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TPC service expansion is home-grown

Dispatch/Argus Photo By Nobuko Oyabu

Larry McCombs, reach-lift operator, puts boxes on shelves at Thoms Proestler Co.'s warehouse in Rock Island. The food distribution company supplies customers in the Quad-Cities and the Midwest with business information, equipment and marketing supplies as well as groceries.

ROCK ISLAND -- It would be difficult to imagine the state of the food-service industry in the Quad-Cities without the Thoms Proestler Co.

The more-than-a-century-old food-distribution company supplies not only food, but equipment, marketing supplies and business information to countless Quad-Cities area entities, from restaurants to cafeteria operators to community groups holding fundraisers.

With 400 employees, the family-owned business has its finger on the pulse of its industry here on the banks of the Mississippi and all over the Midwest.

Thoms Proestler has grown from a $21.5 million company in 1980 to post sales of $165 million today, according to the TPC website. The company serves clients in six states, offering more than 12,000 items. It's listed as one of the 20 largest independently owned food-distribution companies in the nation.

That's leaps above where it all began.

Henry Proestler started the H.T. Proestler Co. in the 1880s as a wholesale cheese distributor. As the business grew, William Thoms began to acquire stock in the company. By 1919, when Mr. Thoms' son Ray joined the company, it had grown into a specialty food distributor offering more than 80 items.

Under Ray Thoms' leadership in 1953, the business changed its name to the Thoms Proestler Co. In 1956, Stuart Thoms became the third generation to join the business. As president, he expanded the company's services to include an institutional-food line for customers operating restaurants, hospitals, cafeterias and hotels.

In the 1960s, Thoms Proestler moved into a 135,000-square-foot headquarters on River Drive in Davenport. By 1993, the ever-growing business was forced to relocate again. After operating in Iowa for more than 100 years, Thoms Proestler moved its headquarters to a 50-acre site and a new $13 million facility in southwest Rock Island.

Even with its monumental growth, the company's owners haven't considered moving the business out of the area.

``This location is basically rich with history for us,'' said Tom Thoms, vice president of corporate development. ``We treat (the company) more like a family heirloom than a business.''

Mr. Thoms credits the company's employees for much of its success. The work ethic of people in the Quad-Cities and in the Midwest in general is one of the best in the country, he said.

Now in its fourth generation of family leadership, Thoms Proestler continues to adapt to the needs of its customers, staying on par with larger corporate competitors.

Customers can tap the brains of specialists on Thoms Proestler's payroll, including a corporate dietitian, chemical and sanitation specialist, and a lounge and nightclub consultant, among others. The company also has opened its desktop-publishing service to customers who need items like printed menus, table tents and buttons.

The implementation of such growth and changes earned Thoms Proestler the Innovator of the Year Award from Institutional Distribution magazine in 1990.

The family-owned business continues to win with customers, whether they're running a restaurant in Davenport or holding a fundraising pancake breakfast in Moline.

It's local folks, helping out local folks, resulting in hometown success, one customer at a time.

-- By Marcy Norton (January 26, 1998)

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