by Kevin Flaherty
Sale items are tagged with hand-written price tags, and the lack of bar coding and creaking wood floors can make you feel like you are in an antique mall. One gets the immediate impression that this is a company that prides itself on service. Jason Krasno, a past customer, would concur with that assessment. Krasno purchased some shelving units for coolers, and was pleased with the deal he got on a used Viking stove from the store. Says Krasno, “They’re very friendly, very helpful. They’ve got a great selection of products. If I was going to redo a home kitchen, I’d want to check out Fein Brothers.” Fein Brothers, Inc., the commercial restaurant equipment dealer on Martin Luther King Drive, has seen a lot of change in the neighborhood’s business atmosphere in the 35 years since relocating. One of its 11 employees, Ben Minkin, 32, observes the changes on King Drive have been “an incredible improvement.” Fein Brothers picked a challenging time to relocate from 4th and Juneau Streets to its current location. Simie Fein, the second generation owner of the company, recounted that the company had been looking for more space in 1967, and — with the recent race riots and troubles depressing market prices — the price was very reasonable for the building that housed the former Schuster’s Department Store at 2007 N. Martin Luther King Dr. Fein notes that the inexpensive location had its upside: for years the real estate tax was only $900 per year. At more than $8600 in 2002, things have certainly changed for the circa-1900 building. In 2003 its assessment increased by $173,000 to $443,000. Still, with the company’s proximity to downtown and the city’s multitude of food and beverage establishments, business has long been good for the company. While the recent nearby condo developments and various new restaurants on MLK (Eat-3 and Beanhead Cafe, for example) have helped bring business nearby, outside competition from companies like Boelter and Berther has presented its own challenges. One result of increased competition is that Fein Brothers sells less used equipment. Although the company continues to offer used equipment, the generally soft economy for equipment and competitive marketplace have driven down new equipment prices, which in turn has depressed the resale equipment market. In addition to the downward pressure on used equipment prices, Minkin notes that it is hard to find qualified people to repair and resell equipment. Minkin estimates that Fein Brothers’ sales are 85-90% commercial and 10-15% retail. Minkin describes the company as a full-service commercial equipment dealer that knows better than to chase the retail market a la Williams Sonoma. Fein Brothers primarily sells in southeast Wisconsin, but services a few national accounts such as Great Harvest Bread Company and Breadsmith, helping to source equipment to those companies’ franchises. Once in the sprawling store, one can buy anything from a white chef’s jacket to large stoves, pizza ovens, steam tables, display freezers and coolers, and rack after rack of cooking and serving equipment. There was even a large boxed-up crate in the showroom with a 170″ stainless steel counter top destined for the new Brookfield location of Neroli Aveda Salon. Fein Brothers has no outside sales people and relies primarily on its reputation and word-of-mouth for sales. The company does do periodic catalog mailings to its in-house mailing list. A wide variety of inventory is kept in the Equipment Showroom and throughout the store. Says Minkin, “It’s good to have inventory on site — it looks good, better than a catalog.” Minkin has been helpful in assisting the Riverwest Co-op natural foods store of 733 E. Clarke Street in their various equipment purchases. Minkin, born and raised in Milwaukee, currently resides in the Third Ward neighborhood. After working for a while in the food and beverage side of the business, he joined his uncle Gil Minkin and cousin Todd Minkin at Fein Brothers five and a half years ago. His Uncle Gil has been at the company for nearly half a century. When asked what he likes most about his work, Minkin responds, “Probably the people. Restaurant and bar owners can be very interesting people.” Fein Brothers., at 2007 N. Martin Luther King Dr., is open Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. They can be reached at (414) 562-0220.