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A Wonderland of Food

Thursday, January 1, 2004

It’s beginning to appear that the vision of Henry Wainer reaches as far as the limits of his imagination.

So, too, does his growing culinary empire, which could very well be New Bedford business’s best-kept-secret.

Emphasis on the “growing.” In case you didn’t know it, his sprawling New Bedford

company, Sid Wainer & Son, is now the fastest growing specialty produce and specialty food company in the United States.

An importer and exporter as well as a national and international distributor, his company supplies the finest resorts, airlines, cruise lines (including the QEII), hotels, caterers and restaurants, (with a total of 18,000 restaurants on a daily basis in North America, alone.)

It is a home-grown company that has become a unique entity in the business of gastronomy, and one that is instrumental behind creating food trends today.

“Chefs ask for various specialty foods that few others can find,” Mr. Wainer says. “And we provide them with the best.”

In more ways than one.

A WORLDWIDE NETWORK

Upstairs in Mr. Wainer’s business offices, dozens of the total of 52 salespeople who work off and on in this room - and who also happened to be trained chefs - are busy talking into telephone head-sets to buyers and purveyors around the world.

And much like Mr. Wainer, they take their business very seriously.

The telephone system here is backed by an extremely intricate digital telecommunications network, a satellite system that automatically becomes operational should the telephone cease to function. With at least 100 lines available, it runs under the same system that was designed for the Coast Guard in the event of military emergencies.

Among those here at Mr. Wainer’s offices on this day are the executive chefs of the Walt Disney Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Fla., and the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston. The executive chef for the upcoming Summer Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, had just left, after having spent a week here.
“What you have going on here,” Mr. Wainer says, “are chefs selling to chefs for mutual benefit.”

Along with the 200 food shows his company will be participating in within the next three months, Sid Wainer & Son will also be supplying all manor of specialty items for the 2004 Masters Gold Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, taking place April 5-11.
He has an appreciate audience closer to home, too.

“He’s everywhere, he’s amazing, and nobody can top the quality of his products,” says Chef Palm Green of the New Bedford Yacht Club. “You can pretty much get anything you need from him. The guy has done a great job, and we’re lucky to have him in New Bedford.”

Meanwhile, in a downstairs labyrinth of rooms of varying sizes, heights and temperatures - including a retail Gourmet Outlet offering such delicacies as Na Zdorovia caviar from the Caspian Sea, Tuscan olive oils, artichokes, white anchovies and pecorino cheeses, and Fondo di Alba truffle products - some 400 employees buzz inside and out of the sprawling 300,000-suqare-foot facility, which has eight different temperature zones monitored every three hours.

“We have a complete turnover of our entire produce inventory six times per week,” Mr. Wainer

“It’s our job to show chefs what foods they can use for creating exciting and unique dishes,” Mr. Wainer says. “Somebody had to do it. And we’re good at it.”

And many say he just might be the best.

“Henry? Oh, he’s The Man,” says Doug Buker, chef/owner of Margaret’s at 16 Main St. in Fairhaven. “He’s the greatest for a lot of reasons. He works everyday and works really hard to develop what he’s done. And I totally respect that.”

“He started small and pushed the envelope further and further and now has the best produce company in America - the best quality, the best variety. If you want to go top-shelf, he also has the best service and he’ll get it right out to you. To him, the little guy is as important as the big guy. I don’t think consumers know how fortunate we are to have them here.”

“Things you haven’t heard of he has. It’s a wonderland of food.”

CITY BOY, CITY MAN

Henry Wainer grew up on Rockdale Avenue in New Bedford riding on the back of his father Sid’s truck, picking up carrots and potatoes and onions from local farms.

In what began as Wainer Brothers Wholesale Produce, started by his grandfather Henry in 1914, the shop was originally located adjacent to what is now the Whaling Museum, and later moved to the site that now holds the New Bedford YMCA. Mr. Wainer took over for his late father full time in the 1980’s at the former Almac Supermarket site at 2301 Purchase St.

“Oh, he’s the No. 1 quality that I know of in the entire region,” says Debby Seguin of freestone’s City Grill in New Bedford. “It’s a wonderful organization and we’ve been customers of theirs for 25 years - customer No. 40. He is a constant award winner for quality and presentation all over the world.

“There are a lot of best-kept-secrets around here and Henry’s one of them - probably the best company that we could ask to do business with. He’s a great family man with a great company and one of the best contributors to the community.”

The family business sold only fruits and vegetables, and would often visit and support local farmers. The upshot was that those local purchases allowed them to deliver fresh fruits and veggies the same day they were harvested.

“Today, farms throughout the world are growing a variety of products which we never even imagined existed in my grandfather’s day,” Mr. Wainer says.

Since then, the family relationship has grown to include farmers from around the world and has become the major factor in the growth of Sid Wainer & Son, which has since outdistanced others in the industry.

“Along with the farmer, we decide what we want to grow, and we ensure that the farmer has a ready marketplace for his harvest,” Mr. Wainer says. “The farmer gets stronger and so do we. More and more farmers are showing us today their willingness and ability to partner with us and securing our future together. It also allows us to grow produce which would, otherwise, never be available locally.”

And now his company is creating in an inner-city farming concept on a recently acquired acreage adjacent to their facility. The plan is to create greenhouses at the former Alden Corrugated site to produce wide varieties of products grown in soil.

Inner-city farming is an idea that hasn’t been considered before, Mr. Wainer says.

“The purpose of our own local farms (including a 22-acre farm in the heart of Dartmouth,) is to grow fantastic produce and test market experimental crops,” Mr. Wainer explains. “We expect this effort to be hugely successful - an effort in which we all win.”

Once the crop is proven successful based on topography, climate and quality of the harvest (and 100 percent of it has so proven at the farm in Dartmouth, according to Mr. Wainer), the product is contracted out to the other Jansal Valley Farms in order to acquire ample quantities based on the season and demand.

“Look around you,” Mr. Wainer says from high atop the New Bedford city with an impressive view of the city, just outside his hospitality suite. “This is it - this is the real New Bedford. My whole success has sprung from right here, because our area has always been one of the major food belts.”

“We’re re-creating it now. It will be a magnet for farmers and chefs throughout the world. And who knows - it might lead the way for inner-city farming throughout the country.”

Then New Bedford’s best-kept success story won’t be so secret anymore.

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