Cook’s Direct

Safe, secure food service products for correctional kitchens
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
Victor Martins

In Warrenville, Illinois, Cook’s Direct is one of the top food service equipment distributors in the U.S. and since 1997 the company has supplied, supported and even invented products to support correctional facilities.

“The corrections market is an interesting niche in food service,” explains Jeff Breeden, CEO of Cook’s Direct. “But with over 2 million inmates that need to be fed three times per day, we supply the trays, supplies and equipment to keep up with these demands. From sporks and utensils that control portion sizes to institutional grade ovens and high security tool lockers, we do it all, including installation and even custom product development.”

With thousands of correctional facilities, prisons and jails nationwide, Cook’s Direct works with a vast majority. “Most of our customers are coming to us for our expertise and unique products made specifically for corrections, but some will turn to us when they are redoing an entire kitchen where we help with design, staging and installation,” says Breeden.

Breeden explains that there are approximately 5,500 prisons and jails in the U.S. “Over half have bought from us in the last 24 months,” he adds. “We have many large customers, like contract feeders or private prison corporations that also turn to Cook’s Direct for their equipment and supplies.”

Inventory experts

Cook’s Direct has come to know the industry-specific requirements needed to run a high-security operation. “We sell products such as knife leashes and Flex Trays – items designed to keep inmates and employees safe,” shares Breeden. “We have actually created a lot of products designed to increase security in a facility.”

Cook’s Direct extensive catalogue of innovative products for corrections includes items the company has invented and designed itself, such as; Flex Trays, Globe Kettle Whip, High Security Tool Locker, Knife Leash Kits and much more.

As a full line equipment and supplies distributor, Cook’s Direct also sells ovens, refrigerators and kettles, as well as insulated trays, tray delivery carts and heavy-duty small wares.

Creating Cook’s Direct-branded products

This lengthy list is the result of the cofounder Howard Breeden’s experience with corrections clients. “Cook’s Direct was founded in 1997 as an offshoot of Breeden’s kitchen consulting business,” tells Tim Ford, president of Cook’s Direct. “He was a consultant in the food service industry and many of his customers were correctional facilities. Breeden’s challenge was to design correctional kitchens so that they were safer and more secure than an average institutional kitchen and this involved finding the right equipment and utensils.”

For some time Breeden searched for the equipment and products his corrections clients needed, but he eventually realized it would be more efficient to make his own product catalogue.

“He found a partner who was interested in developing the catalogue, while Breeden kept his consulting business going,” tells Ford. “His son Jeff Breeden joined him and he put a correctional food service catalogue together and began to design equipment specifically for prisons.”

At first, Cook’s Direct sought out products both domestically and abroad, but there were still some specialty items the company couldn’t find. “This is what really propelled Cook’s Direct to form its own brand,” says Breeden. “We started designing and now we do contract manufacturing with six to seven manufacturers producing our Cook’s Direct Brand and Food Service Essentials [FSE] products. This makes up 25 to 30 percent of our volume.”

A complete food system

Breeden explains the company’s brand of correctional-based products helps these facilities run smoother, stemming from the company’s years of experience working in the sector. “We make everything from trays to utensils and carts – all targeted at the correctional environment,” says Breeden. “Some of the country’s largest correctional facilities support 13,000 inmates; that’s nearly 40,000 meals a day. The question is how to produce that much food product in a safe, efficient way, given the nutritional requirements and operational issues of the facility. Rather than think of it as cooking, it’s more like a factory doing food production. This is something that we do especially well.”

With a team of 35 employees between catalogue sales, website development, warehousing and inventory, sales teams, the company’s expert staff is trained in the ins and outs of correctional feeding. “We understand the importance of getting the meal out on time, controlling food costs and buying safe, durable equipment that lasts,” measures Breeden. “No one has a better understanding of the challenges faced in the correction kitchen and the products that make it all work.”

Breeden says this experience is backed by a hands-on approach. “We talk with hundreds of customers daily and visit facilities every chance we get, so we see the challenges faced in correctional food service operations firsthand,” he adds.

After 18 years, Cook’s Direct remains the trusted food service solutions provider as a one-stop-shop for products and equipment made for the correctional kitchen.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Latimer LeVay Fyock LLC