Lee’s Oriental Gourmet Foods has a problem. But it’s the kind that businesses welcome. The maker of Asian frozen food specialties wants to maximize its production capacity to meet growing demand, but without expanding its Shenandoah plant or incurring unsustainable overtime.
Enter Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania, which is investing $10,000 to help Lee’s and its university partner, Lehigh University’s Enterprise Systems Center, boost capacity.
The company is a spinoff of Mrs. T’s Pierogies, founded by Ted Twardzik, Sr. in 1952. Upon his retirement in 2000, he launched the Asian dumpling business with a local Air Force veteran and his Korean wife using Korean-made equipment.
“Lee’s began as a retail producer selling its own brand,” says Ted Twardzik, Jr., Mrs. T’s grandson who today runs both companies. “But over the years, the branded business fell away and the private label business boomed.”
Today, Lee’s makes only one product under its own name.
“Almost all of our consumers buy a bag with a name other than Lee’s on it,” he explains. “The true growth engine has been the club store channel [Costco, etc.] — we partner with a retail organization to demonstrate and sell private label pot stickers during in-store events. This growth has taxed our facility to its maximum and there are many geographic regions still to be served.”
The solution has been to maximize production volume, working with Lehigh on an engineering survey of the facility “with the goal of identifying the best place to apply capital expenditures,” he continues. “The dollars we received from Ben Franklin go towards the Lehigh study. We will use our own funds to improve the freezer, steamer, bagger or whatever segment of production the study indicates will yield the best return.”
He expects that upgraded equipment will enable Lee’s to meet rising demand and add new markets.
Lee’s and Lehigh are also investigating the idea of adding a second production shift. According to Twardzik, that could eventually double capacity and create jobs, but will require infrastructure expansion to accommodate the increased inventory of raw materials and finished goods.
ELISE VIDER is news editor of Keystone Edge.