ED note: I first published this artical 3 years ago and have since had several Sysco reps contact me to dispute various points in this article. Every time, I have invited them to go on record and every time, they’ve had some excuse why they can’t. These are the same guys that go into places with a sales pitch and a plastic smile and sell the products, but they can’t go on the record….. That should tell you something.
I’ve been cooking for longer than a lot of you have been alive and lived all over the US while doing so. At this point I can more or less pick the jobs I take and one of my biggest lines is Sysco.
Point fucking blank: I will not work in a place that uses them nor will I eat at a place that does.
But why? Why is my hatred for this company so strong? What have they done to me that’s so bad that every time one of their trucks my instant reflex to raise middle finger loud and proud?
Their food is polished shit
Real food is not made in a factory on an assembly line like it’s an auto part. It’s made in Kitchens by people who not only know what the fuck they’re doing, they genuinely care. There is no love in the shit they sell. It’s cases of mass-produced shit that posers serve to people too fucking stupid to know better.
They’re either late or early
I’m supposed to be the customer right? I’m buying a product and they’re supposed to live up to their end of the agreement right? So please, please explain why the fuck every time I’ve had to use these fuckers, they can’t ever deliver when they’re supposed to.
No no no, don’t fucking make excuses. This has happened numerous times across the country and in a variety of places so you can’t blame a bad rep or traffic, especially when I point blank tell the rep “If you fuck me on the delivery I will use other vendors” and the next delivery is 4 hours early.
I do not want to be woken up by a delivery driver telling me that he’s going to leave my order behind my restaurant when it’s 90 outside and I tend to have more than the random crackhead wanders by on a regular basis. This is not good customer service.
Neither is showing up at 5 PM on a Friday when I told you I needed the order by noon. Bonus points for the driver parking in front of the restaurant and trying to bring the order in the main entrance. I normally carry a Chef’s knife in my back pocket but when I saw this I made sure I was unarmed before confronting the moron and pushed a 300 pound Cholo out of my way who was trying to keep me out of jail. Fortunately for him, I didn’t have to repeat myself when I told him to bring it through the back door.
I understand that they have a lot of other deliveries and that I tend to be small fish compared to most of their accounts and they don’t give a shit, that my place isn’t a priority. That’s the fucking problem!! They don’t give a shit since once they’ve got you, they’ve got you and they know most places will put up with shitty customer service because they are too lazy to find other vendors or, God forbid
They are responsible for the dumbing down of the industry
Want to know why most Chefs no longer make stock from scratch? It’s because Sysco has made most Chef’s lazy and those of us who want to do things the right way look like fucking lunatics for having standards.
I’m not an elitist by any means as a Chef and most of what I do would be considered “simple” in the eyes of some people who fail to see the bigger picture. The point is, if I’m going to run French Fries and Chicken Tenders to my bar crowd, I’m going to make them fresh from scratch.
Yes, I know, it’s a business, you have to make money. Not all of my ideas work in all of my Kitchens due to various factors but I still know how to make the most out of a small Kitchen while turning a profit without having to sacrifice my integrity. Sysco caters to overworked Chefs as a way to cut corners. Let them do the cutting and the portioning for you, hell, while you’re at it let them make the soups too. It starts with a sales pitch a few freebies with some high gloss flyers highlighting all the key points of “Time-saving” and “Bigger Profits”. You cook shit from a box yet still have the nerve to wear a jacket and tell girls at the bar that you’re “The Chef” while they eat pre-made artichoke dip with the easy bake baguette. But hey, you did a great job putting those micro greens on with your tweezers when you plated it.
Try asking a rep for a price guide so you can write a menu and it’s like pulling teeth and even if you get a list of items, you can’t ever get prices. I get it, they change all the time but what they charge guys like me for a pound of beef and what they charge the guy up the street that uses ten times as much is two different things.
I know, this is a common business practice, you buy in bulk and you save a few bucks. The problem is that that asshole is buying the cheapest shit that Sysco sells and is selling burgers for $5 and making a profit, meanwhile, I’m trying to use meat that’s above dog food grade which means I have to charge a bit more than $5 if I want to make enough to keep the lights on. The customers, because they don’t know any better half the time continues to support the $5 burger because they don’t know the difference between shit and quality.
The places I run tend to be small and I have to make every dime count. I know that prices are going to fluctuate but out of every purveyor I have ever had to deal with, they’ve been by far the worst to deal with in this regard.
They’re salesmen or worse
Former “Chefs”. This is where the old guard gets put to pasture. Either way, they’re not looking out for your best interests at all, they’re looking at what it’s going to take to get that new black Mercedes. Don’t tell me I’ve just had one or two bad reps, I’ve only had one good one and the other dozen or so that I’ve been forced to deal with could have just as easily been coke dealers or used car salesmen.
As a Chef, I don’t give two shits about the packaging or labels. I want high-quality food that I can be proud to serve to my customers, not a fucking sales pitch. I want beef that’s been raised right, fed naturally and slaughter humanely. I’ve worked in bars since I had short hair and could pass a drug test, I know when someone is trying to blow smoke up my ass. It really pisses me off when I let this be known outright and they STILL try to sell me shit in a pretty package because it’s what they’re getting kickbacks on this month.
The worst are the former Chef’s, the guys who went to Johnson and Wales in the 90’s and burnt out after 5-10 years in and realized they were never really Chef’s to begin with. These clowns want to talk the talk but they’re trying to push shit that no self-respecting Chef would ever serve to his customers. Guess what jackass, I run a small menu, I don’t need a 50-pound bag of diced onions, I actually like using my knives and my hands and working directly with the food. I’m still learning and perfecting how to cut an onion and I want my customers to feel the love I put in my food. There’s no love in shit that’s been mass-produced on an assembly line. I wouldn’t serve it to my girlfriend, I’m not serving it to customers, hell, I wouldn’t serve it to my soon-to-be ex-wife and I can’t stand that bitch.
Yet they push it on the tired and weary trying to cut costs and their own hours and they get you on the dry goods, paper towels and plastic wrap and then hit you with a bullshit minimum and convince you to buy their fries and it’s a slippery slope into the abyss of mediocrity in the name of convenience and efficiency.
While I fully understand that some of you will come to their defense and justify their bullshit, I’ve been dealing with these assclowns for over two decades and am done with it. Fun fact, the term “Culinary Anarchy” was coined one night while I was piss drunk and saw one of their trucks go by and it hit me, they’re what’s wrong with the industry. While we might talk about eating healthy, we really don’t know what the fuck we’re eating when we go out to most restaurants and while they might talk the talk, how much are they really making from scratch?
I get it, as much as I want to make pasta from scratch, at some places the owner is insistent on a pasta dish meanwhile I have neither space nor resources to make it from scratch and have to buy dry product. I can’t make bread from scratch in most places because of lack of space and time and I have to outsource it. I have to choose my battles. That being said, I will gladly pay a buck more for a pound of tomatoes from a local vendor who provides a better product with better service since I only need 5 pounds at a time and not a fucking 50-pound case that will take up already valuable space in the walk-in that I have to share with the bar and a dozen kegs.
Yes, it means that I get my produce from one guy, my meat and seafood from another, and the rest of my stuff from one or two other vendors and it means that I have to make a few more phone calls and write a few more checks. Fine, whatever, I’m a Chef, my job is not to make my life simple and easy, it’s to go out of my way to find the best products possible for my customers. I know how to do the numbers, keep a low inventory and keep my food cost in the mid to high 20’s because I’m not throwing away 40 pounds of shitty tomatoes that I didn’t need.
But what if you live in, let’s say Oklahoma and you have nachos on your menu. Avocados are stupid expensive in Seattle right now and I can’t imagine that it’s much better out there. You either have to charge more for fresh guac, by the premade shit in the plastic pastry bags (a great way to store it by the way), or not have it on the menu. Two of the three options lead to customers bitching and this is where you need to step the fuck up and explain that they can either pay more or not have it but that you’re not serving shit.
Or you make excuses and justify it. You say it’s out of your hands yet you still make the choice to go in every day and do it and get pissed off when guys like me call you out. You know in your heart of hearts how fucked it is and yet when confronted, you give the same bullshit sales pitch that they gave you and act like I’m the bad guy for having standards and taking pride in my work.
Listen up, I’ll never in a million years work in let alone run a Michelin rated Kitchen but for fuck’s sake man, we can do sooooooo much better. It’s up to those of us in the industry that have the kind of resumes that allow us to make demands. While I’m nothing special, when I go to an interview, one of the first things I ask is if they use them and if so, I get up and walk out immediately, regardless of how much they’re offering unless they are willing to let me terminate the contract immediately. I’m not special but I pride myself on costing these fuckers a few bucks over the years by standing my ground.
As things go from bad to worse in the industry with no signs of improvement, we have to step up as Chefs and take direct action. We have to stop making excuses and stop fucking compromising. We’re Chefs!!! Raise the bar even if it means charging an extra couple of bucks or cutting the portion size. Support and endorse the local guys and stop trying to put thirty items on your menu to please everyone and focus on quality, not quantity. While they will always have a market in large institutions, it’s up to the smaller guys to stand up and not let them continue to fuck what’s left of the industry.