Paul Saval Teaches Baltimore How to Eat

nina | June 24th, 2011 - 9:00 am

For Paul Saval, it isn’t enough just to be the head of a regional food service distribution operation and deli brand. The 54-year-old Owings Mills man has bigger plans.

Most recently, he has looked to take his culinary interests online, buying up the BaltimoreEats.com address and bringing it to life as a directory highlighting some of the most interesting dining experiences in the area.

“I want to help independent restaurants. For Saval [Foods], they are the lifeblood of our business, and this web site exposes those independent restaurants to people who want to eat out locally, and to travelers to Baltimore,” said Mr. Saval, who attends Beth Israel Congregation in Owings Mills.

The move to an online forum is just one more step in an evolving story, the story of a business that has grown and changed repeatedly over, well, a really long time. Paul Saval is generation number 3 in Saval Foodservice, and his son Brian is in as number 4. That’s a very long run, considering the odds.

As a regional foodservice operation, the 225-person Saval is overshadowed by national players like Sysco. At the same time, the kind of small independent restaurants that comprise its client base tend to go out of business at an alarming rate.

Saval keeps the wheels turning through a range of well-crafted business strategies.

For one thing, his operation sells mostly nationally branded foods. That’s significant at a time when the big operators have increasingly labeled products with their own names. (This allows the distributors to swap out manufacturers in search of lowest prices.)

By staying with national names, Saval said he is able to ensure a higher level of quality. He’s also able to help some smaller brands find their way into the marketplace. “We are the home to many fine manufacturers who don’t have the marketing push from distributors who sell competing privately labeled products,” Mr. Saval said.

Then there are the little things, like custom-cut steaks. It doesn’t sound like much, but for smaller restaurants with more esoteric menus, it’s the kind of thing that helps keep a distributor at the top of their preferred-vendor lists.

While Saval may spend a lot of time thinking about getting food from Point A to Point B, he also has been busy thinking about the right food. This journey began in 2009 with a reading of Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”

“I came to believe that sustainable, locally grown agriculture was a trend, not just a fad, and that Saval should get involved in some of those products,” he said.

As ideas about sustainability have taken root, so to speak, it has become increasingly easier for Mr. Saval to add such products to his company’s menu of options.

“There is a capability now of the local farms to bring their product into the marketplace. There is a proliferation of farmers’ markets, so they have a forum to sell. They have adopted systems of growing and feeding that work with each other to bring out good products in the right way, so you have healthy animals and healthy plants making healthy food,” he said.

As a segment of the market, “it is growing, and it also the right thing to do.”

Front and center, though, is the website, which enjoys the attention of five Saval employees. “We believe it’s going to be a great value-add to all the independent restaurants in the area,” Saval said. “We may get some of the business from those restaurants or we may not, but we believe they are going to appreciate what we have done.”

Source:  JewishTimes, Local News, 6/3/11

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