Food distributor revamps business model

Fernando Barbarosa, left, of University Foods makes a delivery to Lauren Witz Greber as she signs for the order at her home in Santa Clarita on Tuesday, April 21, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal
Share on facebook
Share
Share on twitter
Tweet
Share on email
Email

When longtime Santa Clarita Valley resident Dean Schauer began to see the empty shelves at his local grocery stores, he knew it was time to use his resources to help his community.

As the owner of University Foods, a wholesale food supplier, Schauer had access to food when most of the industry was struggling to keep up with demand. 

“For 35 years, we’ve been in business, and for 35 years, we’ve sold wholesale only (to) restaurants, schools, hotels, prisons … from San Diego to Santa Barbara to Bakersfield,” he said. “And when things started slowing down, I had a building full of products.” 

What started as delivering groceries to friends quickly turned into something bigger: delivering food to those who were too afraid to leave their homes, as they were part of the high-risk population in the current health crisis. 

“The No. 1 goal was I have a building full of products, let’s get it to homes because it’s actually really needed right now,” Schauer said. “So, in a matter of three weeks, we kind of reinvented our whole wheel.”

Fernando Barbarosa of University Foods unloads an order of food, vinyl gloves and toilet paper from his truck as he makes a delivery to Lauren Witz Greber at her home in Santa Clarita on Tuesday, April 21, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal

The first step and biggest challenge was to take some of his inventory and ship it out to be repackaged into home-sized portions, as his institutional-sized products would have put Costco’s bulk packaging to shame. 

With an extensive list of available items that’s always evolving, he’s now delivering to families across the SCV, with a $200 minimum order for delivery.

Lauren Witz Greber, a delivery recipient, says she started ordering because she was nervous about going to the grocery store. 

“We went once, and it was embarrassingly crowded and I was afraid I was gonna catch cooties just from walking in,” she said. “So, myself and about five or six other families went ahead and we combined an order.” 

Though broken down, Witz Greber still considers the items bulky. “But I was actually really surprised that it was so good,” she added. 

“It’s good food, you can stay out of the market, you can get just about anything,” she said. “And you’re helping him stay afloat, you’re helping his employees get fed.”

Fernando Barbarosa of University Foods makes a delivery to Lauren Witz Greber at her home in Santa Clarita on Tuesday, April 21, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal

Though customers like Witz Greber have kept them going, Schauer says his business is still struggling.

“We were running about 15 trucks every day throughout California, and now we’re doing probably 20% of (that) in sales,” he said. “Everybody’s just kind of trying to be creative, I think.” 

Now, he’s working on creating drop sites at local churches so he can drop the minimum delivery amount. 

“We’ll just have a truck there and people can just drive through and we can give it to them,” he said. “Then, we’ll donate a percentage of the proceeds to the church.” 

“It’s a different model, and we’ll probably continue it when everything goes back to so-called ‘normal,’ but today it seems to be in demand,” he added. “I’m just hoping this doesn’t go on forever.”

For more information, visit universityfoods.info or call 818-362-5505.

Advertisement

Related To This Story

Latest NEWS