10 years later Mike is my Sales Manager at Dicks Restaurant Supply. I have a long term friend, George Trainer, who I could call at any time with questions, and finally my local broker rep groups, especially Tom Wilkens (RHI) who has been extremely helpful on a number of projects while providing additional factory training opportunities. I want to thank everyone who has had an impact on my career,” says Hubbard.

Tom lives in Lacey Washington, about 70 miles south of Seattle. “My family is my life. My wife is the most amazing woman and extremely supportive. I spend a lot of time with my children. My oldest son and I meet weekly for dinner. We rotate and try to explore every new place around. My other son has a two year old that I can never get enough time spoiling. I like to ride my motorcycle on back country highways and when I need to get out of the city I ride my ATV, sometimes in the Oregon dunes but mostly in the Olympic Mountains. To ride 50 miles into complete wilderness and then eat lunch on a scenic over view is peaceful. But of course, nothing releases stress more than an adrenalin rush from pushing the edge of your skill level on the side of a mountain.

SEFA is proud to recognize Tom Hubbard as January’s Featured SEFAPro. Tom is dedicated to staying on top of industry trends and learning about new equipment and supply solutions for his customers.  He builds relationships based on integrity, honesty, and trust. He is a true asset to the foodservice industry. Congratulations, Tom!

Samantha Thompson, Oswalt Restaurant Supply,
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Samantha has been in the foodservice industry for over nineteen years. She gained her early experience by working on the end-user side for fourteen years. For the last five and a half years, Samantha worked on the equipment and supply side after happily taking a position with Oswalt Restaurant Supply.

“I started in high school as a busser and hostess. I began training to be a server the week before I was 18 and started bartending a week after I turned 21. A few years later, I was managing a local sports bar chain. The shift from end-user to dealer came when I was looking to find something with more consistent, day-time hours. I ran across an ad for an inside sales rep with Oswalt, and thought, “Well, I’ve been selling the food for years, surely I can sell the equipment that makes it,” says Thompson.

Samantha has been with Oswalt for 5-1/2 years. She spent her first year as an inside sales representative before becoming a project manager. “Fun fact: I actually thought I was going to be the assistant to our Project Manager, until I accepted my new position and was informed that my role would be Project Manager,” says Thompson.

As a project manager, Samantha’s role includes taking a project through from start to finish. She also compiles and submits bids, submittal brochures, coordinates with general contractors and crews during installation periods, prepares close-out documents for the owner, and manages warranty issues.

Loving what you do with the ability to step outside your comfort zone to achieve your goals, is rewarding on so many levels.

“My position as a project manager has pushed me far outside of my comfort zone and has enabled me to grow professionally as well as personally. I have gained and strengthened skills that I will be able to carry forth no matter what I do in the future. I enjoy that this is a fast paced, ever-changing industry, and I learn something new every day,” says Thompson.

Oswalt is a strong believer in training and equipping their team with resources to help them be more successful. Samantha is very successful in the SEFAPro program, working hard and moving forward. 

“SEFA training has greatly increased my knowledge of equipment throughout the years. Even though I had spent many years in the restaurants, I was mostly front-of-house and my exposure to equipment was minimal. I was overwhelmed by the expansiveness of equipment when I began working for Oswalt. The SEFA webinars were a great way to begin learning about equipment and manufacturers within our buying group. The product knowledge and growing relationships I have gained from attending the sales conferences has greatly increased my confidence as a sales person,” says Thompson.

Here’s what Jeff Martin, Vice President of Oswalt, had to say about Samantha, “Samantha (Sam) is a team player with a capital T. She is always ready to help out with any technical or equipment issues that other employees run into. She started out on our showroom floor selling smallwares and has continued to learn and grow into now overseeing million dollar kitchen projects. Just this year we asked her to be our company SEFA Ambassador and she was more than happy to take on that task. It gives our entire staff great pleasure that she has been selected for this SEFA honor.”

Samantha lives in a small-town west of Oklahoma City where she grew up.  She finds it to be a great place to raise her teenage daughter. Samantha loves being outside and says she would rather mow the yard than do housework. She describes the things most important to her, “My relationship with God and my family are my top priorities. My mom and stepdad host family dinners almost every Sunday. The table is set for 23, which includes most of my siblings and nieces and nephews.  I love spending time with my friends, either grabbing coffee, dinner or attending a weekend retreat. My daughter and I both enjoy camping, hiking and kayaking. I have completed 3 Half Marathons and was recently nominated as Oswalt’s 2019 SEFAPro Ambassador.”

SEFA is proud to recognize Samantha Thompson as Featured SEFAPro. Samantha is dedicated to staying on top of industry trends and learning about new equipment and supply solutions for her customers.  She builds relationships based on integrity, honesty, and trust. We are very excited that Samantha was appointed the role of SEFAPro Ambassador for Oswalt Restaurant Supply. Congratulations, Samantha!

Brandy Muniz, Manning Brothers, Athens, GA

Brandy joined the industry at the age of 15, when she started working for Chick-fil-A. She recalls her role to include taking orders, occasionally battering chicken, making Dream Cones, and of course scrubbing floors. She did whatever needed to be done – no surprise there. Following Chick-fil-A, she worked for Ryan’s Family Steakhouse, which she says was truly a wonderful experience. She made it a point to cross-train in every position while she was there. “Cross-training made me very valuable to the company, because if the dishwasher did not show, I could do it. If the grill needed a cook, I could do it. If the buffet needed stocking, I could do that. If the bakery cakes needed prep, yep, I could do it. If tables needed waiting or a cashier was needed, that was me too,” says Muniz.

Brandy left Ryan’s and moved on to work with animals for nine years at a boarding facility and veterinary hospital. “I have a HUGE love for animals, so this was something I really enjoyed,” says Muniz.

She had a beautiful baby boy named Brody in 2012, which is when she started to explore other opportunities. “I was looking for a change that would be more flexible and allow me to grow in my career, while raising my son,” says Muniz.

Success is when that perfect opportunity comes along that matches where you are going and utilizes where you have been.

In her search for new opportunities, she found the one that would change her life. “My Nana, Margie Secor, a long-time sales rep for Manning Brothers, told me about an open position that needed to be filled right away. I called, got an interview, and was offered the position. It was a no brainer. It has been the best thing I could have ever done for my son and for me. The people at Manning are amazing and it is truly like a family,” says Muniz. Brandy has been with Manning Brothers for 5-1/2 years and is currently an outside sales rep. She couldn’t be happier. Some of the accounts she handles include schools, churches, and small restaurants.

Chuck Day, President of Manning Brothers, had this to say about Brandy, “She is one of the first to jump into a project and get it to completion. She and I have been working on ways to boost her sales and she has made some suggestions that will help her build her customer base and help the company. She also LISTENS. I realize I talk A LOT, but Brandy writes it down and reports back to me what worked, what didn’t. We continue to grow as a team, and she is an integral part of that growth.”

Brandy loves everything about this industry. “This industry is interesting for sure. The thing I love most about what I do, is that every day I am learning something. No two jobs are the same. I am lucky to work for a company that encourages growth and product education. There are so many great mentors/tutors at Manning Brothers, people that have worked here for two and three decades. When I have questions or need help understanding something, there is always someone knowledgeable who is willing to help,” says Muniz.

Wonderful things happen when you step out of your comfort zone.

Brandy is a very successful Level 3 SEFAPro. “SEFA training has helped me a lot. Product training is always a huge benefit for me, but the networking, I see more and more value from every day. I am typically a somewhat shy person, but we all know SEFA is big on networking. SEFA has definitely taught me that it is ok to come out of your comfort zone and talk to people, listen to people, and ask questions from others in the industry,” says Muniz.

This is what Brandy had to say when asked who inspires her and has helped her to get to where she is today, “As I mentioned before, my Nana has been a sales rep at Manning Brothers for over 30 years and that says a lot about this company and this Industry. Manning Brother’s President, Chuck Day, has always been so patient with me, and always encourages me to be organized and pay attention! I am so blessed to have a boss that wants me to succeed and is always willing to teach me. I love that he challenges me.”

Brandy lives in Lexington, located in Oglethorpe County, with her seven-year-old son Brody. “We love camping at the lake and being outside with our many animals. Brody is into playing basketball and soccer. Although, life is very busy for us, I would not trade the chaos for anything in the world! THANK YOU, CHUCK DAY AND SEFA,” says Muniz.

SEFA is very proud to recognize Brandy Muniz as Featured SEFAPro. She is a goal setter and a goal achiever. She has a thirst for knowledge and is a very focused learner. Brandy works hard with unlimited levels of perseverance. Her sincere and genuine disposition is a delight to everyone she meets. Congratulations, Brandy!

Bolt Bolton, Avanti Restaurant Solutions, Costa Mesa, CA

“I have been working in this industry for over 30 amazing years,” says Bolt. Bolt started as a bus-back at a family owned Mexican restaurant at the age of 13 and was hooked. She loved the fast-paced environment, incredible food and interesting people from the first day. Over the course of her career she spent time with Coco’s, Bel Air Market, F.McLintocks, Scott’s Seafood, Jamba Juice (16 years) and Trader Joe’s, to name a few. “I love developing people and building teams to support my passion for taking care of my customers. I have held many roles including server, bartender, manager, multi-unit manager, senior training store manager, project manager, senior account manager and sparklesaurus,” says Bolt.

There couldn’t be a better match of employer and employee, than Avanti Restaurant Solutions and Bolt Bolton. “I have been blessed to spend the past seven years at Avanti Restaurant Solutions. I have always been attracted to companies that talk about, invest in and celebrate their values. Avanti is bar-none the most incredible culture-based company I have ever been a part of. Every single decision I make either builds up or takes away from our culture. I choose to build and try to emulate this practice with each of my co-workers. We applaud healthy conflict and celebrate wins daily, even when we make mistakes,” says Bolton.

In her role as Senior Account Manager at Avanti, Bolt primarily works with regional and national chain accounts throughout the US and Canada. “My teams are comprised of dedicated sales professionals that consistently exceed my customers’ expectations. We focus on new restaurant openings, remodels and resupply from initial design throughout project completion and beyond. I utilize my experience in working in ops, training and management within restaurants to relate to the needs of my clients. I am a Solutionary, I provide solutions based on meeting my customer’s needs. I am always striving to learn new things, get uncomfortable and to go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is,” says Bolt.

Bolt enjoys what she does and it truly shows. “I love that I get to influence my customers and my team to make informed and educated decisions for our accounts and projects. I also love mentoring people and building teams of individuals working towards a common goal. I appreciate systems and processes for training my teams and holding people accountable. I also seek to create situations to have fun, at Avanti we work hard and play harder!” says Bolt.

Avanti is a strong supporter of SEFA training and is known for their passion to provide all the resources they can for the success of each individual on their team. Bolt is an ambassador of the SEFAPro program.  She is a Level 3 and climbing fast. “The thoroughness and dedication to learning that SEFA provides is unparalleled in this industry. The SEFAPro program is robust, engaging and relevant. Who knew there were so many things to learn about a combi oven! From E&S101, Sales101, live product webinars, National Sales Conferences and Academies, if you have a thirst for knowledge SEFA will help you quench it! After each training I have found juicy nuggets of information that I am able to teach back to my team and translate into sales!  The SEFA staff truly cares about every person in every Dealership. The quality and commitment to our professional and personal growth is inspiring,” says Bolt.

We asked Bolt about who has inspired her and helped her to get to where she is today.  Here’s what she had to say…

“Two people come to mind instantly when considering this question. Jason Bolton, my husband, is my rock, he keeps me grounded when I fly too high. He is incredibly supportive when I work late, travel for sales and projects. He has the uncanny ability to keep our life on track. He loves me when I don’t have time to love myself. He is kind, goofy, fun, adventurous and an all-around terrific man. My mother often said he is “the gold star among men”. I am blessed to share my life with him.

Jenn Pollack, my mentor and boss, is always supportive of my wild ideas!  She has the magical ability to either join me or pull me down out of the crazy tree when needed.  She urges me to be more today than I was yesterday. She knows who I am at my core and reminds me of that when I lose sight of it. Jenn always has time to listen to me and provide invaluable insight from her unique perspective. With Jenn, I am empowered to make decisions because I know she always has my back. She is a phenomenal leader!”

Bolt is just enjoying life. “I live in beautiful, sunny Sacramento, CA. I have been happily married to Jason for nearly 17 years and we are giving our all to creating and inspiring three incredible human beings, Juliana (15), Jackson (13), Jeremiah (11). When not at Avanti, I can be found driving kids to and from soccer, water polo, baseball or school. Shout out to my extended village, I couldn’t do what I do without a support team of incredible people, from in-laws to outlaws, carpooling families and friends. I am so thankful and fortunate to share this journey with you. In my free time, I enjoy Sunday Night Trivia, playing golf, hiking in the Sierras, camping, attending concerts, and taking long walks with my newest love, Jake! He is a short-legged Jack Russell Terrier with boundless energy that fits right into our wonderful, crazy life,” says Bolton.

SEFA is proud to recognize Bolt (Jen) Bolton as Featured SEFAPro. She brings energy to everything she does and to everyone around her. Bolt has a desire to grow and is a natural leader. She is always striving to better her best. She is not afraid to work hard to achieve successful results for Avanti, her customers, her family, her friends and herself.  Congratulations, Bolt!

Sarah Auge, B&G Restaurant Supply, Pittsfield, MA

If you’ve attended SEFA training, chances are Sarah Auge of B&G is someone you know and love. This is definitely the sentiment of SEFAPros, Supplier Trainers, and the SEFA team.  We first recognized Sarah as a Featured SEFAPro in 2004, at the very inception of the SEFAPro program.

Sarah has been in the foodservice industry for 26 years. She started working at Jimmy’s Restaurant at the age of 14. During her early years, she held positions as a waitress, bartender, and banquet server. “I also, along with my sisters, have grown up helping my mother with her cake business,” says Auge.

Sometimes an opportunity is presented, a decision is made, and our life is changed forever.

Joining B&G was a milestone for Sarah. “I was working at a bank when Gloria Powers said she was looking for someone in the office to fill the accounts payable position that had just opened.  Tired of counting other people’s money, I said sure and the rest is history,” says Auge. Sarah has been with B&G for 19 years and couldn’t be happier.

Sarah started her career at B&G with an Accounts Payable position, while also helping the two outside salespeople with their orders.  “When the outside sales reps retired, I took over most of their accounts.  As B&G grew, I moved out of accounting and concentrated primarily on sales,” says Auge.  Sarah is now the Regional Sales Manager.  Her accounts include Mohegan Sun Casino both in Connecticut and Pennsylvania, along with UCONN, Canyon Ranch, and New Haven Public Schools, just to name a few.  She also assists in purchasing and inventory management at their Pittsfield location. “I love that no matter how long I have been doing this, I still learn something new every single day,” says Auge.

B&G has always stressed the importance of training and has been a strong supporter of the SEFAPro program.  Sarah has been very successful in the program since day one. She has achieved the highest level in the program and is currently a Level 7 SEFAPro. She is ServSafe Certified and has recently earned her CFSP. Sarah loves participating in training and helping others around her. “SEFA has helped me more than they will ever know.  All the lifelong friendships and connections I have made are priceless to me!  I know I can pick up the phone and call anyone of my SEFA family members and they would be there!  From a professional standpoint, the training is invaluable!  Every time I leave a training, I know the information I just left with will help me almost daily,” says Auge.

Happiness is… being inspired by someone very special.

We asked Sarah who has inspired her and helped her to be successful. “Gloria Powers started this company from nothing back in 1985.  I only wish she were here to see us at #47 on FE&S Magazine’s 2019 Distribution Giants!  I feel honored to know I am a part of the amazing growth of B&G.  Gloria worked every single day and made it look effortless!  She barely ever raised her voice and kept calm in many stressful situations.  She always pushed me to do my best knowing there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do, if I tried.  There is a picture of Gloria and her husband Bernie on top of my desk and I look at it every day!  She was truly a class act and I am still here because of her!” says Auge.

Sarah lives in Pittsfield with her partner Bill and their two gorgeous daughters, Sadiya and Peyton.  Singing is her passion and she is currently involved with an organization that does dinner shows to raise money for different organizations/charities.  “My family and I like to go camping. We just love spending time with each other.  I am a major New England sports fan and the New England Patriots football team is my other passion!  Anyone who has ever sat with me during a game while away at a conference knows about that!  I also love the Boston Celtics, the Red Sox, cooking, movies, and any “Paint and Sips” I can attend,” says Auge.

SEFA is proud to recognize Sarah Auge, for a second time as Featured SEFAPro.  She is passionate, professional focused, and fun.  She works hard with a get-it-done attitude. Sarah is a natural leader and sets a great example of what it means to be successful. Congratulations, Sarah!

Phil Rivera, ADE Foodservice Equipment & Design, Addison, Illinois

Phil began his career in the foodservice industry over eighteen years ago.  While still in school for computer aided drafting, Phil joined a company called Byczek Enterprises. His first project was creating the equipment layout, electrical, plumbing, and mechanical drawings for a new Wendy’s location. He recalls it to be a very intimidating yet rewarding project.

Phil is proud to say that he has been with ADE Foodservice Equipment & Design since August of 2016. He is a Project Manager at ADE and his role includes working with customers and their architects on initial layout and design, creating specifications once the layout is complete, and then moving into the quoting and purchasing phases. He also coordinates the delivery of the equipment to the warehouse being used and schedules the delivery and installation with their crew. Among other things, he manages the installation of his projects from beginning to end.

When you get sincere joy out of seeing the happiness your work brings to your customers, the rewards of your achievements are magnified by a million.

“I enjoy watching our projects go from conceptual design into a fully operational establishment. It is always great to see the staff in awe when they walk in for the first time!” says Rivera.

Phil is very successful in the SEFAPro program. He is currently a Level 3 SEFAPro and is moving up quickly.  “The level of training that SEFA offers blows away the other groups. Attending SEFA conferences and academies has taught me how to be a better salesperson. I have learned invaluable selling techniques and more effective ways to listen to my customers and understand their needs. The in-depth product knowledge has also been a huge benefit in helping me select the proper equipment for my customers,” says Rivera.

We asked Phil who has inspired him and has had an impact on his success. Here’s what he had to say, “I had a mentor when I first started my career. Unfortunately, he has since passed. He only had daughters, so I was like the son he never had. He provided me with a wealth of knowledge and he always believed in me and my abilities. He pushed me to do better and never got upset when I made a mistake, some bigger than others.  I would not be where I am without his support,” says Rivera.

Phil lives in Westchester, Illinois which is about 15 miles from downtown Chicago. He has lived in and around Chicago his entire life. He is happily married to his beautiful wife. They have two children, one boy (8) and one girl (5). He enjoys sports, mainly football, and baseball.  Most of all, he enjos spending time with his family. “I look forward to continuing to learn and grow with SEFA!” says Rivera.

SEFA is proud to recognize Phil Rivera as Featured SEFAPro. The 110% he puts into everything he does makes it impossible for him to achieve anything short of success.  He is a great family man and a good friend to many. He is dedicated to the industry, ADE, his customers, and his colleagues. His passion for knowledge and his desire to share it with his customers makes him a very valuable player in our industry.  Congratulations, Phil!

James Baldwin, Thompson & Little, Fayetteville, NC

James has been in the foodservice industry for 24 years, he is a proud Marine Corps Veteran, and he is celebrating his anniversary with Thompson & Little this week.  It’s a fitting time to celebrate his service and his accomplishments as we gear up for the 4th of July weekend!

His first experience in a commercial kitchen setting was during Marine Corps boot camp in San Diego. “Each training platoon had to do a week of kitchen duty. After boot camp, I was assigned to infantry training up the coast at Camp Pendleton. While waiting for the next training cycle, I received more kitchen duty (this was before it was outsourced),” says Baldwin.

James spent 9-1/2 months in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during the first Gulf War and was sent to Somalia in December that same year because of the desert training and combat experience his unit had. He finished his final year of his Marine Corps tour in Okinawa, Japan. “I had a first sergeant that always said, ‘In life, you can always learn from your mistakes, but in combat, they can kill you’.”

After his tour, James continued in the foodservice industry as an installer before moving into project management. As he progressed, he took on bidding, managing, and installing projects. As a result of his increased interest in design, he went back to school to get a CAD degree.

James joined the Thompson & Little team four years ago on July 1st.  He is responsible for territory sales based out of Raleigh. His role includes sales and design for Northeastern North Carolina and Southeastern Virginia, with clientele from Charlotte, North Carolina to Manassas, Virginia.

Drew O’Quinn, Vice President of Thompson & Little, had this to say, “James has all the qualities of a great DSR. He is very thorough and detailed. He is a solution provider and can connect with the customer, and James is always thirsting for more knowledge. He’s been very active in the SEFA training program, which has translated into sales growth. He is a great representative of Thompson & Little and the SEFA family.”

When your meaning of success is to make others successful, you can’t lose.

James couldn’t be happier to be on the Thompson & Little team.  “I have some growing clients that look to me for new ideas and innovations. I love bringing them ideas and helping them create new experiences for their customers. It’s a great feeling when I can help our customers be more efficient and more profitable,” says Baldwin. He also enjoys meeting new people and conquering new challenges. Building relationships with different types of people and working with them to figure out solutions to new challenges is a very rewarding aspect of his position at Thompson & Little.

Thompson & Little has always been a strong supporter of training.  They strive to provide and maximize opportunities for their team to be successful. James has taken the SEFAPro training program to new levels (pun intended).  He recently moved up to a Level 3 and will be attending the SEFAPro Celebration trip in September. “SEFA training allows you to spend more time focusing on products from specific manufacturers. In addition to product training, it provides the opportunity to meet and build stronger relationships with our supplier partners. The ability to network with peers and share experiences and knowledge is also a huge and very valuable bonus to the training program,” says Baldwin.

The best motivation comes from a grateful heart.

James said he gets his inspiration and motivation for success from his wife and son.  “We have moved around a bit as I continued on my career path in this industry. I have a fantastic and supportive wife Kim, whom I enjoy having adult beverages with after a long day. I enjoy spending time with my son, Jesse, either fishing or just pushing each other’s buttons. As a family, we enjoy going to the mountains and the beach, which we are lucky to have close to us in Raleigh.

SEFA is proud to recognize James as Featured SEFAPro. He works hard to stay on top of changing industry trends, new equipment and supplies, and innovative solutions and opportunities for his customers. He enjoys sharing his knowledge and building partnerships based on a common goal for success.  Don’t forget to wish him a happy anniversary and thank him for his service in the United States Marine Corp.  Congratulations, James!

Jen Szymczak, Great Lakes West, Mattawan, Michigan

“25 years in the industry, it’s hard to believe! My very first experience in the industry was working for the drive-in movie theatre owned by family friends in my hometown.  I loved every weekend and knew almost every aspect of the business. It was a fun, fast-paced environment,” says Szymczak. Jen also gained experience doing sandwich/pizza prep at a local restaurant while going to school. After high school, Jen worked for a company for many years where she designed and sold residential kitchens, windows, and doors.

While working a side job waitressing and bartending, she became friends with Jim Heeter, owner of Great Lakes West at the time. Jim offered Jen a job, which she quickly accepted.  She has been with Great Lakes for ten years and couldn’t be happier.

Jen started in the contract estimating department for six years and then began the transition into sales.  “I primarily deal in healthcare sales around the country, but recently am getting more involved in hospitality ventures.  I enjoy being involved in all the different market segments.  I work nationwide and it can be a challenge to not be able to right in front of my customer every day, but with technology, we can always make it work. I handle sales from a one piece order up to a new construction or remodel project with a kitchen and front of the house.  There isn’t anything I can’t handle,” says Szymczak.

Strong team players that enjoy bringing value to their customers are unstoppable.

Jen really enjoys being in a position where she can make it easy for customers to get the equipment that they need for their operation.  “If I can go above and beyond, I will at every turn. Great Lakes West has a really great support system.  We step up to help each other whenever needed, we are all on the same team.  I’ve met some of my best friends through this company,” says Szymczak.

Jen is very successful in the SEFAPro program.  She is the one you will see quickly achieving new levels and putting her all into every training session.  She is currently a Level 3 SEFAPro and has earned and will be attending the 2019 Celebration Trip.  “SEFA training has not only helped me gain equipment knowledge, but how the proper equipment factors into a successful business.  The industry is constantly changing and there is always something new to learn.  Hands on training is invaluable and has helped to give me the confidence when talking to my customers.  Another great aspect of SEFA is meeting new people at every conference, many whom become longtime friends. I learn so much by talking to others.  We all have different experiences in the field or with customers, and you take something new away every time.  Also, having the opportunity  to cultivate relationships with the manufacturers and factory representatives is second to none.  To be able to say that you can call up the president of a company for a solution to a problem, that says something,” says Szymczak.

We asked Jen who has inspired her and helped her to get to where she is today.  “Honestly, I get inspiration from everyone that I meet.  I believe every person has something to offer with their unique perspective on life.  Without being dismissive to any of my colleagues or family/friends, Jim Heeter took a chance on hiring me without specific industry experience, just knowing my personality and my willingness to work hard. His son, Todd, has now taken over the business and he pushes me, along with every employee at Great Lakes West, to be my best.  He sees my potential and always tells me that he knows I can handle whatever is thrown at me.  I am constantly growing and taking on new challenges and while it can be stressful, I truly do love what I do.

Jen lives in the small town of Paw Paw, Michigan with her husband.  She enjoys cooking, golfing (when the weather permits), working out/running, reading, eating delicious food, having a good drink and she loves to laugh.

SEFA is proud to recognize Jen as Featured SEFAPro.  Jen is dedicated to staying on top of industry trends and learning about new equipment and supply solutions for her customers.  She builds relationships based on integrity, honesty, and trust. She is a true asset to the foodservice industry. Congratulations, Jen.

Dane Lewis, Kirby Restaurant Supply, Longview, Texas

 “It all started washing buckets,” says Lewis.

Dane has been in the foodservice industry and with Kirby for 22 years, serving in a wide variety of positions along the way.  “I actually washed chemical buckets that Kirby recycles, for my first job,” says Lewis.  Dane then moved into chemical blending, held a position as warehouse and logistics manager, and progressed into an outside sales route for eleven years.  He was promoted to Regional Sales Manager, managing six outside sales routes that spanned all of Louisiana and half of Texas.  “This journey with Kirby allowed me to gain experience in everything from project management, to complex bidding, sales to almost every industry segment, and even corporate account management.  In 2015, I was promoted to executive director of sales and marketing, and my role has grown to manage Kirby’s corporate and chain business in four states,” says Lewis. He says, he feels very blessed to be with Kirby and for all of the opportunities he’s been afforded.

When you find a company that matches your values and provides opportunities to learn, grow, and bring your best to the table… you have found gold.

 Dane currently manages all aspects of Kirby’s corporate equipment, smallwares, and chemical and chain business in four states.  He handles bids for GPOs, administers their SEFA online order system, leads corporate marketing efforts, supports and mentors sixteen outside salespeople, and manages corporate relationships. “The economy is BOOMING!!  We currently have the most opportunities I have seen in my entire career, and they are not in just one industry segment, but spread throughout the various segments we serve,” says Lewis.

Mike Bell, President and Owner of Kirby had this to say about Dane, “It is with great pride that I acknowledge Dane Lewis as a new SEFAPro from Kirby Restaurant and Chemical Supply. Dane has been a loyal, dedicated professional employee of Kirby for 22 years. He has worked his way up to an Executive Manager of Kirby’s growth division. I am proud of him working his way up to becoming a SEFAPro. I know he will use this training and education to its fullest to advance his career and the sales growth at Kirby.”

Dane will tell you what he loves most about this industry is definitely the people.  “We work with, work for, and compete against some of the best folks you will ever encounter.  While most remain acquaintances, many become real friends that are a joy to work with.  In my position, I am privileged to work with professional people who are truly experts in their respective fields.  They make me a more effective salesman, a better person, and leader,” says Lewis.

Dane is very dedicated to and successful in the SEFAPro program. He is currently a Level 2 and climbing.  He is very vocal about expressing his gratitude for the training and networking opportunities he gains as he reaches new levels in the program.  “SEFA training is the most effective training I have had the pleasure to participate in!  The holistic approach to training the person, not sales robots, is unique and effective.  Recognizing people that excel through the SEFAPro program, and supporting people pursuing their CFSP further strengthens the training provided.  It’s training with a GOAL!  Not just features, advantages, and benefits!” says Lewis.

Recognizing your gratitude for the people in your life is a recipe for true happiness.

People with such a strong track record for success usually have great influences in their life. “I have been blessed with several mentors both personally and professionally.  My father, Bud Lewis, taught me how to respect ALL people and see the best in them. Mike Bell, Kirby’s owner, has helped me throughout my career both personally and professionally.  He leads by example. Mike Bell demonstrates that you do not sell anything without INTEGRITY and should always do the right thing.  And lastly, I should mention Frank Zoche, who has pushed me to expand my sometimes-closed mind,” says Lewis.

“I am blessed to live in the small community of Gladewater, Texas (Google it ;-).  I am an avid outdoorsman, hunter, football fan (Go Cowboys), and race fan.  Making these experiences better is my wife Lori, sons Dane Jr., Chance, Mason, and favorite daughter Macy,” says Lewis.

SEFA is proud to recognize Dane Lewis as Featured SEFAPro. He sets a great example of achieving success through perseverance, integrity, and gratitude, with a passion to do the right thing. Even with his extensive experience in the industry, he remains passionate about learning, networking, and sharing his knowledge with customers and colleagues. On top of all that, he is a great family man and friend to many.

Kaitlyn Purser, Manning Brothers, Athens, GA

Kaitlyn joined the foodservice industry five years ago. As many dealer professionals do, she started on the operator side of the business. In fact, her first experience came in high school, when she worked at her high school’s coffee shop. She enjoyed serving up coffee and hot chocolate in the mornings before class. In college, she worked at the Waffle House as a salesperson and occasional grill operator. “I spent many days scrubbing egg yolks off plates, cleaning out the nibs on soda dispensers, and keeping it scattered, smothered, and covered,” says Purser.

She finds it helpful to have that first-hand foodservice experience so that she can have a better understanding of the needs of her customers.

When I moved to Athens, Tony Thompson of the Hansen Group, referred me to Chuck Day at Manning Brothers. I remember he offered Chuck a free cheesecake in exchange for hiring me,” says Purser.  Kaitlyn was hired. She is approaching her fourth year at Manning Brothers, and couldn’t be happier.

Consistent training equals consistent growth. Being passionate about training magnifies the results.

“I started out as a sales assistant at Manning Brothers. This role was a good start as it gave me the opportunity to witness and experience issues that arose, learn the different types of equipment and smallwares, meet with our customer base, and get comfortable being on this side of the table,” says Purser.

Kaitlyn is currently a contract estimator at Manning Brothers. “I mostly work with general contractors, but occasionally I will get a few owners in the mix. I work to competitively price equipment for our large projects. It’s a lot of reading and numbers, which really doesn’t sound like it, but it’s a ton of fun. It’s kind of silly, but one of my favorite parts of bidding is finding something in the details that I could have missed, but didn’t. Of course, my absolute favorite thing, is winning a project I’ve worked on,” says Purser.

Kaitlyn is very successful in the SEFAPro program. In fact, she recently earned and attended the 2019 SEFAPro Celebration trip. She says SEFAPro training has been so beneficial for her and she is so grateful that Chuck Day is such a believer in training and providing opportunities for their team. “When I first started out as a sales assistant at Manning Brothers, I honestly couldn’t tell you much about anything related to our field of work and I definitely couldn’t describe a Spoodle or a combi to you.  There have been many times, I excitedly get to explain something to a customer, thinking WOW, I know what this is because I just learned about it at a SEFA National Sales Conference. SEFA training has helped me to learn things on a much faster track. I feel lucky that Chuck is such a big advocate of training.  I  have felt honored to be able to go to almost every conference, since becoming a SEFAPro.  I always have new information to bring back home and share,” says Purser.

“My biggest inspiration in the industry is obviously, the one and only, Chuck Day. He has helped me so much in growing as a person and someone in our industry. He is always willing to share his knowledge with anyone, and help out whenever I have questions or feel stuck and frustrated on a project, with something custom, or a piece of equipment I don’t know anything about,” says Purser.

“I live in Athens, Georgia with my significant other, Graham.  We have two fur kids, Henry and Dixie. When I’m not knee deep in foodservice equipment, I am usually walking our dog, reading, or cooking. We also go to anime conventions once or twice a year,” says Purser.

SEFA is proud to recognize Kaitlyn as Featured SEFAPro. The 110% she puts into everything she does makes it impossible for her to achieve anything short of success.  She is dedicated to the industry, to Manning Brothers, her customers, and her colleagues. Her passion for knowledge makes her a very valuable player in our industry.  Congratulations, Kaitlyn!

Melanie LeBlanc, Horizon Equipment, Eagan, Minnesota

Melanie realized her passion for the foodservice industry when she was only four years old.

True passion for something real to you, never goes away. Embrace and pursue.

“My grandparents owned a small-town restaurant that I spent weekends at as a child. When I was 4 years old, I started taking people’s orders and loved it!  My family nicknamed me “restaurant girl” and helped me develop my love for the industry. I found a lot of joy in seeing the smiles on the customer’s faces and the pleasure my grandmother’s food brought them,” says LeBlanc.

Melanie made her entrance to the industry official when she took a job at a bakery. She remembers always being curious about how the equipment worked and how the operator decided on which pieces were needed for the business.

Following the bakery, she found herself in the construction business for ten years.  Melanie learned to read plans and problem-solve jobsite issues.  While working in the construction industry, she realized how much she missed being around foodservice. She took a chance and applied for a position at a foodservice equipment dealer. “It turned out to be a great choice for me. I really enjoy every aspect of this industry including kitchen layouts, equipment, and tabletop supplies. I worked on everything from small mom and pop restaurants to national accounts. I enjoy presenting opportunities to help customers find their dream business,” says LeBlanc.

Working with professionals you respect and having the opportunity to help them bring their vision to life… it doesn’t get better than that. 

Horizon, which specializes in equipment, design, and partnering with restaurateurs to bring their vision to life, is a perfect fit for Melanie. Happily enjoying a project management role at Horizon, Melanie has been on the team for three years.  She is currently a project manager for multiple sales team members. Her role includes project quoting, purchasing, installation logistics, and billing. “I enjoy starting out with a blank canvas, coordinating with all the trades, and working together to create a location that owners are delighted with and the public can’t wait to experience.  Working on projects with the focus of moving them along as smoothly as possible is something I really enjoy.  As we all know, our industry has surprises waiting for us on every project. I have started working on growing my own book of business and compiling all the wisdom within my company,” says LeBlanc.

Melanie is very successful in the SEFAPro training program.  She is currently a Level 2 and climbing. “Each SEFA conference is better than the last. The networking with other SEFA members has been very helpful. The training and networking have boosted my confidence. The opportunity to ask fellow industry pros about their strengths and how they’ve handled challenging opportunities in the field is extremely beneficial,” says LeBlanc.

Melanie credits her parents and family for inspiring her passion to stay on the foodservice path. “They see the happiness this industry brings me,” says LeBlanc.

Melanie lives in Bloomington, Minnesota. She has a 29-year-old son and two daughters, ages 25 and 18. She also enjoys spending time with her three-year-old grandson. Her hobbies include making cards, knitting, taking fun road trips, fishing in the summer and on the ice, gardening, and her wine/book club. She’s also in the process of compiling family recipes to create a treasured cookbook for all to have.

SEFA is proud to recognize Melanie LeBlanc as Featured SEFAPro. She is genuine and sincere. She brings talent and expertise to the table while maintaining an intelligent focus and passion for the industry. Melanie is dedicated and loyal to Horizon Equipment and their customers. The love she has for her family, along with her desire to help others and build successful professional relationships, speaks volumes about her character.

Tiffani Dockter, IS Restaurant Design Equipment & Supply, Sioux Falls, SD 

Tiffani’s journey into the foodservice industry started twenty years ago, when she joined IS Restaurant Design Equipment & Supply.

Tiffani started out answering phones and helping people find what they needed in the store. She then worked in accounting for a year to understand the flow. Following her accounting role, she moved to the showroom and specialized in Combi Ovens and opening orders. “I am now working with clients on small jobs, remodels, and everyday purchases. I feel truly blessed to have the opportunity to help people every day with equipment and supply choices for their restaurant. Showing foodservice professionals ways to enhance their operation and alleviate stress by having the right tools in place, is very rewarding,” says Dockter.

Enjoying today and looking forward to tomorrow turns a job into a fulfilling adventure.

Tiffani enjoys the fast-paced nature of this business and can’t wait to see what’s around the next corner. She is excited to see the new technology brewing for this industry and is looking forward to the game-changers coming out in the next couple of years.

Tiffani is a very successful, Level 3 SEFAPro.  Tiffani qualified for the SEFAPro Celebration trip this year, but was unable to attend.  She was missed by all her fellow SEFAPro colleagues.  IS Restaurant Design Equipment & Supply is a supporter of continued training and Tiffani has definitely embraced it. “I would say to all Dealer sales people, take every opportunity you are given to attend a SEFA training event. Not only for the experience and product knowledge, but to understand what is going on in the foodservice industry. I have had the good fortune to attend many SEFA training events. It’s always clear what I am gaining from each event and I always learn something new.  I highly recommend attending one in the future, you’ll be glad you did,” says Dockter.

There is nothing more powerful than having a wise influencer in your life who inspires you.

“In the past twenty years I have had a lot of people help me, but ultimately the person that has helped me most is my dad. He has taught me that life is short, and, in the end, we have one thing in this world that no one can take from us and that is our word. So if you say it, live up to it, and if you can’t, admit it and do your best to make it right,” says Dockter.

Tiffani is from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. “My husband Jason and I have been married 22 years and we have two beautiful daughters Alyse (19) and Melia (17). In the summer I like to hang at the lake with family and friends. I also enjoy fishing.” says Dockter.

SEFA is proud to recognize Tiffani Dockter as December’s Featured SEFAPro. Tiffani is dedicated to staying on top of industry trends and learning about new equipment and supply solutions for her customers.  Congratulations, Tiffani!