Hockenbergs: Doing what they promise

by Tamsen Butler | October 18, 2017 7:53 am

Though the story of foodservice equipment and supply company Hockenbergs began in 1908 when it originally opened in Des Moines by Max Hockenberg, and though the recent sale to Trimark altered the trajectory of the story a bit, the real story behind Hockenbergs rests upon Tom Schrack, Sr. The venerable patriarch of this family business fostered a company culture that boasts impressive profits, myriad industry awards, and employee retention rates that reveal a happy, positive work atmosphere.

When I was first introduced to Tom Schrack, Sr. he was crouched down, sopping up a juice spill in the employee kitchen area. Never mind that he has multiple employees at his disposal that probably wouldn’t balk at cleaning a spill, particularly for a leader who demonstrates such care for the people in his employ.

He glanced over his shoulder and apologized for making me wait. When the spill was cleaned he greeted me with a warm smile and invited me to chat with him in his office, which is decorated with family photos from bottom to top. He looked wistfully at the photographs and said in a soft voice, “We’ve been so fortunate. It’s been a long time; it started too long ago.” When asked if this is how he envisioned his life, he smiled and replied, “Not this big. It’s been an exciting ride.”

It’s big indeed. When Schrack, Sr. started working in the foodservice equipment and supply industry in the 1950s, he couldn’t have envisioned his eventual success of owning the eighth largest foodservice equipment and supply company in the United States. Little did he know back then that he would build a company that would employ his children – who he affectionately refers to now as “the kids” – and allow them all the opportunity to be successful as adults. “My dad built a good foundation,” said daughter Mary Parr. “We all learned from the bottom up. I respect him very, very much. I’m lucky.”

Son-in-law Paul Parr agrees. Now vice president of the company, he remembers working in the warehouse and helping with installations and deliveries. “Dad’s built an excellent company with great people,” he said. Tim Schrack, vice president and Schrack Sr.’s son, added, “I started in the early ‘80s, working in the warehouse and sweeping floors.” Hockenbergs president Tom Schrack Jr. said the siblings all wound up working in different aspects of the company. “The pieces kind of fit where they did,” he said, wondering aloud if his father ushered each child into a separate niche on purpose.

Shrack Jr. said that his father has been working in the foodservice equipment and supply industry since his early adult years. “He’s been doing this since he was 18,” said Schrack Jr. “He’s always had Midwestern values. He always shoots straight with everyone.” 

It’s not just “the kids” who have accolades for Schrack Sr.’s integrity as a businessman. He was honored in 2000 with induction into the Omaha Restaurant Association Hall of Fame and again in 2011 when he was designated as a hall of fame winner for industry magazine Foodservice Equipment and Supplies.

Nowadays Schrack Sr. appears in the office throughout the week for brief periods of time. “We love to have him around,” said Tim Schrack. “It’s good to have him here.” Daughter Mary added, “People like that he’s around; he’s the foundation. He’s well-known in the industry and respected, not just in Omaha, but nationwide.”

Schrack Sr. is a humble man, and therefore attributes the success of his company not to himself, but to the cumulative values of everyone working for Hockenbergs. “We take care of our customers,” he said. “We have good people.”

The recent sale of Hockenbergs to industry giant Trimark was not a shock to anyone involved. Schrack Jr. said that Trimark first approached Hockenbergs back in 1999 in an attempt to buy the company. Trimark is the largest foodservice equipment and supply provider in the United States. “It makes sense for Hockenbergs to be aligned with Trimark,” said Schrack Jr. Or, as Schrack Sr. put it, “Instead of being shoved under the rug, we will be on top of the rug. We thought we had to do that instead of getting trampled.”

“Nothing forced us to do it,” said Paul Parr. “It was a good strategic move.” He explained that Hockenbergs grew so rapidly that they had a difficult time keeping up and then added with a smile, “Join ‘em or fight ‘em.”

Mary Parr insists that the Trimark sale won’t change the way things are run around Hockenbergs. “The family will still be around. Being sold puts our employees in a better position. We have better backing. It opens a lot of doors to be part of a larger group.”

Hockenbergs is expected to continue to thrive under Trimark. “We’ll spend the next year or two integrating with Trimark,” said Schrack Jr. “We’ll gain some advantages by joining them, and so will our customers and employees.  

Schrack Sr. envisions a future where he’ll be “slowly stepping away. The tough part will be not talking to everyone every day. It’s like a family here.” Chances are good that Schrack Sr. won’t have to worry about not talking to his co-workers anymore since he’ll see a good number of them at family gatherings. “He won’t ever not come,” predicted Mary Parr. Schrack Sr. seems to have stopped considering Hockenbergs as a place of work a long time ago; instead, it’s where he goes to see his family.

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