Family Has Appetite For Food Service Brock & Co. Started With A Few Sandwiches. Now It's A Major Catering Firm.

Posted: August 15, 1995

MALVERN — In high school back in the 1920s, Lymnar Brock Sr. liked making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and selling them at the football games. Later, in 1927, he went professional, selling meat sandwiches to factory workers full time.

His business, Brock & Co. Inc., has since evolved from sandwiches to box lunches to mobile catering trucks and finally to serving thousands in corporate dining rooms.

Brock & Co. now provides food services for 48 corporate clients from North Jersey to Virginia, maintains 600 vending machines and employs more than 400 people in a fiercely competitive industry in which profit margins seldom hover above 5 percent.

Despite the presence of national food service companies, Brock has carved a niche as a successful regional provider by grossing more than $20 million annually.

The senior Brock died in 1964, but his son already had embraced the food industry legacy by the time he went full time in 1959, after earning two

college degrees and a completing a stint in the Navy.

"My father always wanted to work for himself and wanted to be in a business that had certain repetitions and involved consumer products," said Lynmar Brock Jr., president of the food service management company.

Among the employee cafeterias it now manages are those for such Fortune 500 clients as AT&T, Ford Motor Co., Unisys Corp., TV Guide and NBC-TV in Washington, D.C.

The company recently expanded the list by signing three-year leases to operate cafeterias for Packaging Coordinators Inc., Philadelphia, a packager for the pharmaceutical industry; British-owned ICI Corp., a West Deptford, N.J., polypropylene manufacturer, and Nabisco Food Group, Philadelphia.

"I had joined my dad when I was 13," said Brock, now 61. "I bused tables and cleaned dishes. During the summer while I was at Dartmouth, I drove a mobile catering truck."

Other family members in the business are Brock's wife, Claudie, the corporate secretary; their son, Andrew, a management trainee in special projects; and Brock's brother, Charles, senior vice president.

The senior Brock interrupted sandwich-making twice in 1926 after leaving school; he worked as a salesman for Scott Paper Co., and as a timekeeper for a construction company, but both jobs apparently were unappetizing.

The next year, at age 22, he returned to making sandwiches in his mother's kitchen in Swarthmore and selling them to nearby factory workers. In 1928, Brock expanded his offerings and introduced box lunches.

The contents of a typical box lunch sold in the late 1930s and during World War II included boiled ham on a soft roll, a spiced lunch meat and cheese sandwich, a cup of creamed cabbage, applesauce cake with lemon icing, a banana, coconut cream pie and a sweet pickle - all for 25 cents.

During the war, Brock Sr. entered mobile catering, with a fleet of 75 trucks dispensing hot and cold snacks at various plants and businesses.

"One of our stops was Schmidt's Beer," the younger Brock said. "We sold more milk at the brewery than at any other stop."

As the war wound down, the box lunches were phased out and Brock started serving employees in corporate cafeterias. Among his first clients were Midvale Steel Co. and American Pulley Co.

In 1945, the company sold frozen french fries to local supermarkets (the fries business was sold in 1964), and in 1956 launched its vending machine venture in manufacturing plants and office buildings. In 1972, the company phased out its mobile catering business.

Virtually all food service contracts are awarded by bid, and it's not uncommon to win a contract, lose it and regain it four years later.

"The customer really determines what the menu is, and we tailor the menu to each individual account," Brock said of the bidding process. "We rapidly respond to changes in the workplace or a change in corporate philosophy about serving food."

Provisions are ordered by the company and shipped directly to cafeterias, where the chefs, cooks, managers and counter people prepare and serve the food.

To keep pace with competitors, Brock Jr. and his wife visit each corporate cafeteria at least twice a year to elicit menu suggestions, criticism and sample the food.

"In restaurants, you have different customers but the same menus," Brock said. "We serve the same customer every day and therefore the menu has to be different every day. And we have to be creative to keep our clients."

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