Old World Provisions sets itself apart with authentic New York-style deli meats.
One thing some tourists really want on a visit to New York City is a hot pastrami on rye or a good corned beef sandwich. Just so they can get a real taste of the culture of the city. Thanks to Old World Provisions, they don’t have to travel that far.
Old World, which also does business under the name New York State National, is a “New York” style deli meat producer based in Albany, N.Y. It’s a family-run business, with the fourth generation now working with the company.
Mark Shuket, current president of Old World, says the company got its start with his grandfather, who worked for Hebrew National before moving out to start his own company. His own history with pastrami started in his 20s, when he started working with his father. He worked with his father for 10 years before they moved the company from its original home base of New York City to Albany, the state capital.
Since then, the company has grown by leaps and bounds. “It was doing $750,000 in business,” Shuket says. “We will do in excess of $12 million this year.” The company’s revenue has grown 15 percent per year on average.
That growth has been Old World’s biggest challenge. The company hired a business consultant 10 years ago to help handle the growth, “because how could I be an expert on everything?” says Shuket. The consultant has helped out tremendously by talking with banks and managers. He also helped formalize and internalize the procedures within the company and with the banks.
Of course, competition has been a challenge in itself. However, Shuket believes that his company’s products stand on their own. The products range from pastrami and corned beef to roasted turkey, hot dogs, brisket and corned beef tongue. The company says that pastrami and corned beef can be made from several cuts of meat. It’s the preparation that gives them the distinctive taste and name. However, authentic New-York style is made from the plate or navel.
“Our challenge is getting into the larger chains, like restaurant and sub chains,” he explains. The product line is somewhat limited because of capacity restraints, but they are working on expansion to help improve that.
Despite the name New York State National and its beginnings in the city, the company has always been focused on growth outside the Big Apple. “My father’s expertise was always out of town,” Shuket says. “He was on the road, and he had a lot of contacts.” The company especially focused on ethnic communities who liked the old-fashioned taste and style of the products. Shuket and his family felt it was important to have a regional presence, which has contributed greatly to the company’s growth.
That growth has taken Old World across the country, far from its New York origins. Along with its namesake, the company’s New York style meats are popular in Southern Florida, Southern California and Las Vegas.
Shuket says that he has several goals for the company right now. Tops on the list is to have his successors in the company full time. His eldest son Seth is already working full time in the office.
He would also like to see his company grow more and add more product lines along with greater throughput and expanding distribution channels.
And last, he would like to “work on my tan” as he spends more time with his wife.
Old World doesn’t do a lot of direct sales to chain restaurants or sell to the retail level. It works through distributors to get the product out to restaurants.
“We have a niche business,” explains Shuket. “It’s not your average ham or bologna.” He says their focus has been the specific style of deli meats popularized in New York City. The company continues to tweak its products to stay ahead of the competition.
When he first started with the company, he was traveling the whole country, sampling cuttings of deli meats. When the business consultant was first brought in, Shuket was challenged to increase business by 25 percent.
The move to Albany was a test itself. The decision to move from the company’s original base in the city was a big one. For a time, Old World had two plants: one in Albany and another in the Bronx borough of New York City. They later moved the rest of the production to the state capital, where they’ve been for 18 years.
“I had so much fun I did 40 percent,” he says, going with distributors to work with them in approaching clients.
Another challenge was the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, an event which had a deep impact on this New York-based company. The company was preparing for an expansion. The plans were ready and it was in the middle of a major capital expenditure.
“It was a very uneasy, emotional time for everybody,” Shuket says. “But we made a decision to place our faith in the future.”
There have been other, much better surprises in running Old World. One was how his son Seth has acclimated to working for the company full time. The fact that his son has been working summers and school breaks at the company since he was 14 may have helped out with that.
“I remember him bringing in the baseball team to help us during a busy time,” Shuket recounts. “That was his first crew. I had to be insistent that they not use knives because I didn’t want the coach to come after me.”
His own dedication to the company is nothing to laugh at. He’s been so involved and dedicated to the company that his email address and license plate on his car both say “PASTRAMI.”
Shuket has received a recent honor in his election as the incoming president of the North American Meat Processors Association (NAMP). He’s looking forward to the duties and is welcoming input from members to help improve the industry as much as possible.
“I’m very proud to be part of this industry,” he says. “It’s always pushing us to meet higher standards.”
He’s also very proud of the company he still runs. He hopes that their push for food safety has pushed the company to the highest levels in the industry. The company also uses the freshest meats and ingredients available.
Shuket says that the company reaches those high standards 50 weeks out of the year, “because I say nobody is perfect. For food safety, we put a strong focus on making our products consistent every day.”
Old World Provisions Inc.
Founded in 1978 Headquarters: Albany, N.Y. 2005 sales: $12 million in 2007 (projected) Employees: 30 to 35 (depending on season) Plants: 1 Brands: New York State National
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