The Canteen Service Company of Owensboro has been acquired by Tennessee-based Five Star Food Service.
The highly regarded Owensboro-based franchise group comprises four companies — Canteen Service Company of Owensboro, Canteen Service Company of Kentuckiana, Derringer Food Group, and John Conti Coffee Company — operating collectively as Canteen’s third largest franchise.
Five Star was already the largest Canteen franchise, making the acquisition — which was finalized Dec. 28 — a transformative deal.
Executives on Tuesday said the current employees with the Canteen Service Company of Owensboro will retain their positions.
The Canteen/Derringer/John Conti sale comes nearly five months after the passing of former owner and senior partner Jack Wells, under whose leadership the company saw exponential growth over the last decade.
“With the loss last year of our senior partner, visionary and dear friend Jack Wells, plus the advancing ages of our ownership team, we’re convinced that now is the best time for another ownership group to come alongside and take this organization to the next level,” said Keith Sharber, Executive Vice President and Owner/Operator of the Owensboro-based group.
Five Star President and CEO Richard Kennedy said they will work diligently to carry on Wells’ legacy in Owensboro.
“Though our interaction with Jack was a fraction of what the community enjoyed, we knew him well enough to realize that he was an inspiration to those that he touched. He left a legacy that Five Star will certainly strive to uphold,” he said.
Kennedy said enthusiasm abounds about the newly combined company.
“What excites me the most about this event is that I believe we are combining two very similar organizations,” he said. “Similar in values, similar in culture, and similar in our passion to service our customers. Our two companies have a history of collaborating on best practices, working through challenging situations, and making new introductions. We already have a history of making each other better.”
Owensboro Mayor Tom Watson said as an elected official, one of his main objectives is economic development.
“When people were telling me about Five Star, I couldn’t have been happier to welcome them to our community,” Watson said. “The things we do here resemble what Jack Wells was — a giving community, a loving community, a community that always wants to make sure the little guy is taken care of.”
The acquisition expands the company’s reach into western Ohio, southern Indiana, and a majority of Kentucky with service in Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus, Louisville, Lexington, and Owensboro, among other cities. Furthermore, the breadth of business that comes to Five Star pushes the company to nearly 2,300 micro markets, more than 30,000 vending machines, 15,000 coffee and water service locations, and over 60 cafeterias.
The Canteen Service Company of Owensboro has roots dating back to the 1950s. Jerry H. Haase took over in 1976 when the vending business had 16 employees and roughly as many customers accounts.
Haase’s company expanded into food service management, catering and office refreshment services. The early 1990s brought even more diversity with the addition of senior meals along with correctional and educational food service programs.
When Haase passed away in 2010, the business had grown to nearly 230 employees and a service area that reached Madisonville, Hopkinsville and Bowling Green, along with southern Indiana.
Wells purchased the Canteen franchise in 2010, adding the John Conti company in 2014. He continued the company’s growth and diversification over the last decade. By early 2020, the number of team members had swelled to 770 (a 230% increase), and revenues increased by more than 370%.
The geographic service area also more than doubled in that time span — extending from the Kentucky/Tennessee border to 50 miles south of Lake Erie in Ohio, and from the West Virginia state line to the Land Between the Lakes region in Western Kentucky.
“Even with the meteoric growth as part of Jack’s vision for our organization, the remaining ownership/partner team realizes, however, there is still tremendous growth opportunity,” Sharber said. “The Jack Wells partnership group firmly believes that a vibrant and successful organization must grow. It is with this thought first and foremost in our minds that we have determined that Five Star Food Service is best positioned to now come alongside our organization, take the reigns with our incredible team of food service professionals and phenomenal customer base, and continue the onward and upward trajectory.”
Five Star Food Service, headquartered in Chattanooga, Tenn., is one of the South’s premier away-from-home food and beverage retail solutions providers for employers and other commercial, institutional, and educational locations.
Five Star is an industry leader in micro markets, full-line vending, pantry, coffee and water services, full-service dining, catering, and sustainable products serving eight states including Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Ohio, Indiana, and North Carolina.
Founded in 1993, Five Star has grown to one of the largest privately held convenience services operators in the United States and is the largest franchise of Canteen, a Compass Group company.
“The marriage of our two like-minded companies is the perfect way, and a very positive way, to cap off a very difficult year,” Kennedy said. “We are very much looking forward to 2021 and years to come.”