CKitchen / E. Friedman Associates Inc

Taking the commercial kitchen and institutional food service markets by storm
Written by: 
Ivy Carter
Produced by: 
Sean O'Reilly

E. Friedman Associates Inc. (E. Friedman) was established in 1984 by Elliot Friedman and just celebrated its 30-year anniversary. Based out of New York City, E. Friedman is a fully authorized food service equipment dealer that also specializes in commercial kitchen design, project management and installation services.

Elliot started out working at a Manhattan advertising firm after completing his graphics degree at the NY School of Visual Arts. However, the stress of ad deadlines didn’t sit well with him. He left the corporate environment to try his hand at a new trade. Elliot developed a perfume and toiletry brand in the early 1980s, but he found that the recession prevented him from finding the appropriate industry backing for his line. By 1984, he had moved on to an industry he knew would always be in demand: food service.

Finding the right clients

Elliot took a position as sales manager at a local food service equipment and supply dealer. Unfortunately, the company was not well financed and was continually in arrears with manufacturers.

Starting on his own, Elliot specialized on the institutional market, focusing on large hotels, hospitals, prisons and schools. He figured that he could maximize his return on sales energy with larger accounts. Besides, most of his competitors were soliciting restaurants.

One of his favorite projects was a large-scale prison kitchen renovation. At N.Y. City’s Rikers Island prison complex, Elliot’s crew worked to develop a series of kitchens that would service roughly 15,000 inmates. During construction, the company was even involved in several lock-downs.

“The fact that we were able to successfully handle a project of that size and complexity was something that I was proud of,” Elliot says.

While the institutional setting was his primary focus, Elliot was growing frustrated with payment times that began exceeding 180 days. His contractor-based business had begun to grow. But onerous contracts and lack of prompt payments were discouraging here, too.

Elliot knew it was time to call it quits. “Contractors would pay when they got paid,” he details. “It stretched our financing, and took a lot of our attention away from what we do best. I put a stop to it, and jettisoned our relationship with most contractors and slow paying institutions. We went with projects where we worked directly with the owners. We also became an early investor in Internet-based sales.”

Online expansion

In 2000, Elliot started his first kitchen equipment website: InstitutionalKitchen.com. One of the first of its kind, InstitutionalKitchen.com was soon absorbed into CKitchen.com, with restaurants incorporated into its intended consumer market. Featuring over 50,000 items online, with an additional 300,000 products in its database for potential acquisition, CKitchen.com took a leading position selling industry equipment online.

With a shift in customer base, Elliot began drawing in more direct-to-owner business, working beyond institutions and on to restaurants. Through this, as well as the increasing sales on CKitchen.com, he began to develop a name for himself as an industry leader.

By 2005, E. Friedman was listed as one of the top food service dealers in the United States. In 2009, with such success behind him, Elliot opened CocinaC.com, a Spanish language site focusing on sales in Central and South America.

Working with quality

Elliot attributes his success to focusing on customers’ needs and a strong relationship with his staff. Elliot takes pride in his team of approximately 30 and makes every effort to nourish and retain his people.

“The average employee has been with us over eight years and some a lot longer,” he explains. “I think it is important to treat your people well.”

From his time in the advertising business, Elliot has a keen knowledge of the respect that an understanding and attentive boss can gain. “Although I’m a typical micromanager, I sometimes have to bite my tongue and not be overly critical when I disagree on something,” he laughs. “Mutual respect goes a long way.”

While most corporations might stop there, Elliot takes his dedication to his employees a step further. “We give over 10 percent of our profits to charity,” he says proudly. “Our employees appreciate knowing that they’re working for profits that go to good causes.”

Even more, Elliot has designed a continuity arrangement for his company to one-day transition into a non-profit that supports charities, and his employees and associates are each assigned positions.

In 2008, Elliot moved his own office to Jacksonville, Florida; he also enjoys traveling extensively. While the base of his company’s operations is still New York City, he credits his ability to leave the city to his responsible staff.

“I treat my staff with respect, and there’s a mutual admiration there,” he smiles. “Success to me is satisfied customers, a well established reputation and a happy staff.”

Regardless of where he is, Elliot truly stays hands on and on top of things. “People are surprised to know that I’m on the other side of the globe when I follow up with them,” he says. “Integrity knows no boundaries.”

While Elliot speaks modestly about his success, the Friedman name has become synonymous with quality in the food service equipment field. Through web-based sales, as well as the company’s projects division, CKitchen.com and E. Friedman Associates Inc. have created a strong brand name that brings quality, functionality and design to all sizes of commercial kitchens. 

Strategic Partnership(s): 
United Refrigeration