Total Food: Now & Then

How is an idea born? A successful one is normally rather organic, grown out of love or true interest in a subject or product. That is exactly how it happened for Total Food Service Publisher Fred Klashman. As Total Food Service marks its 25th year anniversary my curiosity was piqued. How did the industry publication start?

Fred Klashman says to understand the story you have to go back to his days growing up. “My family had a dress store near Harvard University in Cambridge MA. We would go to the store to visit my Grandma and my aunts and uncle Louie. I would sit and wait for my Dad, and of course there were no phones in those days so I needed to keep myself occupied. He said to pass the time he would grab the trade papers: Womens Wear Daily (WWD), Footwear News and Daily News Record. They were tabloid size and the original TFS – Total Food Service logo actually looked like WWD. So it must have been one of those things in life that becomes ingrained. I was always struck by how interesting the papers were even though they had nothing in them about the Red Sox or Bruins, which were the only things in life that I was interested in.”

Before Total Food Service though there was hockey at Colorado College, followed by sports public relations and Radio/TV advertising sales. Klashman especially loved that with radio advertising he could create ideas to help customers solve their needs. After switching over to the TV side though he found advertising lost its appeal, as it was less about content and more about price and packaging.

This is when Klashman decided to build his own business (with guidance from his wife Leslie), a business where he could use all his skills. He came up with an idea for a trade publication to combine the days of sitting and reading at the family store with the creativity that I loved from radio. Though he didn’t know much about restaurants and food service at the time, he knew it was something that interested him and wow has that interest continued over the last 25 years.

I got a chance to ask Klashman a lot more about the publication that so many in the industry love.

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What makes it different than other industry publications?

Curiosity. Since neither of us had ever worked in a restaurant, we were incredibly curious about the industry. That curiosity has continued to grow and it had led to what we do differently: we ask great questions. It’s like peeling an onion with layer upon layer. We soon discovered that there was a never-ending bank of fascinating stories.

From going to Newark airport and watching thousands of meals being assembled for airline dining to watching how Sloan Kettering attends to its patients and the endless
creativity of the city’s club managers and school food service directors.

From a sales standpoint, those very same curiosities create a unique relationship with our customers. In many cases the answers to our questions turns into an exciting layout
that can be used in print and on-line.

How has TFS evolved since its start?

Fax machines and no Internet…need I say more? As with the world we live in, technology has completely changed how we produce the publication every month. Twenty-five years ago, you hung pages on the wall and proofed them. The printer would then have to come and pick up your pages in what looked like an oversized pizza box. They would then create film and plates and print. Our daughter who came to work with us every day was in diapers when we began. Now the whole publication is created with Adobe InDesign on a Mac, and then hits a button to send the pages to the printer electronically. We’ve evolved from what was essentially a black and white product to an exciting 4-Color from cover to cover publication.

The basics of what we do everyday have not changed at all. It’s our editorial mission to talk to our marketplace and dispense that news and information. The big difference today is that we do it across multiple platforms in addition to print.

Technology has enabled us to do a much better job for our advertisers. We can target very specific categories of buyers like chefs in Manhattan and create added value campaigns with outbound email and social media platforms.

We’ve also found ourselves growing into the event business. We worked with the Elliot Group on Biz Mix to bring young people in our industry together. Last year, we collaborated with TouchBistro and PayPal to create a signature event with Randy Garutti of Shake Shack. Most recently we held a wine tasting networking event with Wine Expert, Kevin Zraly.

Did you think it would be around 25 years later?

Absolutely, as long as people need to eat three meals a day, I knew the need would be there. My late Dad always told me to “Keep My Eye on The Sparrow.” We have worked incredibly hard everyday and tried to keep that focus. Most importantly, we simply never would have gotten to this milestone without the incredible work of our teams, past and present, including our Director of Advertising, Michael Scinto who has been with us for nearly 16 years, along with our very talented Creative Director, Ross Moody and a group of truly wonderful contributing foodservice columnists.

How has the food service industry evolved?

This could be a book by itself. There have been so many changes. The Food Network and its original set of super star chefs including Emeril Lagasse has had an enormous impact…especially in NYC. Everybody got stars in their eyes and headed for culinary school.

The next set of changes was what I call cultural and legislative. First we saw the end of smoking in restaurants, then the elimination of transfats, then Styrofoam and even the Bloomberg attempt to get rid of soda.

Technology has of course been fascinating to follow. For so long it seemed like so much of the technology we saw at trade shows was useless. Boy did that ever change with apps like Open Table for reservations and Seamless Web for ordering. Then companies led by TouchBistro came in and found a way for restaurants to operate their businesses with iPads. Most recently with the intro of the Apple Watch, we are seeing a boom in mobile payments. Technology has also made restaurants more efficient with programs including Trading Table that enable the operator to compare pricing (Think Priceline/Travelocity/Orbitz) to buy for their restaurants.

From a menu standpoint, we’ve seen that everything goes. Sure there’s been a major push towards farm or local to table but at the same time with the growth of Shake Shack, Five Guys, Unami, Smashburger, the decadence of the burger is back with a vengeance. At the same time Mrs. Obama is screaming about cleaning up what we serve to kids in schools. So when I hear about healthier eating, I scratch my head.
There have been enormous changes in the adult beverage world. After the decade of the celebrity chef has now come the era of the superstar mixologist. I love reading Warren Bobrow’s column in TFS every month. From craft beer to the signature cocktails this market seems to change monthly. It seems as if with the maturity of the wine market that every restaurant now has a certified sommelier. It wasn’t that long ago that Alan Stillman’s Wine Weeks at Smith and Wollensky were unique.

Now that we live in a world in which everybody has his or her face buried in a smart phone, I have found the role of the trade show has changed. Reminds me of when TV was introduced and everybody said that movie theaters would close. Quite the opposite and no more true than with trade shows. In many cases the shows enable restaurateurs to network with suppliers and friends. Many of the educational opportunities include the opportunity to hear in person from the best and brightest and to test drive new concepts in person.
It’s been fascinating to watch how the city has morphed through the years. Incredible restaurant scenes have grown in both the Meatpacking district in Manhattan and more recently in Brooklyn.

What do you see for the future of TFS?

Quicker, faster and more immediate. The mission remains the same to dig for the latest news to present to our readers. It’s our job to build a team that can disperse that information through our print and web products while keeping an eye on the growth of mobile, Google glasses and whatever comes next. No question there will also be more video. I also see our event business continuing to grow as we serve our communities.

What about the future of the food industry? What changes do you predict?

The future includes a number of issues that need to be sorted out. In many cases they are a reflection of the world we live in. Our view is that the disparity between rich and poor will impact what we eat, how we are served and who serves us. There’s no question that fast food workers striking and McDonalds reacting with a $1 an hour increase is the beginning of that change. These burger flipping jobs used to be for a high school kid. Today for many they are part of a couple of jobs that are used to feed a family. So then the question becomes as technology and robotics grow, will the restaurateur replace humans with robots? Please NO!!!

No question that what we eat is going to change. I see it cutting across demographic lines. The wealthier will look to eat healthier and fresher fare. While the economically challenged will continue to eat fried everything.

An aging population living longer will have more disposable income. Many of these folks have taken care of themselves and will remain living in their own homes. With this will come new fast casual concepts that will serve the boomer with healthier menus?

On the vendor side, a sales position at an Equipment and Supply dealer will become a valued role. Sales on the Internet will create more dealer consolidation, which will make the rep on the street even more valuable. Food service professionals no longer look to sales people to take an order but rather to provide service and “boutique” expertise.

Anyone Special You Want to Thank?

It’s been some ride. We owe special thanks to our beloved advertisers, many of who have been with us since the beginning and especially our readers, because without them, the presses would have stopped long ago. Total Food Service looks forward to another 25 years of keeping tabs on what we are convinced is the most fascinating industry.

Cindi Avila is the owner of Green Goddess Public Relations in NYC. She specializes in food, family, health and education clients. Her clients include the Institute of Culinary Education and Blossom Du Jour restaurants.