Growing Up with Bay Food Brokerage: An Interview with Chris Chatterton

October 27, 2023
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Growing Up with Bay Food Brokerage: An Interview with Chris Chatterton

At age 36, our Executive Vice President Chris Chatterton is only a handful of years older than the food broker company his mother, Cammie Chatterton, launched in 1993.

As Bay Food Brokerage celebrates its 30th anniversary, we sat down with Chris. He shared all about what it was like to grow up alongside the business.

Q: What’s your first Bay Food Brokerage memory?

Chris missing toothA: So, I was 6 years old when my mom and her former business partner started the company. I think my first memory was the fact that I rarely saw my parents because they were working so much, and that Grandma and Grandpa always took me to get a Frosty and French fries after school {laughs}.

But seriously, the legendary story in our family and one of my first memories related to Bay Food was when Mom took me to a meeting at Publix. We were at one of Publix’s old division office buildings, and she was pitching for fresh and processed meat. I insisted on carrying her briefcase to the meeting room. But, it was heavy for a 6-year-old. So, I ended up dragging the briefcase down the entire hallway!

Q: When you were a kid and people asked what your mom did for work, what did you say?

A: I told everyone, “All the stuff you buy at the grocery store, my mom sold.” Or, “My mom sells all the products to the store.” In my mind, that’s what a food broker did. I was on the right track!

Q: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A: A lawyer. Actually, I wanted to be a lawyer in the sports industry. I loved the movie Jerry Maguire.

Q: What are some of your most prominent memories about the company from growing up?

Chris and Cammie Glamour ShotA: Gosh, there are so many. It’s hard to pick.

I remember going to a meeting with my mom once in Orlando to pitch Albertsons on mashed potatoes. During the whole car ride there, I studied the presentation. At the meeting, I did the presentation, and the buyer put the product into stores! Apparently, that was going to happen regardless of who did the presentation. But, I felt pretty proud of myself. I was probably 7 or 8 at the time.

I also have fond childhood memories of going to Johnsonville’s Big Taste Grill events. The big tractor trailer travels around to different grocery stores and raises money for charities. Johnsonville is a long-time client of Bay Food’s. We’d cook brats and eat food. That was always a good time.

Also, being an only child, I remember having a lot of in-depth conversations with my mom about the business – just around the dinner table or in the car. She’d tell me about how a meeting went, or a new manufacturer the business just took on. I always had a pretty good sense of what Mom was doing at work. And, as I got older – middle school, high school – I became more inquisitive. And I started really connecting the dots and putting two and two together about what it means to be a food broker and how the industry works.

Q: What was your first job?

A: After I got my driver’s license in high school through freshman year of college, I worked part-time summer jobs at Bay Food Brokerage. I worked on the retail team, doing resets at Publix stores.

One summer, I was on the meat team, doing resets in the meat department. And I put in all the HMR (home-meal replacement) rack systems in all the Publix’s in the area. It was back-breaking work! But, looking back at it now, I can say that I’ve done almost every job in the company, starting with this high school summer job.

Q: When did you know you wanted to get involved in the company full-time, and what prompted that?

A: So, around 2011, I was working as a financial analyst. And I didn’t love the financial world. I‘d graduated from University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business with an economics degree and a concentration in management.

At the time, I could tell my mom was having some frustrations and wanted to grow the business. At a family dinner, she casually asked if I’d maybe want to come into the company. And I honestly hadn’t thought about that. But, I was open to considering it.

I met with her then-business partner and other key people at Bay Food. And they agreed that due to my education and background and experience working with the company part-time those summers, I could be a huge help. I started as a food broker, selling to the independent market in Florida and the 20 Albertsons stores that remained at that time. My second role was as Retail Supervisor.

Q: When you joined in 2011, did you expect you’d be here today, preparing to take over the food broker business when Cammie retires?

A: When I first came in, I didn’t think it would be a forever thing. But, like my mom says, something about this industry and being a food broker kind of sucks you in. It’s fun because you get to deal with so many different people.

I also liked that there was a lot of potential with the business, and for me. We were only scratching the surface of where Bay Food could go. I was a 23-year-old kid at the time I came in. Leadership at other companies probably wouldn’t have really listened to me. But here, I was able to be heard and make a difference. And as I started making significant impacts in the company, that made me enjoy it more. I wanted to keep moving the needle in a positive way.

I never thought I’d come to Bay Food Brokerage. But, looking back, I can say I was really prepared and really understood the business. Having the part-time summer jobs working in the stores, working in sales and being a retail supervisor were all stepping stones. Now, when I talk to the retail reps, or our sales team, I can understand what they’re doing and offer support. That’s because I’ve been there myself.

Q: What’s it like working with your mother?

Chris and Cammie Clowning Around

A: Like any mother-son pair, we have our good days and bad days! {laughs} But many more good than bad.

One of the cool things is my mom really does listen to me, and she has since I came on full-time in 2011. It’s easy to go into my mom’s office and make decisions together. She really stands by me when I make suggestions. And, sometimes we agree to disagree and have to find common ground.

I try to be very calculated and stay grounded. She knows I don’t want to take unnecessary risks that would put the company in a bad position. Our food broker business has grown exponentially since my mom took full ownership in 2015. We make a good team.

Q: How has growing up with a parent who owns a business shaped who you are as a person and as a professional?

A: While I was growing up, I saw my mom bust her butt working two jobs. My dad was working six days a week. My parents sacrificed so much for me. Witnessing them go through that definitely shaped who I am today. I still know where I came from, and I think that’s very important. It’s something I want to instill in my kids.

Also, how my mom manages the food broker business and how she treats her employees has definitely shaped me. In business and in life, I’ve learned so much from her about how to treat other people and the importance of supporting your community. I couldn’t have had a better upbringing. I am the man I am today because of that.

As far as being a business owner, I’ve seen first-hand that it’s not easy owning a business. From watching my mom, I’ve learned it’s not always going to be a smooth ride. There will always be bumps on the path. But, as long as you can navigate those, you’ll be a successful business owner.

Q: What do you hope to see with Bay Food Brokerage as it moves into the future?

A: Even though I never thought I’d be in the business, now that I am, I want to continue its strong legacy. It’s important to not rest on our laurels. We need to invest in the company in smart ways. We’re committed to taking care of our family and all our employees, who we consider family. That’s what my mom would want.

The story isn’t complete. There’s a lot of chapters in the Bay Food story yet to be written. We’ve come a long way, and we’ll keep going. Who knows? Maybe one of my kids will be interested in getting involved in the company when they’re older.

I’m happy and blessed with where I am today, and I don’t take anything for granted. When my mom retires, I want her to know the business will be in great hands.

Looking for a Southeast food broker with a storied history and commitment to a strong future? Contact us today to learn more.