A Day In the Life of a New York food distributor, part 2

Yesterday we followed a busy foodservice distributor through a typical Tuesday, but there was too much for one post! Today we pick up just after Mary Jo skips lunch to keep up her appointments.

“Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are the biggest selling days of the week. By midweek, folks are pretty much set on what they need to get through the weekend,” Mary Jo Staertow says. Unless an emergency crops up. Between scheduled stops, she delivers fryer oil to a relieved chef. It’s a quick drop-off and she’s back in the car, and on the phone.

“I do a lot of business when I’m in my car,” she says. The day is a blur of visits: at one of Rochester’s first microbreweries offering upscale pub fare, a Greek family diner with a made-from-scratch menu, and a country club getting cranked up for golf season.

These restaurant operators expect her visits. They have become accustomed to her enthusiastically scurrying in around the same time each week and asking some version of the same question: “What went right and how can we support you going forward?”

It’s not a question read straight out of a customer service handbook. It’s one Staertow asks because she genuinely cares. “My passions are food and people,” she says. “This way I can help people be profitable and realize success and can really be part of their business, and I still feel like I have a creative outlet.”

Her company offers in-depth menu profitability analysis; they build, structure and print menus, and serve as consultants.

“I like to call us the restaurant doctors,” she jokes. “There’s just so much that goes into supporting our customers beyond selling them boxes of stuff,” she says. And that includes helping restaurants decide what to put in the center of the plate. “We carry life insurance and car insurance and homeowner’s insurance. Why wouldn’t we want to insure our customers have the highest quality beef-eating experience out there?”

Mary Jo constantly welcomes the chance to sneak in more beef education. And she continues to learn more about the protein, too. As part of the Certified Angus Beef ® brand’s Master’s of Brand Advantages program, Staertow traveled to Nebraska cattle country last fall.

“There are families like my family and your family out there loving what they do, loving the animals that they’re raising. They really have an understanding of what they’re doing and they’re working diligently to bring the highest quality product to market,” she says.

Knowing the people whose livelihoods depend on what she’s doing — from farmer and rancher to restaurateur — keeps Mary Jo energetic and attentive. It’s what keeps her going until she reaches her home office in late afternoon. There she catches up on e-mails and phone calls. And when the kids come home from school, she’s mom.

“I have a family to feed and they have homework and sports events and girl scouts and baths and teeth to brush. It isn’t until they’re settled down into a bed at night that I can really sit back and focus on what happened today, and what I’m preparing for tomorrow. And then the cycle repeats itself,” she says.

Busy weeks scamper by, quickly turning into memories of busy years, but Staertow says she wouldn’t have it any other way.

To catch up on the first posts in this series, check out: A day in the life of a Kansas rancher part 1 and part 2. And stay tuned next week, as we journey to the next group of people who help bring beef from farm to table.


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Jennifer Kiko

Jennifer lives on a rural route with her husband, kids, horses, cows and faithful Labs, Cash and Carter. She's an aspiring foodie and enjoys making good food for great friends. She lives next door to a winery, plays the piano, and admits to growing too many tomatoes.