David Johnson

KRLD 1080 NewsRadio’s Business Analyst

Theresa Motter

Van’s Kitchen CEO

KRLD Interview

Aired 3/18/20

David
There is a fascinating local company. I know you’ve had their food. If you’ve ever eaten an egg roll, if you’ve ever bought an egg roll and cooked it at home, it’s probably from Van’s Kitchen. They’ve been doing it for a very long time. They’re all over the country. It’s a great story [about] a first generation American immigrant. There’s also a second generation CEO and it’s a woman owned company and Theresa Motter is the CEO of Van’s Kitchen and joins us right now. It’s good to have you with us.

Theresa:
Thank you very much.

David
You make me hungry just thinking about it. So, you are in the egg roll business. I mean exclusively, right?

Theresa
That is correct.

David
There’s never been any temptation to maybe make lasagna or chow mein or anything else?

Theresa
Well we’ve made other items than egg rolls. We’ve made different flavors of egg rolls, but we understand what we do best. So that’s why we focus on egg rolls.

David
The great thing right now considering all that’s going on, is you don’t have a retail operation. All I have to do is walk into any Walmart I guess or Kroger, I’ve seen them in Albertson’s. You’re distributed by somebody else. Does this give you some insulation from what’s going on right now in the environment?

Theresa
Well, I think the great thing is people are buying food in grocery stores. So yes, we don’t have a retail location so that does give us insulation as far as not being as heavily impacted. But obviously food is a necessity and so we have to keep working. We want to make sure that we’re providing great healthy options for people that are stuck at home or social distancing. So it’s very important for us to be able to continue to work and we will work as much as possible with little distractions as we can.

David
Have you had to lay off anybody? Are you still operating at the same level you were, say, a month ago?

Theresa
We have not had to lay off anybody and I’m very proud to say in the long history of our company, we have not laid off anybody. Actually right now we’re expanding, because you probably know grocery stores have huge runs on them and all of our businesses in grocery right now are up.

David
That is outstanding. I think that’s the first time I’ve heard that. I guess if I was talking to somebody who made toilet paper or bottled water, but egg rolls! This is your family business. You’ve always been in this business, right?

Theresa
Well that is correct. My parents immigrated to the United States from Vietnam in the ’60s during the war and through different circumstances. My dad ended up staying here, didn’t have a plan B. So he originally thought we were going to go back to Vietnam and he was going to be a diplomat or teach English in Vietnam. But once the country fell, he didn’t have a plan B. So they decided to open this business when I graduated from college and that’s why we’ve been in business this whole time.

David
It’s a lot of obstacles. A woman owned business, that’s tough enough in most any environment. And then also you’re an immigrant. A lot to overcome.

Theresa
Well I think it’s a blessing and a challenge. There are opportunities that are available to me as an immigrant here in the United States, that wouldn’t have been available to me had I stayed in Vietnam or somewhere else. So I really just think of embracing that challenge and taking advantage of that opportunity instead of looking at it as an obstacle.

You also mentioned being a woman owned business. We sell a lot in the deli departments of grocery stores. Which business in general is male dominated and so it has been a challenge being able to talk about that. But I do see that people are listening to my voice in here because I was a working mom. I am typical of most shoppers that shop in grocery stores. So I think I have some perspective that maybe everybody doesn’t have in that regard.

David
Do you think it gave you a leg up for Walmart? Because everybody wants to be in Walmart and aren’t you in just about every Walmart from coast to coast?

Theresa
Just about. We’re a good majority of them. To answer your question, it did give us a leg up, not because we’re woman owned, but because we started when there were only 50 Walmart super centers. So we’ve been working with them for almost 30 years.

David
No kidding!

Theresa
We learned the business ins and outs. Yes. But what I always tell people, at the end of the day the most important thing is that we make good quality food. Your clients and consumers don’t really care if you’re a woman owned. Maybe it’ll help them pick up the package, but if the egg rolls don’t deliver the quality and the taste, they won’t come back. And that’s most important to me.

David
I have one question that I’ve always wanted to ask the right person. You’re the right person. What’s the difference between an egg roll and a spring roll?

Theresa
The biggest difference between the egg roll and a spring roll is what goes on the outside. What we call the wrapper. So the product that is typically [a] spring roll is typically made with rice paper. So if it’s fried, it would be a thinner, crispier, more fragile, brittle on the outside. Maybe white translucent is what you would describe [as a] spring roll. An egg roll is made with a wrapper that’s called sometimes a wonton wrapper, and that is made of wheat flour.

David
Finally, an expert. I can’t tell you how it is to talk to somebody, a CEO who was thriving. It’s been one of the most challenging environments we could possibly imagine. Keep up the great work. Thank you.

Theresa
Well, thank you very much. I appreciate you having me on today.

David
Thanks. Theresa Motter, the CEO of Van’s Kitchen. For more of our conversation with Ms. Motter, go to krld.com/ceo. I’m David Johnson. News radio today, KRLD.