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Small business: It all started with potato salad

Long-lasting deli food company has its headquarters in Beaverton
by: Jaime Valdez

It's hard to say how many summer picnics or fall tailgate parties have featured a menu that included Reser's original potato salad.

But the number has to be far greater than what Al Reser - who squired Reser's Fine Foods into the 21st century before he died last spring at age 74 - could ever have imagined.

The company, started in 1950 by Al's parents, Earl and Mildred Reser, as 'Mrs. Reser's Salads,' has grown into an industry giant with products sold in 50 states, Canada and Mexico.

That's a lot of potato salad - and refrigerated dips and side dishes, too - all prepared in a dozen factory kitchens around the U.S. The company, headquartered in Beaverton, employs 2,500 people.

Reser's potato salad, found in the deli section of most grocery stores, remains the No. 1 seller because 'it tastes like homemade,' said David Lakey, vice-president of marketing. 'We make 70 potato salad recipes in various parts of the company, but our original recipe is still the most popular,' he said.

He thinks that's because Reser's doesn't cut corners. 'Our recipes contain real mayonnaise, real potatoes, real vegetables - and no fillers,' Lakey pointed out.

In a nutshell, Reser's 'provides prepared deli salads, dips, side dishes and Mexican food to grocery stores, independent retail outlets and some restaurants,' said Lakey.

Four generations of Resers have labored for the company. Today that list includes Al Reser's sons, Mike and Mark, and granddaughter Nikki Reser. But it was Al who was the 'uber-Reser,' Lakey said.

'The company was founded by Al's mom and dad when he was still in high school,' Lakey noted. 'But most of what Reser's is today is due to Al Reser.'

The firm has survived, even thrived, during hard economic times. And in the current recession, company leaders continue to make 'very aggressive' plans to 'position Reser's as a significant force in the food service industry,' Lakey said.

Although the competition is fierce, Reser's remains the largest full-service company of its kind in the world, noted Lakey.

Reser's is rolling out several new deli salad flavors in 2011 (under the Reser's and Stonemill Kitchens brands), and a few new premium cheese-based dips that can be used on their own or to dress up main course dinners. The company also plans to introduce macaroni-and-cheese and scalloped potato products called 'top-baked side dishes,' Lakey said.

'Those are oven-baked, and then refrigerated,' he noted. 'They're browned and crispy on top and warm and gooey inside.

'Our company continues to innovate and improve.'