Courtesy of Schweid & Sons
Carrying on the tradition at fourth-generation Schweid & Sons: Brad, David and Jamie Schweid.
Few family businesses last three generations, let alone four. Jamie Schweid, the fourth-generation CEO of Schweid & Sons, a Carlstadt, N.J., purveyor of hamburger meat, is one of the outliers. From its start as a butcher shop on New York’s Lower East Side, the company rode the burger boom as one of the main suppliers of ground beef to the popular Five Guys chain. Now, Schweid, 38, and his brother, Brad, 41 – the sons in Schweid & Sons, as the business was rebranded by their father, David, 73 – are pushing hard into supermarkets, seeing an opening for a premium ground-beef brand. Today, the company sells more than 80 million pounds of ground beef, the equivalent of well over 200 million hamburgers, with revenue approaching $250 million. In an interview that has been edited and condensed, Jamie Schweid spoke about taking over the family business and why they decided against selling a stake in it to finance their expansion.
Feldman: Tell me how the business began.
Schweid: In the late 1800s, my great-grandfather Harry immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe, and opened a butcher shop on the Lower East Side. My grandfather joined him when he returned from the Army, and started fabricating hindquarters and forequarters up in Harlem. You would take in full trailers of hindquarters and forequarters [the cow having been cut into four at the slaughterhouse] from different facilities throughout the country.
Feldman: How did the business become what it is today?
Schweid: In the 1970s, the big slaughterers of the world figured out they didn’t need to sell these big hindquarters and forequarters to the cities. They didn’t need my dad or my grandfather to sell boxed beef to retailers, they could do it themselves. A customer my dad and grandfather was working with didn’t have the money to pay for boxed beef, but had a cooler on 14th Street, so they got into the burger business together. This gentleman lasted two months and left the business, and my dad moved into the burger business.
Feldman: Who was this other guy?
Schweid: I’ve asked my dad many times, and he’s like, “Ah, not important.”
Feldman: What happened next?
Schweid: They started to make burgers for hotel supply and restaurants and did a very good job selling the metro New York area. In the 1980s, my dad found a company that made Cryovac [vacuum-packed] burgers, and realized he didn’t have to just sell New York anymore. As the business grew he partnered with distributors. In the early-1990s, they said, “We love doing business with you, but with the safety and food handling rules, you cannot be in New York City. You’re in a 100-year-old building.” He was at 50 Gansevoort St. [in the heart of New York’s Meatpacking District, and now down the street from the Whitney Museum.]
Feldman: That’s some pricey real estate now.
Schweid: His landlord, the late William Gottlieb, who owned pretty much all the meatpacking district, offered my father the opportunity to purchase the building and purchase the block, and my father’s answer was, “I’m in the burger business, not the real estate business,” and he passed on the opportunity. He needed a bigger facility, and he wanted to invest in the business.
Feldman: When did you move out to Carlstadt, N.J.?
Schweid: 1994. My dad bucked the trends by not heading to Hunts Point [the location of New York’s big wholesale market].
Feldman: Did you grow up thinking you would get into the business?
Schweid: Not at all. I graduated college with a finance degree in 2001, and I was supposed to go work at Bear Stearns. Then 9/11 happened. My father said, “I’m not going to let you sit home and do nothing.” After a few job interviews, I said, “Dad, I want to try this.” For the first year and a-half, I shadowed my father. I became really passionate about this business.
Feldman: What appealed to you?
Schweid: I loved creating a product that people love. You don’t have to take yourself too seriously because it’s hamburgers. We were very well known for making the best burger out there. I started in sales, covering the Boston region, and as the business grew I opened new markets on the East Coast. Then we hired regional sales managers. All of a sudden, we had a real business.
Feldman: What spurred the growth?
Schweid: Consumption of food outside the home surpassed consumption at home in the mid-2000s, and the Atkins diet created a large growth opportunity for burgers. In 2002, we picked up the Five Guys business when they had five stores. They were a family business, and we were a family business, and we hit it off.
Feldman: How did that…