Drew O’Quinn - Thompson & Little, Inc.
Reputations spread fast in the food service industry. Dealers who provide the means to keep kitchens humming had better be dependable and versatile. One size can’t fit all when it comes to commercial kitchen equipment, layout and design, and custom fabrication.
Drew O’Quinn, the personable 38-year-old vice president of Thompson & Little Inc., a third-generation family company in Fayetteville, North Carolina, stresses the importance of finding solutions for customers’ operations. Since 1945, the company has delivered those solutions to every type of private and public institution whose responsibilities include putting food on someone’s plate.
When Duke University sought to upgrade the concessions stands and dining facilities at the Blue Devils’ football stadium and basketball arena, it called upon Thompson & Little, which it had previously entrusted to install and maintain a very efficient campus cafeteria.
Now outfitting the kitchens of sports facilities can be a very different game. Duke Wallace Wade Stadium seats 40,000-plus, and when that many people pass through the turnstiles on an autumn Saturday, many of them will get hungry. They also don’t want to miss the action while standing in a line, so the food service equipment had better be as durable as a fullback able to withstand umpteen tackles.
“We only sell that kind of equipment. As long as it’s cleaned and maintained regularly, it’s going to last,” O’Quinn says.
And it’s not by hot dogs alone that the fans are satisfied. They’ll consume thousands of them, to be sure, but the evolving nature of stadium food service means there had better be other offerings. Thompson & Little provides food service equipment that is of the highest quality, efficient, user-friendly and capable of churning out many selections. Much of its equipment is also Energy Star certified, saving the client energy and money. For instance, Thompson & Little is an exclusive dealer of Hobart products, the so-called Mercedes-Benz of the food service industry and often used at Duke.
O’Quinn says the 9,314-seat basketball arena, Cameron Indoor Stadium, is just as demanding as the football stadium. Being home to Coach K Court and five national titles, excellence in all areas is par for the course.
“Like Coach K, this equipment will stand the test of time and perform under extreme conditions,” Thompson & Little assures, in reference to legendary Coach Mike Krzyzewski.
All needs served here
While T&L’s expertise in food service equipment and custom fabrication can be found at many public and private academic institutions throughout the nation, the company services other sectors that may require customization.
Health and safety concerns being especially important in hospital kitchens, assisted living communities and nursing homes, Thompson & Little provides equipment and supplies certified by the National Sanitation Foundation. Better known as NSF, this foundation standardizes food safety requirements for equipment production. Other solutions that Thompson & Little provides in health care settings include meal delivery systems, holding cabinets, large-scale refrigeration and steam tables.
T&L holds strong relationships with suppliers such as Vollrath and Cambro that are consistently producing innovative new products that address health concerns in kitchens such as cross-contamination and allergens.
Correctional facilities—another segment of the T&L clientele—take the safety requirement to another level. As O’Quinn explains, any food-service equipment has to be constructed with a “prison package” that makes it extremely difficult for an inmate to break off a part for nefarious activities. T&L calls on custom fabrication shops such as A&A Hood Systems and Fabrication out of Myrtle Beach for such prison packages.
Strong link in chains
While T&L has served casual dining and upscale restaurants from Georgia to Virginia for over 73 years, the dealership is attracting more attention from national operations such as Foster’s Freeze and the Cajun chain, Bojangles. To help service the demand of chain operations, as well as provide an online ordering portal for its chain clients, T&L created www.FoodEquipmentDepot.com, allowing for customer log-ins and specialized ordering online.
It still would be well worth the time for any restaurant owner to visit the T&L showroom, O’Quinn says, adding that most any kind of food service equipment and supplies will be on display. T&L stocks products from many suppliers, including Vollrath, the Sheboygan, Wisconsin, company that has collaborated across a variety of food service markets, including installations for government agencies and academia as well as fabricating components for senior living and smallwares for K-12 schools.
“An excellent company,” O’Quinn says of Vollrath. “The great advantage of buying from them is that everything they supply—from smallwares to heavy equipment—is durable and high-quality, and they’ve got a great staff shipping product quickly.”
And should a client—or “a partner,” as O’Quinn likes to say—need something unavailable from the vendors, T&L maintains its own four-person fabrication shop, skilled in manufacturing highly-customized worktables, handrails, floor troughs and trim.
T&L is rich in history. Founded in 1945 by Joe Thompson and Mike Little, the Thompson & Little brand was launched. Shortly after opening, the company hired O’Quinn’s grandparents, Wilbur and Lucille O’Quinn, who eventually bought the business while retaining the good name that had become a selling point.
The family tradition lives on with Lynne O’Quinn, Drew’s mother, serving as president of what’s now a $27 million business. Drew grew up in the business, learning it from the ground up by loading trucks, working the showroom and even cleaning bathrooms.
He began working full time at T&L following his graduation from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2002, some years later enhancing his skills with an MBA from UNC-Kenan Flagler Business School. He has a hand in most every area: purchasing, negotiations, estimating, project management, sales, marketing and general management.
Asked about his goals, O’Quinn says they include running the business in the reputable manner that’s been its trademark for 70-plus years, and taking advantage of the opportunities that his channel partners offer. O’Quinn attributes much of the company’s success to vendors and factory reps, such as Kitchen Resource Group.
“What I like best is being a solution provider,” says O’Quinn, whose industry acclaim includes the 2017 Young Lion Award by Foodservice Equipment Report magazine. “I’m always glad to go on the road, to industry trade shows and job sites, and meet with customers and prospective clients.”
Like many Carolinians, O’Quinn is also an avid college basketball fan. As a UNC graduate, he’s obviously more partial to the Tar Heels than the Blue Devils. Jokingly, O’Quinn adds that “If Coach K wants me to drop everything I am doing to service his arena concession, I will be there.”
Now that is customer service.