Kohl’s spring food show proves to be a ‘palatial paradise for the palate’

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QUINCY — Another Kohl’s Food Show, another journey through what is always a palatial paradise for the palate.

More than 150 vendors from not only the Tri-State area, but across the midwest and beyond filled the Oakley-Lindsay Center on Thursday. And they brought with them the expected cornucopia of culinary creations for this popular entree of eats.

Add to the mix about 3,500 potential buyers and caloric confidants and it proved to be another festival-like setting for the annual Kohl Wholesale spring food show. The event celebrated 150 years of Kohl’s contribution to the food service industry.

The six-hour experience allowed vendors to showcase a wide variety of new menu ideas and new products to potential customers.

“We like to joke that these shows are kind of a big reunion, because we only get to see a lot of these (vendors) once or twice a year,” said Aaron Kerkhoff, director of operations for Kohl’s.

Many of the vendors and others on hand Thursday will be back for the Oct. 4 Kohl’s fall show at the OLC. Planning for the fall spectacular will begin Friday.

“We’ll start right after the spring show is over,” Kerkhoff assured. “Planning for these types of things is a six-month process.”

The Kohl food shows date to October 1983 when the first event was held inside the Holidome at what was the downtown site of the old Holiday Inn.

Most of the vendors on hand Thursday came from a 1 1/2-to-2 hour radius, although some came from a greater distance.

Mike Barry of Nashville, Tenn., and Jennifer Fishback of Kansas City, Mo., were on hand representing Unilever Food Solutions of New York City. This was Barry’s fourth Kohl’s show.

“Just being able to meet (potential) customers and show new items to such a large amount of people is important,” Barry said. “This show is always well-attended, and Kohl’s does an excellent job (coordinating everything).”

Fishback agrees.

“The direct contact with this many people is hard to beat,” she said.

Kohl Wholesale provides service to restaurants, hotels, supermarket delis, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, retail grocers, caterers, taverns and similar businesses.

The company is a broadline distributor of more than 14,000 food-service products, and works with more than 3,500 customers in Illinois, Missouri and Iowa alone.

Along with potential products such as fresh and frozen beef, pork, veal, lamb and poultry; frozen entrees and soups; specialty cheeses; fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables and dry groceries, Kohl’s also deals in kitchenware and related equipment.

Representatives of one of Kohl’s potential new customers — Adams County Speedway — were also in attendance. Jim and Tammy Lieurance, the husband-wife tandem who are beginning their second year of operating the track, were impressed by the turnout and what was offered at the OLC.

The track’s concession stand will service more than 5,000 people each month on Sunday nights during race season.

“We’re here looking for new, affordable ideas to add to our concession stand,” Jim Lieurance said.

“I’m especially looking for ice cream (possibilities),” Tammy Lieurance said. “This show is exciting.”

Kerkhoff said Kohl’s, which employs about 420, is “probably the oldest food distributor” in the nation. Its 1873 beginning meant some of its early employees could have served in the Civil War.

Rick Ehrhart, a fifth-generation Kohl’s owner/treasurer, noted the company’s current locations at 4705 Gardner Expressway and 130 Jersey are the fifth and fourth sites, respectively, that have housed the firm’s business operations. Prior to those two state-of-the-art facilities, Kohl’s was lodged at 218 N. Fourth.

“Our first location was at Fourth and Maine, back in 1873 (eight years following the end of the Civil War),” Ehrhart said.

Kohl Wholesale’s business partners now include more than 650 manufacturers and other vendors.

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