Southeastern Food Supplies might enjoy a leading market position as Florida’s premier distributor of Asian cuisine, but the Miami-based company still maintains the same level of personalized customer service that enabled it to grow. “Our internal motto is that we’re big enough to serve our customers’ needs, but we’re small enough to care,” President and General Manager Lawrence Yu says.
Southeastern Food Supplies was founded in 1968 and consisted of a 6,000-square-foot storage facility and two delivery vans. It served a small, but growing, number of Chinese restaurants in south Florida with dry grocery products such as flour, sugar, rice, vegetable oil and canned foods.
Today, Southeastern Food Supplies operates an extensive fleet of refrigerated trucks that deliver Chinese, Japanese and Thai food choices ranging from fresh produce, meat and poultry to frozen seafood and foodservice disposables. It delivers daily to restaurants and specialized grocers across the state from warehouses in Miami, Tampa and West Palm Beach, Fla.
The company also carries its own brand of private-label products including noodles and tofu. “Even though we’ve grown a lot, we still continue to meet our customers’ needs by being nimble in our response and providing great customer service,” Vice President Anise Chow explains.
Chow’s father, Kan Yee, and Yu’s father, Stanley Yu, are brothers from the rural village of Taishan, China. In 1964, they joined their uncle in Nassau, Bahamas, to learn the grocery business from the ground up, which turned into a passion for food distribution.
They eventually saved enough money to move to Miami, where they formed a company to purchase Southeastern Food Supplies from its original owners. Two separate individuals translated their last names when they migrated to the United States, which is why they legally have different last names. However, locally, they’re known as “the Yu brothers.”
The Yu brothers are still actively involved in the day-to-day operations of Southeastern Food Supplies but are in the process of passing the business down to their children. Anise Chow, her sister Angela Chan, Lawrence Yu and his brother Donald Yu, intend to carry on the company’s reputation of exemplary customer service.
“Our dads have always done a good job of understanding our customers’ needs and working hard to make sure those needs are met,” Lawrence Yu says. “It’s those long-term relationships that have carried our company through the years and helped us grow.”
“Our staff is very knowledgeable about the customers and our products,” Chow adds. “We foster the different languages that our customers utilize in order to build those relationships. We’ve built a lot of trust and a good reputation with our customers, and we hope we will continue to be a part of their success.”
Supplying the Best
Chow and Yu also want to maintain the long-term relationships between Southeastern Food Supplies and its vendors and suppliers. “We’re always looking for new, high-quality products that might benefit our customers,” Chow says. “The trend now is to eat healthier foods with less oil, less additives and less preservatives, so we take all of that market information and move ahead of the curve so we’re at the top when that trend is fully realized.”
“Our suppliers are always introducing us to new products,” Yu adds. “By knowing our marketplace and understanding what our customers’ needs are, we are able to find new things that could benefit our customer base, whether they are new menu items or ideas of how to improve their operations by getting more value from using a different product or using a similar product in a different way.”
For instance, standard tofu is typically packed in preservatives to maintain a longer product shelf life. Southeastern Foods Supplies recently introduced a new tofu product that offers a fresher taste with fewer preservatives but still has a long shelf life.
Achieving New Goals
Yu and Chow have financial backgrounds but found themselves working for the family business by happenstance. When the recession hit, their financial skills turned out to be a blessing. “When the economy turned south, we could have held back on all of our spending, but decided that might not be the best way to go,” Yu notes.
“Instead, we decided to increase capital expenditures,” he says. “While it might be tough for the short term, it will make us more efficient and stronger in the long term. We think these investments will soon pay off.”