Ted Klingele, 54, has owned Deep Sea Deli and Midstate Seafood for more than two decades. He started working at the deli in 1980 while in high school when his father, Jerry Klingele, was manager. In 1983, his father purchased the deli and then in 1996 sold it to his son.
Earlier this month, Ted announced plans to sell Deep Sea Deli, but he’ll continue running Midstate Seafood, a wholesale seafood business that supplies seafood to restaurants and for events, such as crab feeds.
Klingele recently took time to talk about how he got into the business, why he enjoys the crab feeds and why it was time to move on.
On getting into the food business:
My father was in the wholesale meat and seafood distribution business before becoming manager of Deep Sea Deli in 1973. When the restaurants started coming to Deep Sea Deli, that’s when he decided to step it up and cater more to the restaurants and do some distribution. That’s when he created Midstate Seafood.
For me, it started as a job during high school. After classes were done, I would come over here to finish out the day — it’s busier in the later afternoon — I’d get three hours a day. Then I went to college and got a business degree. Toward my last year of college, I was thinking about what I was going to do and about that time, my father was thinking about a transition plan to retirement. It was an after-school job that evolved and I just stuck with it.
On the difference between serving retail and wholesale customers:
In wholesale, you’re dealing with kitchen managers and chefs. In retail, you’re dealing with people who just love food. There’s a little bit of a difference between people making food for a business and people making food for fun.
Usually with the wholesale customer, you know their particular requirement and you can just get it done. They come up with a menu item, ask for a special cut of a fish and you just supply that cut for a while, it could be six months, a year or more.
In retail, you’re dealing with hundreds of people and it’s a moving target. The magazines will come out with a piece on a new food trend or customers will see something else on a television show and go look for it. We’ve got more sushi items. We got a bigger collection of British food products. We have items such as duck fat. There are just so many different little items to track. My dry goods and cheese and wine buyer for the last 11-12 years is really good. She’s got her finger on the pulse.
On working the crab feed circuit:
As long as I can remember, there are crab feeds my father took care of. He took care of them before he started working at Deep Sea Deli. Now, we do around 50 of them around the state. I like to do the crab feeds; usually people who are doing them are having fun. They’re raising money for a good cause, they’re having a good time, they’re always in a good mood.
On moving on from the retail business:
I’ve been doing this for 37 years. It seems to be getting more difficult with government-mandated regulations, such as the increasing minimum wage. There’s also a little more competition now. The supermarkets have stepped their game a little bit on gourmet food items. Costco has been doing more seafood. They do take a slice of the pie. At this point, I didn’t want to make the investment in time or money to keep up. It’s just time with someone with a little more passion than I have to take over.
I’ll miss the regular customers, the ones that when they come in you get a smile on your face. I have fun regulars who have become friends over the years. It’s fun to share a laugh once or twice a week with them.
There are a few different directions this business could take. It would depend on who buys it, their skills and what they bring to the table, literally, to make this work. I would love if a chef decided to take this over and make it more of a lunch and dinner destination as well as a gourmet shop, There’s room next door, if they wanted to punch the wall out.