CAROL STREAM, IL – At a time when good stories are hard to find, here’s one from the heart of DuPage County.
Headquartered in Carol Stream, Antunes is both a leading manufacturer of custom foodservice and water treatment solutions and a third-generation, family-owned business—a rare combination of global scope and family values.
Like virtually all businesses, Antunes was put to the test this spring when the pandemic swept across the globe, first affecting their China facility before arriving on the doorstep of their Carol Stream headquarters. The company, which serves the foodservice industry, was forced to briefly halt its operations. However, by adopting innovative technologies, pivoting to new market segments and investing in the well-being of their team members, Antunes has weathered the economic and public health crisis of 2020.
Now, the company is not only back on its feet. It’s hiring.
“Our business needs people, and people need jobs,” says Stephanie Allen, head of HR Operations at Antunes. “Just this week alone, we had four interviews and made three offers. We currently have over 22 openings for direct-hire positions. These are full-time, benefit-eligible positions.”
Two of the keys to Antunes’ success amid the pandemic are its foresight and flexibility.
Even before COVID-19, Antunes saw that the foodservice industry was on the brink of a major technological evolution. Rather than waiting for the change to come, they made it happen.
Antunes, which serves many of the world’s largest quick-service and fast-casual restaurants – as well as gas-station convenience stores, among other market segments – began investing in automated technologies well before the rest of the foodservice industry, which has often lagged behind other fields in adopting breakthrough tech. Today, the Antunes team envisions a “connected kitchen,” where everything from food temperature to hygiene is monitored through a network of sensors and analyzed by algorithms to maximize quality, safety and efficiency. To that end, Antunes acquired Storelynk in 2019, a brand that specializes in cloud-based analytics platforms and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies for food vendors.
It’s true that Antunes manufactures equipment like toasters, steamers, grills and water treatment systems. But, with custom solutions that often integrate technology like automation and touchless dispensing (a hot product in 2020), quality toasters are far from the whole story.
“We’re a little different from other manufacturers,” says Anthony Muñoz, Global Marketing Manager of Antunes. “We really partner with our customers to create the right solution that fits their organization. That’s both from a physical standpoint, but also understanding their operations. Do they need the equipment to do certain things to fit their menu? Do they need it to operate at a different speed? What’s the volume of output?
“We have a lot of products, but they’re really custom solutions. The products change depending on who our customers are.”
That emphasis on custom solutions – as opposed to off-the-shelf products – has enabled Antunes to pivot quickly amid the pandemic and serve their clients’ rapidly changing needs. Many of their clients have managed to expand their customer base amid the pandemic by focusing on drive-thru, delivery and pickup capabilities. However, these businesses face a trio of challenges: They need an environment where team members can work safely; they need to minimize contact with food; and, at the same time, they need to produce just as much – or more – product as before. As a solutions provider, Antunes is able to work with companies like McDonald’s and Panera, which have distinct kitchen layouts and products, to design solutions for their unique challenges.
For example: This year, Antunes has ramped up production of its touchless dispensing systems. These devices automatically dispense different types of sauces – with varying viscosities and temperatures – to minimize employee contact with food. This product, like all Antunes products, can be customized to the clients’ unique foodservice environment, whether they need a compact unit, a device that’s integrated with their refrigeration system or another customized solution.
As the company expands their capabilities, Antunes is finding demand for their work in new markets—some of them surprising. Coffee shops, for example, can use the touchless dispensing systems to distribute various types of milk and milk substitutes. Convenience stores that want to do-away with messy condiment packets and hand-pump dispensers can use the touchless system for distributing ketchup and mustard.
Antunes isn’t limiting themselves to a single market, product line or solution. They’re flexible, and that’s allowed them to keep up with the rapidly changing foodservice industry – both before and during the pandemic – and expand into new markets.
Today, their manufacturing facility in Carol Stream – which, along with their innovation center in Crystal Lake, produces every product for Antunes’ domestic clients, including electronic components and even the products’ boxes – has been reconfigured to meet their clients’ new demands. That includes products like translucent shields and stands for universal hand-sanitizer.
The other key to Antunes’ success has been the company’s ongoing investment in its people.
That story begins long before the pandemic. In fact, it goes all the way back to the early 20th Century, when the Antunes family immigrated from Portugal to the United States.
At the time, the family didn’t have many resources, but they wanted to provide the best for their son, August J. Antunes. From a young age, August had a passion for building things, and this passion came to define his life. After training in the U.S. Navy as an Aviation Machinist, August started a family in Chicago – in fact, he met his wife, Virginia, on the first night of Basic Training – and, with the support of his growing family, founded the company that would one day become Antunes. The fledgling business had its big break when it partnered with McDonald’s in 1970, just as the fast-food empire began to expand globally. As McDonald’s grew, Antunes grew with it.
But some things never changed. Even as August’s company grew – its products eventually reaching more than 150 countries – it remained a family business committed to treating every team member like one of their own.
As an employee at Antunes, the company goes above and beyond to care for your well-being. The Carol Stream headquarters has a cafeteria, where you’ll find fresh fruit and healthy snacks throughout the day; a company library filled with books related to professional development; and quiet rooms where employees can unwind. Team members and their families even have access to an on-site health center, created in partnership with Advocate. The center is staffed with a nurse practitioner and a medical assistant, and there is no co-pay and no pharmacy charges for team members enrolled in the company’s health insurance plan. Staff also benefit from an on-site fitness center, open during and after work hours, with treadmills, weights and elliptical machines, as well as on-site trainers and a golf simulator. At the end of the workday, employees will often meet at the fitness center for yoga and Zumba classes (prior to the pandemic).
In 2016, Antunes expanded, adding 55,000-SF to their Carol Stream facility, which is now 170,000-SF. The expansion created a dedicated space for the company’s maintenance apprenticeship program, which offers employees up to 100 hours of foundational coursework and 400 hours of specialized maintenance training, covering topics such as OSHA safety, blueprint reading, precision measurement and asset management. So far, more than 70 team members have completed the program.
“We’re a learning organization and a learning culture,” Stephanie says. “We want to ensure that our team members continue to develop, which is why we offer continued education and opportunities to advance within the organization.
“We invest heavily in our people, because we want the best for them.”
Giving back is baked into the culture of Antunes. Employees are encouraged to take paid time off to volunteer. Many team members donate time and/or money to Splash, a nonprofit organization that brings clean water and other essentials to children throughout the world. In 2011, Antunes named Splash their official corporate charity. So far, the company has raised more than half a million dollars for Splash through various initiatives and events, and they continue to manufacture the organization’s water filters in their Carol Stream facility. Splash, in turn, has installed more than 1,140 Antunes water filtration systems for people in need.
“Our team members are really motivated by our work with Splash, because they’ve seen the video footage and photography that comes back,” Anthony says. “They see the impact that it has on the kids, and they get moved by it.”
For all the reasons described above, Antunes was listed among the Chicago Tribune’s Top Workplaces in 2019 and was named the 2017 Family Business of the Year by Loyola University Chicago.
As the COVID-19 epidemic accelerated in the spring of 2020, Antunes, like many businesses, was met with the dual challenges of keeping their employees safe while continuing to run their operation.
By the time the pandemic hit the U.S., Antunes had already experienced an early wave in China, where the company has a facility in Suzhou. The Antunes leadership decided early on to temporarily close their Carol Stream facility, even before the Illinois government effectively shut down the state. Office team members were told that they would temporarily work remote, while assembly and warehouse team members were given one week of paid time off as the company reconfigured production lines and shifted schedules, modelling their decisions based on successful practices of their colleagues in China.
Production lines and the cafeteria were reconfigured to allow for social distancing. PPE was made readily available. Every employee had their temperature taken upon arrival. A new shift was added, allowing employees on the production line to socially distance and team members with children to be home during school hours.
Some employees were temporarily furloughed. However, the company kept their on-site clinic open for all team members, including those furloughed, and provided additional resources and education.
After six weeks, Antunes began inviting furloughed employees to return to work.
“We gave team members an opportunity to return based on a schedule that worked for them and their family, but we were also supportive and understanding of their challenges,” Stephanie says. “Initially, there were people who weren’t ready to return. Jane and Glenn were really sensitive to that, and we put in processes and protocols to make sure people felt good about coming back.”
Some were hesitant to return to work because their children were participating in online learning during the fall, so Antunes worked with these team members to coordinate work schedules around school schedules.
“Our message was: We got this. We’re all going to be okay, and we’re going to get through this together.”
Today, all of the company’s furloughed employees have returned to work. And now, due to the company’s creativity, innovation and genuine care for their people, Antunes is on a path to growth and success.
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