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North American Service and Supply co-owners Bob and Dawn Nordberg clean commercial exhaust hoods for area businesses, including the Andy Williams Moon River Grill in Branson.
North American Service and Supply co-owners Bob and Dawn Nordberg clean commercial exhaust hoods for area businesses, including the Andy Williams Moon River Grill in Branson.

Business Spotlight: Grease Busters

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Most diners don’t give a single thought to the grease-filled exhaust systems in the kitchens where they’re dining. Dawn and Bob Nordberg do – it’s their job.

The couple co-owns and operates North American Service and Supply, a subsidiary of Branson-based North American Hydro Clean LLC, which the Nordbergs formed with Ron and Patti Cox.

North American Service and Supply is a master distributor for the Grease Lock System, a filter product designed to help reduce the amount of grease and dirt that gets trapped in commercial kitchen exhaust systems. The Grease Lock System was developed in 2004 by Shreveport, La.-based Ellis Fibre USA.

The Nordbergs moved to Branson from Texas in 2008 to retire, but instead found a business opportunity operating Showtime Catering.

“When we were in that business, we learned that there weren’t many companies around cleaning commercial kitchen vent hoods,” Dawn Nordberg says.

The couple sold their catering business in 2009 and partnered with the Coxes, who also own North American Property Maintenance Co. The partners together invested $25,000 founding North American Hydro Clean, a contract cleaning and power-washing business, and built a list of more than 100 clients. North American Service and Supply met its first-year revenue goal of $100,000 in 2010.

Under the hood
Once in business, they saw firsthand that some companies cleaning hoods were not cleaning the stacks above the filters. “There was one place in Springfield that had been in business for 18 years and it didn’t look like the stack had ever been cleaned,” Nordberg says. “The cleaning company was cleaning from the bottom, and it looked clean from the outside, but wasn’t.”

Ted Martin, division chief with the Branson Fire Department, says that companies sometimes get away with cleaning only the bottom because most cleaning is done at night, after the restaurant or kitchen is closed. “It’s very important that the business has someone there to supervise or the cleaning company takes photos showing the stack has been cleaned from the fan to the roof,” Martin says. “A buildup of grease can cause a fire the same way soot buildup causes fires in the flue of fireplaces.”

The company also took notice of how intensive and expensive it was for their clients to keep their vent hoods clean. The Nordbergs developed some of their own chemicals – a line called Monkey Juice – to help in the cleaning process and also developed a water retrieval system to cut the use of water.

“We started researching a way to increase efficiency, become more green by using less water and reduce the number of times a customer would need their vent hood cleaned,” Dawn Nordberg says.

Nordberg says a professional vent hood cleaning for a typical kitchen costs between $250 and $400. The number of times the hoods have to be professionally cleaned each year depends on the use, but some facilities clean their hoods once a quarter. The process uses thousands of gallons of water for each cleaning, adding utility fees to the cost.

Additionally, restaurants and other commercial kitchen operators, must pay staff to clean the filter at least weekly. Nordberg estimates the average commercial kitchen spends $650 annually on utility and staff labor costs, in addition to the professional cleaning.

Project Grease Lock
Nordberg says they found Ellis Fibre USA and was impressed with its Grease Lock System, which adds a filter to the vent hood, trapping 98 percent of the grease and dirt that would eventually end up beyond the filter and in the stack. Most metal filters, Nordberg says, capture roughly 20 percent of the grease.

Nordberg says the Grease Lock System allows restaurants to cut professional cleanings to once a year, although some clients, she says, have gone for 23 months without needing a cleaning.

Joe Salpietra, director of Ellis Fibre USA, says company officials were surprised when Nordberg contacted his company. “Most hood cleaning companies’ reaction has been to discredit the product because it could impact their business,” Salpietra says. “We never looked at this industry as someone who might want to work with us.”

Salpietra says they were impressed by the proposal Nordberg and her partners put together to become a master distributor and thought the timing was right, as the Grease Lock System had just completed field trials and was put onto the market in September 2009. The system already had been installed in more than 300 locations throughout the U.S. mainly in large chains such as Applebee’s, Copeland’s and Famous Dave’s.

North American Service and Supply has a five-year contract through 2016 with Ellis Fibre to sell distributorships, install and maintain the systems, and train and act as a support system for the distributors.

The partners have invested an additional $150,000 into the venture, covering equipment, development of the chemical cleaners and a 2,000-square-foot training facility leased in Hollister’s industrial park.  

The company has sold six of the $30,000 distributorships – in California, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma and Nevada – with seven more in the works. Personnel from the first six distributorships will train at the Hollister facility beginning April 10.

Nordberg says she hopes to sell 24 distributorships by the end of the year. The company expects 2011 revenues of $450,000, evenly split between kitchen hood cleaning and Grease Lock System sales, Nordberg says.[[In-content Ad]]

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