Manning Brothers Food Service Equipment & Supply Co.

How do you grow a 70-year-old food service company? Ask the right questions
Written by: 
Christine Fisher
Produced by: 
Victor Martins

When it comes to designing their kitchens, chain restaurants tend to have a system. But it’s not always the most efficient system.

When Diablo’s Southwest Grill, a small chain restaurant in Athens, Georgia, hired Manning Brothers Food Service Equipment & Supply Co. to build a kitchen at one of its new locations, the sales representative working at the site asked why the chain chose the layout it did. The response was essentially “because that’s how we’ve always done it.”

The Manning Brothers’ sales rep, John Tripp, envisioned a better layout, though, and helped the restaurant adjust where the refrigeration went to reduce kitchen size and, by reducing the space kitchen staff had to travel, make them more efficient.

Manning Brothers Food Service Equipment & Supply Co

“They were just ecstatic,” says Chuck Day, Manning Brothers’ owner and president, and the chain has become a loyal repeat customer.

That well-informed, common-sense driven approach, and the employees who deliver it, is what sets Manning Brothers apart. It’s what helped the Athens-based company grow by 53 percent in 2015 and another 30 percent in 2016.

A humble start

Manning Brothers is a full-service food service and supply company. Whether clients need a $30,000 combination, or “combi” oven; a $5,000 concession stand counter; $8 oven mitts or a full $800,000 kitchen buildout, Manning Brothers can service them. The company takes on projects ranging from $5,000 to $2.5 million.

What began as a grocery, refrigeration and delivery service in 1947 has evolved into a $30-million company. Today Manning Brothers, a company of 42 employees, runs a 10,000-square-foot showroom and 50,000-square-foot warehouse in Athens that holds more than $1 million worth of inventory.

Day, who purchased the company from the Manning family in 2009, is too humble to take credit for the company’s success, but he admits he must be doing something right.

Day worked his way up in the industry, moving from restaurants to fabrication plants where he was literally building kitchen equipment—learning to weld, grind, polish and assemble sheet metal—and then later to restaurant supply sales. He worked as a sales rep for nearly 20 years before he joined Manning Brothers and worked there for nearly 10 years before he purchased the company.

All of that means Day knows the business, inside and out.

When his crews needed an extra hand on a job site recently, he was quick to lend it. He arrived at 8 a.m. and discovered the plumber had put the gas lines in “exactly backwards.” Day helped the plumber switch the lines, and the project continued.

It’s not uncommon for Day to work on site. One of his fortes is starting up the kitchen equipment, making sure it works right and then training the kitchen staff who will use it.

“It’s not something you can just pick up overnight and go, ‘You know, today I will start up a combi oven,’” he says.

Because of that, Manning Brothers makes sure its employees have the training and expertise to operate the $30,000 combi ovens—industrial ovens capable of steaming, roasting, baking and warming food—or 60-foot by 20-foot cooler-freezers, and to provide the advice that will save customers time, money and headaches.

A team of experts

“In my industry, what qualifies someone to lay out a kitchen or work with you to spend that money is training, and I make sure that my people get trained,” Day says.

Occasionally, a handful of Manning Brothers staff will travel to places like Atlanta, Georgia, to meet with a brand representative and learn about the products. In January 2017, a group of eight attended a half-day cooking school to practice using the latest combi oven technology.

Manning Brothers also benefits from being part of Supply & Equipment Food service Alliance LLC (SEFA), a national foodservice buying, marketing and training group. Through SEFA and the events it hosts—national sales conferences and factory tours—Manning Brothers has the opportunity to see new equipment, study how it works and learn how to integrate it into kitchens.

That training helps Manning Brothers’ employees ask the right questions. Anybody can sell you a fridge, Day says, but not everyone is going to ask what you’ll use it for, where it’s going to go and if the power source is truly adequate.

One of Manning Brothers’ employees, Marjorie Secor, has been in the business for 27 years. She tends to work with a lot of churches, and often they’re surprised when she tells them their kitchen doesn’t need an oven. In many cases, church kitchens are just used to heat food, so they can opt for warming holding cabinets, which keep food warm between cooking and serving, and save several thousand dollars.

“She gets in there and works with the contractor and figures out how to best utilize the space [and budget] they have,” Day says.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

That kind of efficiency carries over into other areas of the Manning Brothers’ business, too. Day has made it his mission to reduce waste whenever possible.

It’s an unfortunate necessity, he says, that the $4,000 refrigerators Manning Brothers stocks, have to be wrapped in foam, wood and cardboard, but the slightest scratch makes the items “scratch and dents.”

Manning Brothers tries to make up for that packaging material by recycling as much as possible. The company reuses the Styrofoam packing it receives from vendors, and before it recycles cardboard, the team uses it to protect the stainless steel installed on active job sites.

Day encourages the companies he works with to be efficient, too. He emphasizes that recycling means fewer garbage trips, which reduces how much goes into the landfill, reduces their carbon footprint and ultimately saves money.

He’s particularly moved by the fact that, every day, the U.S. throws away enough food to fill the University of Georgia’s Sanford Stadium, which holds 92,000 people. When possible, he connects Manning Brothers’ clients with companies that specialize in reducing food waste, composting and greywater management.

Even when those changes don’t directly benefit Manning Brothers, Day says, “You at least are helping be part of the solution, versus part of the problem.”

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Pitco Frialator
GPC Marketing