Colorado Companies to Watch 2016 winners keep it all in the family
From barbecue to sustainable goods, these family-run businesses do it right
Serious Texas Bar-B-Q
What the company does: Barbecue restaurants; fast casual dining. Four Colorado locations, two out of state
There was a time years ago when several of the seven Swanson brothers out of central Texas rode their motorcycles through Durango. The oldest, Cook, fell in love with the place.
Later, he and wife Joy would camp out in the summer and sell barbecue out of a red trailer they parked along the road. Their first Durango location was a vacant gas station. Their second, perched along the Animas River, featured live music and an existing mini golf course, a perfect blend of fun and food.
Serious Texas Bar-B-Q was a hit.
That name, by the way? It was just a ploy to get Texas tourists in the door, admits Cook’s younger brother, Hunter Swanson, now the company’s chief financial officer. And it worked.
“The locals were amazed and are amused enough that they came in ― reluctantly ― to see what the hell was going on,” he says.
The company powered through the recession, won some national barbecue awards and tried not to take themselves too seriously.
“We are evolving from a small, whimsical, quirky, entity into an almost “professional “, organized, growth business,” says Hunter (Cook’s son, also named Hunter, is the company president). “We are still quirky, but we have embraced the need for both honed intuition and analysis as we grow and become more ‘serious.’”
The Swansons come by their barbecue skills honestly; their father was a charcoal briquette manufacturer in Texas.
“Everything we couldn’t sell, we burned in the backyard,” Hunter says. “My dad loved to cook and my mother loved to not to have to cook for 11 kids.”
The company strives to keep things simple: facility layout, inventory, menu items, scheduling, menu pricing policy.
“This is a continuing struggle, as the universe seems not to want it so,” Hunter says. “For example, our menu prices are mostly whole numbers and include applicable sales tax. A consequence is that our net-per-item number differs by location. We eat that in order to keep it simple, so to speak.”
In keeping with their low-key profile, the restaurants do unadvertised promotions on Veterans Day for Vets ― no uniform necessary ― and on each 9-11 Anniversary Day for first responders. Mention it, and your meal is free.
“(It’s) our way,” Hunter says, “of appreciating those folks and those days without publicly gloating over it.”
What the company does: The state’s oldest sausage maker handcrafts family heirloom, artisan sausages for both food service and retail. Polidori’s product line includes raw and cooked sausages, pizza topping and pre-cooked meatballs.
In 1925, Ana Polidori and her husband, Rocco, bought a modest market in North Denver, where she whipped up sausage with the recipe she brought from her Italian hometown, Abruzzi. Today, her great-grandchildren, Steve Polidori and Melodie Polidori Harris still have the red, century-old coffee grinder their great-grandma used to create her secret spice blend for the sausages that bear her name.
The Polidori product is much like it was, with no monosodium glutamate, preservatives, filler, gluten, soy, nitrates and artificial coloring often found in sausage. Other things have changed, however: In the late 1990s, company President Steve Polidori invested in automation equipment to allow Polidori to make larger batches of sausage and keep up with demand.
The company added Sysco Food Services as a customer in 2006, allowing Polidori to grow through Sysco’s distribution network. And Polidori’s planned move to a larger facility will allow the company to keep up with continued demand. Freezers, coolers, dock doors, test kitchen and an increased production facility will all be included in the new facility.
Good Day Pharmacy
What the company does: A family-owned pharmacy chain, with eight community retail pharmacies and one long-term care pharmacy serving more than 150 assisted living and skilled nursing homes
Pharmacist David Lamb founded the company, which started out offering pharmacy consulting services to long-term care facilities. Lamb and his pharmacist wife, Nancy, and his cousin, Vicki Einhellig ― also a pharmacist ― still run the company, which offers a range of services uncommon in the typical drugstore pharmacy. Those include prescription compounding, prescriptions for complex medical issues, synchronized prescription refills, medical equipment and supplies, delivery service, special orders, wound care and programs for long-term care and hospices.
Firsts: The company was the first in Colorado to hold off-site medication take-back events to collect and safely dispose of unused and expired medications, and the first pharmacy company in Colorado to create a take-back program inside the pharmacies. This helped spur the state to acknowledge the need for a statewide take-back program.
Sunshine Plumbing Heating Air LLC
Base: Commerce City
What the company does: Sunshine is a residential plumbing heating air conditioning company.
Husband and wife team William and Susan Roberts Frew ― he’s a master plumber, she’s an experienced business coach and former executive ― pride themselves on outstanding customer service, regularly send thank you cards, brownies and wine baskets, as well as finding hotels for clients with no heat.
The culture connection: Employees enjoy free boots once a year, a new tool every month, life insurance, paid financial management classes, unlimited personal time off with notice and paternity leave. Employees win prizes for positive customer reviews, including gift cards, televisions, sports tickets and even and all-expenses paid week’s vacation for the whole family.
Giving back: Employees volunteer as a team at the Food Bank of the Rockies once per quarter, and the company gives about 10,000 in-kind services per year to people who need help but can’t afford it.
What the company does: Online sales of sustainable products for ndustrial supply, restroom products, building materials, maintenance supplies and safety products.
Brian Fricano secretly launched the company with $2,100 six hours before the birth of his second child. The original business plan called for his wife, Teather, to be a stay-at-home mom who did all the work, answering the occasional phone call and processing the occasional order. Two years later, Internet Retailer magazine ranked Sustainable Supply the fourth fastest-growing online retailer.
The company’s virtual product catalog now has more than one million products shipped from more than 50 distribution centers and anticipates 400 percent growth over the next five years.
Giving back: Every quarter, the company buys trees from a third-party organization such as Trees for the Future, which then plants them in a part of the world where they are desperately needed. A plan for “Action Days” will allow employees to get away from their desks to volunteer in the community.
The best decision the boss ever made: According to employees: moving the company from Wisconsin to Colorado.