Thompson & Little Inc.

The family-owned source for food service equipment in the Southeast
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
James Logan

For nearly 70 years, third generation owned and operated Thompson & Little Inc. has been one of the Southeast’s top food service equipment dealers. Located in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Thompson & Little has built a loyal customer base since opening in 1945. Clients across the food service industry from health care campuses to school cafeterias, correctional facilities to restaurants and many more have consistently called on Thompson & Little for affordable, industry-leading equipment.

Thompson & Little’s slogan is ‘Together, We’re Cooking’ and it’s been that way since 1945, as the company helps customers find budget-friendly options that provide food service solutions while increasing their bottom line.

“Our name is well-known and has stayed the same through generations, because our customers correlate our brand with quality and customer service,” says Andrew O’Quinn, vice president of Thompson & Little.

Thompson & Little Inc.

A name and quality that doesn’t change

The North Carolina-based company was originally established by two founders, Joe Thompson and Jim Little. “My grandfather, Wilbur O’Quinn, had the opportunity to buy out the company via his background in the stainless steel industry,” tells O’Quinn. “He was first introduced to the industry through a set of cousins in Georgia, owners of Low Temp Industries, a manufacturer of fabrication and serving lines.”

Wilbur originally bought half of the company and moved to North Carolina to get started. After a couple of years, the other partner sold the rest of the company to Wilbur, and the rest is history.

“My grandfather was quite the entrepreneur, having bought the company at the ground floor and created the custom stainless steel fabrication shop on top of that,” says O’Quinn. For many of those years, Wilbur and his wife, Lucille, sold small wares and food service equipment to local restaurants while working day and night to keep the small business moving forward.

Sales began to explode in the late sixties when the government began pushing new construction of public institutions, such as schools and hospitals. Thompson & Little aggressively pursued these new contracts, and before long, they became the kitchen contract house in the Carolinas.

“In 1980, my grandfather had stepped down as president and turned the company over to my father, Danny O’Quinn,” shares O’Quinn. “The company has now been in our family for three generations – my grandfather put in 30 years and my father, 35 years; he just retired last year. My mother, Lynne, now serves as the president. I think our longevity and years of experience truly make us unique, as only about 7 percent of businesses make it to the third generation.”

Following in family footsteps

With such strong family history in the food service industry, joining Thompson & Little was a clear path for O’Quinn. He began working at the company long before he graduated from college, but he didn’t get special treatment or preference as the owner’s son.

“My father thought it would be best for me to get to know the business through hands-on experience,” he tells. “I’ve loaded trucks, installed equipment and worked in our stainless-steel shop, managed projects and more.”

This experience has served him well and O’Quinn says it’s provided an understanding of the challenges each job position entails, and being able to relate to his staff’s opportunities and challenges. Today, that standard of hands-on ownership remains and O’Quinn works directly with customers on a daily basis.

Those customer relationships range from private restaurants and churches to institutions and federal agencies. “While headquartered in North Carolina, Thompson & Little has sales staff and project managers spread out all over the Southeast,” details O’Quinn. “Additionally, Thompson & Little has ramped up its E-Commerce division, with multiple websites serving the public, as well as GSA and government agencies. Our sales division has grown heavily in the last few years, chasing more opportunities in the private sector from restaurants to religious facilities. We have become a well-diversified company offering many different solutions to our clients.”

Custom-crafted kitchens

At the company’s showroom in Fayetteville, Thompson & Little stocks hundreds of items, but can also custom-order products from a large vendor network. From Manitowoc ice machines to Cambro shelving and storage, Delfield refrigerators and freezer to Frymaster fryers, Vollrath small wares and table-top equipment, Cleveland cooking equipment, a full line of Lincoln small wares and much more, Thompson & Little has every product to fit food service needs.

“We do a lot of general sales to the public, but we are also very strong in the institutional market, through our construction and government divisions,” explains O’Quinn. “We offer kitchen design services, project management on new construction projects and replacement equipment orders to many different agencies. We work hand in hand with general contractors and architects to deliver customized commercial-grade kitchens.”

Thompson & Little understands a successful kitchen depends on a well-executed design plan. “Our innovative design teams seamlessly integrate with our client’s architect,” says O’Quinn. “By taking into account the importance of concept, menu, traffic flow and spatial planning, we deliver creative design solutions. We furnish finished CAD drawings, including equipment layout, rough-ins, elevation drawings, equipment to shop drawings and equipment cut sheet books.”

One shining example is at O’Quinn’s alma mater, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “We delivered and installed the $600,000 kitchen and outfitted the stadium suites, as well, working day and night within an eight-week time frame,” tells O’Quinn.

Growing in the government sector

Even through some of the most dismal economic years in U.S. history, Thompson & Little found a way to not only survive, but garner seven-figure growth. “Today, we work on many government contracts from schools to municipalities and correctional centers,” details O’Quinn. “Two years ago, we became General Services Administration [GSA] certified. The Schedule 73 food service, hospitality, cleaning and supplies, chemicals and services contract with the GSA allows us to market food service equipment and services to the United States government and military organizations. Through the GSA contract, we provide the most competitive pricing to those government agencies, and in return, they are able to buy from a trusted and pre-approved source. It makes it easier for federal agencies to utilize an array of our capabilities and products at competitive prices and streamlines the ordering process.”

However, the road to becoming GSA-certified was a labor-intensive one. “It took a year and a half to get GSA-certified,” adds O’Quinn. “It takes a lot of overhead and time to submit all the forms to get approval, but from this we’ve seen good growth, helping us reach our goal of $20 million in annual sales.”

According to O’Quinn, 2014 was a record year for Thompson & Little in more ways than one. “We were recognized as the Top Achiever: Dealer by Foodservice Equipment and Supplies (FE&S) Magazine – the largest trade publication in our industry,” he adds. “It was very humbling honor, of which our success is certainly attributed to our great relationships with our vendors and manufacturer representatives, such as Duskie Utsey & Associates. We also credit our success to our banking relationship with Wells Fargo, who allows us to finance multi-million dollar projects. Lastly, we have a top-notch staff that works extremely hard every day to provide solutions for our customers. The staff at Thompson & Little is second to none.”

As the company approaches the 70 year mark, O’Quinn credits much of Thompson & Little’s recent success to his parents and grandparents, who built a solid foundation. "My grandparents came up through the Great Depression and saw a lot of hard times and were tough as nails,” he says. “I heard their stories and all the sweat and tears they put into this place. They built the foundation for us to build on. There’s a lot of pride that comes with walking into this building every day, knowing your parents and grandparents made it possible.”

That pride carries on through its work as Thompson & Little Inc. continues to grow as the trusted source for food service equipment and design. 

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Duskie, Utsey and Assocaites
The Vollrath Co
Wells Fargo Bank