Fresh Take: The Billionaire Fisherman, The Vodka Strike And The Curious ‘Eleven Madison Park Labor’ Charge

Food & Drink

I still remember how relieved I was when I found the public document stuck in a rarely-used Alaskan government database that gave me the proof I needed. It was 2017 and I was investigating Chuck Bundrant. Specifically, I was trying to find out how much he owned of Trident Seafoods, the largest fishing operation in North America, which he cofounded. And then, after trying every other avenue I could possibly think of, there it was: a record stating he still had an 80% ownership. With that crucial piece of information, Forbes named Bundrant a billionaire.

I’m back on Cape Cod this week, so I’m looking out at different seas than the ones that Bundrant tamed. I spent years trying to convince him to sit down for an interview, but he evaded me. The fish he captured into huge nets across Alaskan waters for decades weren’t lucky either.

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“Chuck saw all these foreign fishing firms and said ‘I want a piece of that’ at the time when no one was looking at these fisheries.” —Brent Paine, the executive director of trade group United Catcher Boats who fished in Alaska and lobbied for the industry for decades alongside Chuck Bundrant 

Fishing Billionaire Chuck Bundrant Dies At 79

Chuck Bundrant, the titan of the fishing industry who commercialized pollock at fast food chains around the world and spent six decades trawling northern seas, died on Sunday at the age of 79.

Bundrant quietly ran America’s largest seafood company, Trident Seafoods, from Seattle, with a fleet of 40 vessels and 16 processing plants, mainly in the Pacific Northwest. Trident Seafoods has grown to employ some 5,000 during peak season in Alaska. Forbes estimates sales of the closely held private company at roughly $2 billion. Bundrant, who fought Parkinson’s disease for the past decade, had a fortune worth at least $1.3 billion when he died.

Bundrant, who was born in Tennessee, started fishing Alaskan waters in 1961. That’s when he left college after one semester and drove a 1953 Ford station wagon with three buddies from Middle Tennessee State University to Seattle, arriving with $80 in his pocket. Having grown up wanting to be a veterinarian, the 19-year-old found himself falling in love with the docks while working for a fish processor. Instead of going back to school, he made his way to Alaska by winter, where he worked on a commercial crabbing boat. He eventually became captain of the ship.

Coffee-Tech Company Cometeer Raises $35 Million As Craft Java Industry Heats Up

The startup is looking to loosen Keurig’s grip on the coffee-pod business and tap into an $85 billion market.

New York City Food Businesses And Nonprofit Accuse ‘Free Meals Power Broker’ Of Upcharging Rent

Two years into working with commissary kitchen BonBite NYC, food insecurity nonprofit ReThink Food had become accustomed to weird, unexplained charges on their rent checks.

But on June 10th, 2020, they received what should have been a surprising invoice. The nonprofit was working with Eleven Madison Park’s fast-casual concept Made Nice, but that didn’t explain why BonBite was suddenly charging them as much as $8,800 a month for a curious “Eleven Madison Park labor reimbursement.” 

According to documents obtained by Forbes contributor Lizzy Saxe and reports from sources close to BonBite, Winston Chiu, a prominent food insecurity activist included in the Hunter College New York Food Policy Center’s 40 Under 40 2021 and described by The New York Times in August 2020 as a “free meals power broker,” routinely adds extraneous additional charges to rent checks for tenants in his commissary kitchen at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. 

THE FEED

Fresh links from Forbes.com or otherwise, with assistant editor Margherita Beale

Why Are Heaven Hill Distillery Workers On Strike? For over six weeks, 420 workers at the parent company of Deep Eddy Vodka, Elijah Craig, and Evan Williams Bourbon have been on strike over healthcare cost hikes, schedule changes and overtime cuts. Matt Aubrey, President of UFCW Local 23D in Bardstown, Kentucky spoke about the conditions and reasons behind the strike. (From Forbes contributor Errol Schweizer)

North Carolina Poultry Workers Are Quitting En Masse After Being Exposed To A Toxic Chemical. At a slaughterhouse owned by Mountaire in rural Robeson County, North Carolina that processes 540,000 chickens a day, workers allege that they’re being exposed to an unknown chemical that feels like it has “invaded your brain.” While poultry plants are inherently dangerous workplaces and the repetitive motions of the job can take a serious toll on workers’ bodies, the responsibility is entirely on processors to properly manage the risks associated with chemical use. (From The Counter)

Restaurant Earnings Set To Take A Hit From Higher Labor And Food Costs. Higher labor and food costs, along with a shortage of workers and inflationary pressures, have combined to create a challenging environment for restaurant chains that analysts are warning could sap earnings for the just-completed quarter. Shares of Brinker International, parent company to restaurant chains like Chili’s and Maggiano’s Little Italy, fell as much as 11% Wednesday morning after a negative preliminary earnings announcement. (From Forbes staff writer Sergei Klebnikov)

The Case For McDonald’s Beyond Meat Test. McDonald’s recently announced details of an operational test of its “McPlant” plant-based burger, co-created with Beyond Meat. McDonald’s has gained a significant amount of momentum with younger consumers in the U.S. in the past year, thanks to its promotions featuring megastars like Travis Scott, BTS and Saweetie. (From Forbes senior contributor Alicia Kelso)

I reunited last night with mezcal friends from my November 2019 trip to Oaxaca, and what a sweet reunion it was. Lou Bank and Salvador Peribán, the cohosts of the podcast Agave Road Trip, had me drinking from way too many copitas, the traditional cup for mezcal, but I was not complaining. 

Thanks for reading the fourteenth edition of Forbes Fresh Take! Let me know what you think, and subscribe to Forbes Fresh Take here

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