Cary Amundsen, president of Amundsen Food Equipment, is more than aware his 74-year-old family company is not the same business his grandfather started 74 years ago. For one, the Internet has revolutionized operations.
To bid on equipment, such as for a school kitchen, the company once employed skilled drafters who'd hand draw intricate plans, mail them off to designers who'd redline them and mail them back, Amundsen said. Today, staff simply downloads design projects on which they want to bid and emails bids. The whole process is done in days, versus weeks or a month, he said.
The company sells commercial food service equipment, from vent hoods to walk-in refrigeration units to stoves and ranges, and has about $14 million in annual revenues. Ninety percent of customers are in Oklahoma.
“Much of our business has a very skinny profit margin,” Amundsen said. Niches include distributing parts, service and leasing for Scotsman icemakers and selling guaranteed used equipment the company buys, sells and reworks, he said.
Past jobs include the concessions areas for the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University football stadiums and Chesapeake Energy Arena, the banquet kitchen at the Oklahoma City Golf & Country Club, and most of the state's casinos.
“Our future is bright,” Amundsen said, forecasting work at college football stadiums in Texas and restaurants on W Memorial and NW 23 streets.
From his 31,000-square-foot offices and warehouse at 1740 W Main, Amundsen, 49, sat down with The Oklahoman on Tuesday to talk about his professional and personal life. This is an edited transcript:
Q: Tell us a little about the history of your family business.
A: My grandfather, Earl Amundsen, started the company in 1939. At first it was a little restaurant equipment place, but then he met with some guys from Ohio-based Hobart food service equipment manufacturer and became their representative for the state of Oklahoma.
When my dad, Jerry Amundsen, an OU graduate and retired U.S. Air Force captain, joined the business in 1958, he took it to a whole new level — growing it from three employees to 12 or 13 and hitting $1 million in annual sales in the late '70s.
Q: Did you know your grandfather?
A: I was 4 or 5 when he died, so I don't remember him. But my dad said I used to ride around on the back of his wheelchair. As a result of a car accident and arthritis, he spent the last 10 years of his life in a wheelchair, and died young — at age 70. He only had a sixth-grade education, but read two books a day — using a dictionary to look up the words he didn't know. He also had the gift of gab, like my dad.
Q: How about your childhood? Where'd you grow up and go to school?
A: We lived in Quail Creek, where my mother was a stay-at-home mom to me and my two sisters, one three years older and one three years younger. I attended Heritage Hall, graduating in '82 in a class of 73. Aside from history and English, which I liked, I was a mediocre student. Outside of class, I was in Student Council and played offensive lineman on the football team. Because we were a small school, I — at 6-foot-2-inches, 180 pounds — was one of the biggest guys on the team. I later grew to 6-foot-3.
Q: Did you grow up working here, and did you always know you'd join the family business?
A: From sixth grade on, I worked here in the summers — cleaning equipment or assisting with deliveries. But in the summers of my freshmen and sophomore years, I made curly Q fries for Kennedy's Restaurant (formerly Across the Street). In the summers of '80 and '81, I worked for Trigg Drilling as a welding assistant, helping to build rigs. You talk about absolutely hard work. We'd work nine hour days, six days a week. I made $8 an hour and thought I was rich.
I wasn't sure about joining the business. I started out in psychology, switched to journalism and finally moved to business.
My first three years of college, I followed my older sister to Arizona State — attracted by the winter temperatures. But I finished at OU. I had a girlfriend here, plus — after spending several summers working for the company — I had developed my own client list.
Q: Your wife, Sheila, heads accounting for Amundsen Food Equipment, and the two of you met here. What's it like working together?
A: It's fun and good to both be focused on the same thing — running a good business and working with good people. We go to lunch together about three times a week, and get caught up on a lot of stuff. We talk a little business. We talk a little fun, and, a lot of the time, about kids: the good (mostly) and bad of having three daughters.
Q: Of what are you most proud, business-wise?
A: Finding, training, developing and keeping real talented people. I hired two or three people 20 years ago who still work here today. In fact, of our 24 full-time employees, four have 20 or more years' service and eight have 15 plus years.
We also really enjoy working with small restaurants, like S&B Burgers, Big Truck Tacos and Good Egg Group, and helping them grow.