John Boos & Co. is the oldest industry in Effingham, Illinois. It has been in business continuously since 1887. Conrad Boos Sr. founded the business in 1887 and named it for his son, John; and for many years worked out of the blacksmith shop, which was located at what is now 406 West Jefferson Street in Effingham, Illinois. The wood for his blocks was cut in wooded areas surrounding Effingham and was mostly sycamore lumber at the time. The lumber was processed in his sawmill and sent to his shop for finishing. The plant operated from a blacksmith shop until 1892, when it moved and began producing the blocks as we know them now, which are laminated.
In 1892 the Boos family sold controlling interest in the company to the Gravenhorst family. There are currently fourth and fifth generation Gravenhorsts working for the company with T. S. Gravenhorst, III being named President in 1979. In 1895 the building burned and was rebuilt; however, in 1899 it was decided that more space was needed, and it was then that they moved to their present site of 315 South First Street. The building was purchased from the old Effingham furniture manufacturing company, which was located here at the time.
FYI: Albert Gravenhorst - John Boos & Co. President 1892
In 1920 extra buildings and kiln capacity were added, and the company continued to expand throughout the early part of the 20th century. Few companies in the foodservice and butcher block industry can look back at their historical past with as much pride and accomplishment as John Boos & Co. The butcher block is a definite cornerstone in the building of the foodservice industry and was also the trademark of John Boos & Co. in the very beginning. During the 1950’s butcher blocks manufactured from hard maple trees were found in every restaurant, food store, and butcher shop in America.
Striving for the very best quality control is an important goal for all manufacturers. This attitude has been prevalent from the very beginning in the production of butcher blocks and stainless steel products at John Boos & Co. World War II was instrumental in changing the manufacturing philosophy of management. There was need to produce foodservice tables, butcher blocks, work tables, table tops and other items that were already being produced for the government under contract. The various and different types of tables include the mess hall dining tables and kitchen tables which were being sold to Defense General Supply Center and shipped to the Granite City, Illinois Ordinance Depot.
In 1955 the company continued to expand, adding a dry kiln, increased office space, and more manufacturing space. The shipping dock was enlarged, warehousing space was added, and the company continued to add to its product lines. In addition to the standard old style butcher blocks, butcher block tops, which are laminated strips of northern hard rock maple or Appalachian red oak, were in great demand for foodservice, as well as in homes, as counter tops and furniture. Phrases such as “REAL WOOD”, “THE NATURAL LOOK”, “NATURE’S ELEGANCE” were strong factors connecting butcher block tops to real value. The natural beauty, combined with natural durability, gave butcher block dining tables and counter tops a 1-2 punch success ratio that still exists today. Value is difficult to substantiate, and is well defined to the end user in terms of return on an investment. Solid wood is easily identifiable as a good value.
FYI: Largest block ever produced at JB&C - Circa 1954
During the late 1960s and early ‘70s, John Boos & Co. began to define its position in the metal fabricated table market. Metal tables had replaced the butcher block as a necessary product in a majority of foodservice/supermarket establishments. Tables for a multitude of work areas, with poly or synthetic tops, stainless steel tops and maple tops were being manufactured. The back room was the target area for the work tables. A secondary target area was defined as the dining portion of the foodservice field. Here butcher block tops were being used. John Boos & Co. does a large business in providing tables, counter tops, work surfaces, both from wood and stainless steel, for industry, institutions and homes. Most of these items are available through kitchen stores, giftware shops, commercial foodservice dealers, supermarket equipment dealers, and catalog stores. The company installed products in The White House bakery as recently as 1992, and the old fashioned meat blocks are still made.
The company currently occupies approximately 150,000 sq. ft. of total production capacity in Effingham, IL and approximately 65,000 sq. ft. of manufacturing capacity in Philipsburg, PA and Suring, WI, which produce wooden school furniture. The company has four dry kilns that will dry up to 210,000 board feet of lumber on a continual basis. There are 140 employees in the Effingham facility. Most of the hardwoods used for manufacturing comes from the Great Lakes states via truck, while our second largest commodity, stainless steel, comes from steel warehouses and distribution centers in Chicago, Indianapolis, and St. Louis. The company currently is cutting up about four million board feet of maple and oak each year.
The wood and metal products are listed with the National Sanitation Foundation, the leader in sanitation agencies for approving equipment to be installed in foodservice and supermarket operations. The products must have approval of various sanitation agencies in order to be accepted by the industry. Even though the government was tough on wood products through the1970s and ‘80s, the company continued to grow with diversification in our new line of BDL store fixtures and park benches. The stainless steel product group, which continues to expand, now includes stainless steel sinks, shelves, carts, etc. One of the outgrowths of our stainless steel plant and our wood plant is a new Cucina series of foodservice carts made from northern hard rock maple and foodservice grade stainless steel. The product has received instant acceptance with the major gourmet catalog companies, as well as some major foodservice dealers. Mixing the two materials provides John Boos & Co. with a competitive edge as the manufacturing begins and ends in Effingham, IL.
John Boos & Co. Cucina products, butcher blocks and cutting boards are being used by celebrity chefs throughout the United States. Celebrity chefs currently using John Boos products are Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, Susan Spicer at Bayona Restaurant in New Orleans, and Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feninger at Border Grill in Santa Monica, California. In addition, the country’s premier food channel, “THE FOOD NETWORK” features chefs, such as Mario Batali and Emeril Lagasse, who prepare meals every day on John Boos cutting boards. In most cases Boos cutting boards are used on the daily and weekly television programs sponsored for the chefs.
In 1994 we were awarded the Gold Medal for Excellence in Foodservice Equipment by the Chefs of America. This ceremony was conducted at Carnegie Hall in New York City, and we were one of only 22 companies receiving awards.
The company sells its products under the registered trade names, “BOOS BLOCKS”, “PRO-CHEF”, “CUCINA AMERICANA”, “PRO-BOWL” and “STALLION” work tables.
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