Thursday, February 13, 2003

Specialized B2B
service grows in the
restaurant business

Quietly and steadily, the gourmet specialty side of the foodservice industry has been growing. Case in point, Island Epicure, a new division of Y. Hata & Co. Ltd.

Its offices inside Y. Hata's Sand Island Access Road complex won't be ready for a couple weeks, but President and Chief Executive Officer Karen Syrmos is already up and running, creating a new catalog.

It's not so much that she's going to try to bring in the next big thing, said Sabine Glissman, director of food and beverage at the Halekulani.

"She's checking with the chefs, 'what do you miss,' 'what would you like to have.'" she said. "We try to work with local ingredients but people expect to see certain things."

Get Syrmos started on cheeses and she'll talk about bringing in "artisan cheeses that are still farm-fed. Like, one woman with seven cows standing out there. Really, an artisan that you would normally not see outside of Europe." A domestic cheese renaissance has created American artisans, too. Syrmos knows many European and American cheese whizzes personally and plans a "meet the cheesemaker" program.

"We're going to have a state-of-the-art test kitchen with dining room facilities," she said. "It's perfectly situated to do seminars and educational programs."

Some of Island Epicure's meats will be from Niman Ranch in San Francisco, whose hormone-free meats are served at California's renowned French Laundry restaurant. Syrmos' list also includes unusual fowl, Norwegian salmon and Molinari salame. But what about nearly impossible to find cappicola? "For sure, we'll have that," she told the columnist who drooled about the delicacy since seeing TV mobster Tony Soprano stuff his face with it.

Jim Davis, vice president of sales for King Food Service Inc., believes the growth in specialty lines for restaurants is due in part to growing interest in wines and specialty retail shops. The contents of King's catalog is 31 categories long and goes from anchovies to vinegars with escargot and foie gras in between.

King also hosts chefs, but Davis gets invited out, as well. "I participate with those chefs, going to some high-end white-table-cloth gourmet restaurants," he said. The chefs stay ahead of trends in the industry, and "I enjoy being involved as a vendor." Plus, he gets to eat.

Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin.
Call 529-4302, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle,
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210,
Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached

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