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HESCO: Still Agile at 100

HESCO: Still Agile at 100

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Photo by EPIC Photography Inc.

HESCO is a kitchen design and supply company that creates efficient, modern, eco-friendly food service spaces for restaurants, corporations, institutions, oil and gas camps, and hotels. Established in 1921, the company has consistently evolved to meet a changing market. As HESCO prepares to celebrate 100 years in business, the brand pivots again, taking on the new challenges ushered in by the pandemic. Takeout containers and pickup stations for individuals, SkipTheDishes and Uber Eats drivers are just a few of ways HESCO is innovating and leading in the food service industry.

The story of HESCO began in 1921 when founder R.J. Talbot opened the doors to supply a growing restaurant sector in Edmonton with appliances, cleaning supplies, utensils and linens. Larry and Doris Ungarian and their son Adam bought HESCO in 2006 and expanded the business model to include designing and building commercial kitchens.

In 2015, HESCO expanded to Calgary in a move that Adam Ungarian vice president, sales calls, “an opportunity to diversify in two markets.”

In 2017, Cory Wagner joined as president and spearheaded the implementation of technology that would make HESCO even more agile and customer-focused.

With projects that see them outfitting oil and gas camps, upgrading food service in daycares, providing outstanding design for corporate breakrooms, and – of course – transforming old and new restaurants and chains across western Canada, there isn’t a project HESCO isn’t willing to take on. Currently HESCO is renovating an airplane hangar into a banquet facility, among other projects that run the gambit from $20,000 to $5 million.

Ungarian and Wagner feel both humbled and proud that HESCO has continued to grow even though the COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly hard on the food service industry. They credit this ongoing success to their ability to consult, design for, and provide products for any industry, not just restaurants; HESCO’s ability to pivot; and the strong relationships they have carefully cultivated over the years.

“Our team stands out,” says Ungarian. “At the end of the day, food service companies sell a lot of the same products, so it comes down to relationships. You can make promises but if you don’t live up to your word, you lose customers.

Wagner agrees, adding, “Networking and communicating with the team and with customers is also very important to us, and are key components of our success.”

One of the ways the company is proving its agility and responsiveness is how quickly it expanded its product line during the pandemic. In addition to supplying HESCO customers with face shields, masks, gloves, anti-theft hand sanitizing stations, and cleaning supplies, the company offers a line of eco-friendly compostable food packaging containers that keep food hot and fresh for takeout and delivery, while allowing the restaurant to remain committed to reducing landfill waste. This option is very much needed in a time when restaurants are doing everything they can to safely serve customers and keep their doors open, despite dining curfews and reduced seating capacity.

Edmonton restrictions on indoor gatherings pushed many restaurants to not only reduce or close dining-in service, but to create takeout menus and offer delivery. Despite working hard in the past to reduce the use of plastic containers and cutlery, for many, the only option in keeping the doors open was to stock up on single-use wares. HESCO’s solution of biodegradable takeout containers and cutlery offers an affordable solution.
In addition to PPE, biodegradable takeout containers, and other items that help restaurants weather the storm of COVID-19, HESCO provides a variety of products that business owners can use to expand their services and offer increased safety to their teams. For example, an event planning company can purchase slushie machines to rent to families celebrating milestones at home. Daycares and other facilities benefit from dishwashers and fridges with safer coolants and chemicals.

“We cater to any market, breaking the mold of what people think we are,” says Wagner. “Everyone in any industry is a customer.”
With their finger on the pulse of the food service industry, Ungarian and Wagner are also aware of the ever-growing influence of the Food Network, Cooking Channel, and other shows that promote food and food service.

“What cooking channels have done is made the chef lifestyle sexy,” admits Wagner. “It has created a young and budding group of very talented, sophisticated chefs in our cities. When you look at the chefs now, they are in their early 20s and 30s; the industry has benefited from the younger generation getting into food service.”

Ungarian adds, “Everyone likes to eat, and many people want to open a restaurant. We see, understand, and respond to this influence.”

The new generation of chefs are very interested in being as efficient as possible while minimizing waste. To accommodate both longstanding and the newest influx of clients, HESCO recently purchased a fabrication shop to move the creation, innovation, and manufacturing of stainless steel appliances in-house. Through its own facility HESCO works with chemists and engineers to reduce the amount of chemicals needed in its appliances, and to replace parts and liquid solutions with safer long-term options.

HESCO has had many successes over the past 100 years and continues to be the company of choice to take brands like JW Marriot, Chopped Leaf, The Canadian Brewhouse, and more into the future with sustainably run, efficient kitchens. Ungarian and Wagner are particularly proud of HESCO’s work on JW Marriot Edmonton ICE District, where project restrictions only allowed contractors on site during certain hours, and deliveries were only permitted in the wee hours of the morning. HESCO had the expertise to work within these parameters and deliver the project (a catering kitchen, two dining kitchens, bars) on time.

“We are currently building a massive food service facility for the Kitimat LNG project,” says Ungarian. “This project will service a 5,000+ person workcamp.”
Despite being busy with a variety of projects across an even greater variety of industries, HESCO finds time to give back. Being community minded is of the utmost importance to the entire team in Edmonton and Calgary, which is why you’ll find HESCO employees and management volunteering, sponsoring events, collecting bottles for charity and supporting local food banks.

As HESCO gears up to celebrate 100 years, the brand proudly looks back on its roots. Talbot’s foresight in seeing how the restaurant industry in Edmonton would grow, the Ungarian’s vision of expanding into commercial kitchens and opening up a branch in Calgary, Wagner’s proactivity in moving up the company to a technological focus, and the many projects of all sizes provide a firm foundation for future success. With the fast move to biodegradables to help restaurants maintain low carbon loads while adapting to new industry needs, and with a variety of products and in-house engineering to provide best quality, safest products and services, HESCO looks forward to another century of success.

Ungarian and Wagner conclude, “The future is about growth: growth in market share, growth of the core business, growth geographically, and growing into new segments.”

Learn more about HESCO’s history and exciting future by following the brand on Facebook and by visiting www.hesco.ca.

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