PAT LAFRIEDA was 22 years old when he took over the family meat business, Pat LaFrieda Wholesale Meats. But instead of running the business the same way his father and grandfather did before him, the third-generation owner has become a key player in the gourmet hamburger movement – supplying custom meat blends to some of New York’s best-known restaurants and working with such big name chefs as Mario Batali, Danny Meyer and Laurent Tourondel.
But now LaFrieda faces a new set of challenges. Upscale food – even when it’s just a fancy burger – can be a luxury in a down economy. The recession has hit some of his biggest customers in the restaurant industry, forcing some to shut their doors or fall behind on payments and threatening his thin profit margins. And then there’s another threat looming: concerns about the health risks associated with eating red meat, which recently made headlines after a study showed it may boost the odds of death by cancer or heart disease by as much as 30%.
The guys behind Pat LaFrieda Wholesale Meats (From left: Mark Pastore, Pat LaFrieda II and Pat LaFrieda III) display some of their famed chopped beef burgers.
Your name: Patrick LaFrieda
Name of business: Pat LaFrieda Wholesale Meats
Year founded: 1922
Business type (industry): Wholesale meat purveyors
Location: New York
No. of employees: 45
Web address: www.lafrieda.com
Where do you look for business advice?
My father is my primary source of knowledge and advice. However, I am lucky to have other great family members like my godfather to rely on as well. I’ve also made many friends in the industry who continue to inspire me. Not only are they always willing to lend advice, what they have to say really counts as they’ve proven their abilities time and time again.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started?
I wish I would have known earlier that a small business is very powerful. When I began in this business, there were many perceived roadblocks. We always felt as if we had limitations as far as who we could buy from and who we could sell to. None of that was true.
What’s the smartest move you’ve made so far?
Making my company run 24 hours a day and training employees to do tasks that I thought only I could do.
What’s the best business book you’ve read so far?
If I had time to read a book, it wouldn’t be about business.
In brief, how did you fund the business initially?
I was lucky enough to take over an existing business from my father, so funding was not an issue. When one grows slowly, it is possible to fund from within.
And extra credit When/where was your last vacation?
My last vacation, besides my honeymoon six years ago was a trip to London 12 years ago. It’s often difficult for a small business like mine to function unsupervised for too long.