WINCHESTER — Big changes are taking place inside Schenck Foods Co. in Winchester as it enters its 90th year in business.
The conference room has been converted to a large professional kitchen, in which food vendors may demonstrate their products and buyers may learn to use them.
A six-burner gas stove is in place under a shiny new range hood. A prep table stands ready nearby. The room is complete with a video monitor, tables and chairs where chef-created tasting dinners will be held.
Customers who stop by the retail operation at 3578 Valley Pike will find that a computerized system has replaced paper as the method of collating orders.
And glass-fronted refrigerators and freezers just inside the main entrance now display retail goods as disparate as locally produced ice cream and kimchi, for customers to purchase on the spot.
The company’s CEO is Jason Huntsberry, the fourth generation of his family to lead the business.
Schenck may have made its initial impact delivering large orders of canned and packaged goods to institutions and commercial kitchens. But looking forward, it is including farmers’ markets and local growers as sources for the more than 4,000 items it stocks.
“We’re a small, local company and we should be working with small and local producers,” said Abby D’Arcangelis, 28, a former chef who joined the company six months ago and is now guiding its entry into the world of farm-to-table purchasing.
That’s not to say that the warehouse isn’t stacked floor to ceiling with cases of everything from foam dinner trays to industrial-size jars of mayonnaise.
The walk-in produce cooler offers giant bags containing any of 10 varieties of fresh white potatoes and four kinds of onions. Heavy sacks of seasoned meal can bread enough fish for a community fish fry, and cases of condiments contain enough tartar sauce to complete the experience.
Two shifts of workers are necessary to gather and load the orders into trucks for delivery each day to customers in a 100-mile radius, according to company vice president and general manager Aaron Gordon.
Nearby, in a bin the size of a hot tub, damaged, dented and expiring canned food is collected for distribution to community groups that use it to feed the hungry.
“We donate these,” Gordon said. “The ones we can donate.”
The company was born in 1928 as the Valley Food Company, which was owned jointly by Bob Schenck and Howard Cahill and produced Blossom Potato Chips.
A partnership with Kraft Foods led the company to rename itself as the Schenck Cheese Company.
A photograph in the company’s conference room shows a Schenck Cheese Company parade float from a long-ago Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, affixed with a sign that says, “America Forever.”
In 1952, as the newly incorporated Schenck Foods Company, it diversified further, including food service items for institutional customers.
A paper invoice from 1958, for a delivery to the MD Motel in New Market, shows an order for tomato paste, black pepper, shrimp, cheese, steak, haddock and bacon, for a total of $74.35.
Of Schenck’s 115 employees, some have been there for decades.
“The culture is what brought me here,” said Gordon, 46, an Army captain and graduate of West Point, who previously spent 20 years in corporate retail.
“I wanted to make a difference in a culture that was amenable to be led,” he said.
As for Huntsberry, 40, taking the helm of Schenck’s wasn’t something he originally planned to do. “Like every other kid in a small town, I wanted to get out of here,” he said.
Huntsberry graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in government, and went to work in politics.
On his first day as an intern in the George W. Bush White House, terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.
It took Huntsberry 20 years to realize what waited for him at home. “I wanted to build my own career outside of the food service business,” he said.
About two years ago, Huntsberry became CEO of a company that displays his baby picture in its conference room, along with photos of his father and grandfather.
“I had some preconceived notions about being a kid coming into the business,” he said. “Perspective is a very powerful thing.”