In 1948, Auroran Erwin "Erv" Nagel purchased the Aurora Meat Locker plant. His experience with processing farm-raised livestock and vegetables for home consumption allowed the company to expand into the retail market, according to his son (and co-owner of the company, now called Fox River Foods), Ken Nagel.
Along with his partner Frank Karabetsos, Ken has led the company through tremendous growth.
“In 1956, Fox River Foods opened its doors to a new level of food service distribution with dry, frozen and refrigerated products. There were six full-time and three part-time employees,” Ken said.
Today, Fox River Foods has 500 employees and 5,000 customers. Sales are $400 million yearly. They operate out of a 325,000 square foot warehouse located at 5030 Baseline Road in Montgomery. There are about 100 trucks daily that deliver loads to their customers in 7 states. The day of this interview, there were 109 loads. Which translates to 60-70,000 cases a day of food product delivery.
Nagel was born in Aurora and graduated from St. Nicholas School, and then Marmion Military Academy in Aurora.
"I enrolled in the ‘Erv Nagel’s school of hard knocks’ then,” he laughed.
“We built the company office in Montgomery in 1972," he said. "I attribute much of the company growth to family ownership over the past 63 years. We can be depended upon. Our customers know what they are getting in food distribution. There are no surprises and quality is our hallmark."
Fox River Foods has a local base of customers who are loyal and continue year after year to come to the company, Nagel said. Employees are long-term, and some, Nagel said, "began washing our trucks right out of high school and years later now serve as vice-presidents."
"Many of our sales staff have over 11 years with us when the industry average is one and a half years," he said. "Customers know whom to call and what exactly they are getting from us. We are consistent and our trucks arrive on schedule.”
Nagel and his wife Carole were married in 1967. They have four children: Brenda, Molly, Jason and Betsy. The oldest, Brenda, works sales for Fox River Foods. The couple has 12 grandchildren, aged eight weeks to 21 years.
Carole Nagel has worked at The Little Traveler in Geneva for eight years.
"Since she was one of their best customers, they hired her,” Ken Nagel laughed.
Nagel said one of his main concerns is the lack of service coming into the company.
“They text, they tweet, they facebook and yet, others only answer if they want to," he said. "So many will check caller ID before they decide if they want to talk to you now. The automation that we have to deal with can be frustrating. I don’t want to be put on hold for 20 minutes and then receive poor service too."
Ken’s leadership has garnered him the Spark Plug Award from the Chicago Food Service Marketing Club in 1983, and he was chosen for their hall of fame in 1990. He was named “Person of the Year” by the Illinois Foodservice Association in 2002. In November 2008, the company received the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA) top honor, the Excellence in Distribution Award.
Ken Nagel has served on the Marmion Board of Trustees for the past 20 years and this year is board president. He has also received the Centurion Award from Marmion in 2004.