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Executive Q&A: Family's food equipment business grows with Oklahoma City

Cary Amundsen enjoys ushering his family's 74-year-old food service company into the 21st century.
by Paula Burkes Modified: June 23, 2013 at 11:39 pm •  Published: June 23, 2013

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.

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by Paula Burkes
A 1981 journalism graduate of Oklahoma State University, Paula Burkes has more than 30 years experience writing and editing award-winning material for newspapers and healthcare, educational and telecommunications institutions in Tulsa, Oklahoma...
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Position: president, Amundsen Food Equipment

Birth date: February 1964

Family: Sheila Amundsen, married 13 years; daughters Cassidy Rice, 23; Olivia Amundsen, 22, and Grace Amundsen, 18

Residence: west Nichols Hills, where they built two years ago

Education: University of Oklahoma, bachelor's in business

Church home: Crossings Community Church

Pastimes: semiweekly spin classes with Sheila, golf, wake boarding (they have property on Lake Tenkiller), snow skiing and sports (he's a season-ticket holder to OU football and the Thunder)

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