New ownership rebranding St. Johns Food Service after 74 years

Business partners Craig Smith and Joel Slotnick are expanding the company while concentrating on local growth.

Business partners Craig Smith and Joel Slotnick have plans on how to grow the company that was originally founded in 1947.
Business partners Craig Smith and Joel Slotnick have plans on how to grow the company that was originally founded in 1947.
Photo by Dan Macdonald
  • Business
  • Share

One school of thought for succeeding in business is that an entrepreneur needs to launch a new idea or innovative product.

But sometimes it’s a matter of making old businesses new again.

During his career, Craig Smith has owned several businesses – transportation, packaging and beepers – back when beepers were a thing.

But since 2009, he has been making old businesses new again.

That year he bought the Alhambra dinner theater.

Last year, Smith, 54, and his business partner, Joel Slotnick, 51, bought St. Johns Food Service, a St. Augustine company formed in 1949. 

The two operate the company, and there are silent partners involved as well.

The group bought the company, including the warehouse, inventory, equipment and trucks, from owner Melvin McQuaig for $1.1 million.

The new logo for St. Johns Food Service.

“I say that I bought a piece of real estate and happened to get a company that sold food service with it,” Smith said.

St. Johns Food Service has 440 customers and handles 3,000 products. It services restaurants, hospitals, hotels, bars, golf courses, food trucks and some small grocery stores.

Smith knew about the company because Alhambra is a customer. It spends about $1 million a year on food and related supplies. Of that amount 25% to 30% is with the St. Johns Food Service.

“The theater alone could potentially be 10% of our annual revenue. I want it to be a much smaller percentage because that means our revenues grew a lot bigger,” Smith said.

The revenue goal for 2023 is $10 million, Smith said.

St. Johns Food Service is a founding member of Golbon, a national support organization for independent food distributors. Smith said he was taken aback by the worth of some of the members at Golbon’s recent meeting in Tampa.

“We are one of the smaller companies. We go to this meeting and we are sitting at a table with $300 million, $500 million companies,” Smith said.

Compared to companies like Sysco and Florida Food Service Inc., his group took over a mom-and-pop operation, he said. 

While it is a good business, it has remained in its same niche for many years. Smith and Slotnick want to grow the company.

“When we bought the company, we were using an abacus and we’ve moved our way up to a calculator,” Slotnick joked.

The company services businesses from Crescent Beach to Atlantic Beach.

A St. Johns Food Service truck outside the company warehouse office at 4 Louise St. in St. Augustine.
Photo by Dan Macdonald

Growing the company means playing to its strengths.

“The beauty of being our size is that we are responsive, quick and we’re nimble,” Smith said.

They’ve grown the sales force from two to five members.

The team members recently returned from a Chicago food show where they searched for specialty products from small companies that bigger distributors wouldn’t ordinarily handle. 

They have a jar of pickled pigs feet on a shelf in their St. Augustine warehouse that you might expect to find behind the bar at an old roadside tavern.

“We have to have something specific to sell because if we are going to try to sell flour, sugar and french fries against the big boys, we will never grow,” Smith said.

Their size also allows them to work with local companies. 

They met recently with Jacksonville meat producer Azar & Co. It is introducing a new line of breakfast sausage and Smith plans to take the product to restaurants and leave samples for customers.

“I’m a local company wanting to get a product on grocery store shelves or in restaurants. I’m looking for something local that no one else is touching,” Smith said.

Smith quotes a company sales member: “He loves to tell people we are local and that every penny they spend stays in this market.”

They are using the company’s relatively small size to its advantage.

A customer dropped by the warehouse office at 4 Louise St. in St. Augustine to pick up a single box of condiments.

The office manager was on the phone with a customer explaining the various kinds of baking flour St. Johns Food Service carries.

Recently, a hotel needed a variety of items as soon as possible.

“It was like a $500 order. I told them I would get it to them that day. I put it in my truck and drove it over there myself,” Slotnick said.

Bigger food distributors have minimum orders several times higher than that of St. Johns Food Service, Smith said.

“I bought this company because, in addition to the big national companies, our market needs a local company serving its customers in the hospitality space,” he said.

“The ability to respond quickly to the growing and changing local market and more immediate needs takes local knowledge.”

Neither Smith nor Slotnick has taken a salary since they bought the business. 

Smith has the Alhambra and Slotnick is involved in a few other ventures. 

Together they are also partners with others of Dog Beach, a pet day care and park.

“We haven’t taken a penny out (of St. Johns Food Service). And Joel reminds me that the deal he got me in with Dog Beach, he has got me some checks,” Smith said.

St. Johns Food Service is re-launching the brand in June. It has a new logo. The company that rarely advertised is reaching out to traditional and social media. It is working with the MediaShare Consulting Group.

“It’s not just a new logo. It’s a signal that this is a whole new way of doing business for us. We are now communicating forward and outward. It’s something we’ve never done before,” Smith said.



Special Offer: $5 for 2 Months!

Your free article limit has been reached this month.
Subscribe now for unlimited digital access to our award-winning business news.