In less than a year, Bob Linow will be celebrating his 30-year career at Henry’s Food as one of the company’s truck drivers. And he doesn’t plan on retiring just yet.
Which is a good thing considering he was just inducted into the International Foodservice Distributors Association Truck Driver Hall of Fame.
As far as Linow knows, this is the first time Henry’s Foods has had one of its drivers entered into the Truck Driver Hall of Fame – at least it is the first time in 30 years, he said.
To be eligible, drivers must have at least 25 years of employment with an IFDA member company and have no chargeable accidents or moving violations within the last five years.
Knocking on the wood table in front of him, Linow said he’s never been in an accident while driving his semi. He didn’t want to jinx it.
Linow, from Alexandria, spends four days a week delivering goods, mostly to convenience stores, but also to restaurants and bars. He can log up to 230 miles or more each day.
Even though he delivers to the same spots the majority of the time, Linow said one aspect of his job he enjoys is meeting so many people.
Linow used an owner at one of his stops to illustrate the relationships he has developed.
“I can remember when she was pregnant and now her kids are in their 20s,” he said.
He’s built many such relationships during the past 30 years and said some of his clients are like family. In fact, he said he sees some of them more than his own kids.
Linow and his wife, Stephanie, have two grown sons, Chad and Steven.
He also remembered a time when there were more family-owned stores. Now, he said, most are gone and have been replaced by chain convenience stores.
“There are very few ‘ma and pa’ stores left and that is hard on some of the small towns,” he said.
Over the years, a lot has changed in the industry. One change he welcomed is when the delivery trucks became automatic.
“They’re so nice now,” he said. “Trucks are just so much better now.”
He also welcomed the change to electronic log books, making for better and easier recordkeeping.
When it comes to trends in convenience store products, Linow said breakfast sandwiches and coffee in the morning and anything fast at noon is always popular. Donuts and coffee are also popular. The one item that will always be a staple at convenience stores, though, is coffee.
“I can’t believe how much coffee we go through,” said Linow, who also was surprised that cappuccino turned out to be more than a fad.
Not one who likes to be in the limelight, Linow said it was neat that it was the first time someone from Henry’s received the honor.
“It’s pretty special,” he said.
At age 64, retirement really isn’t on his radar.
“My health is good and I like what I do,” he said.
Loyal and dependable
Kurtis Kuhn, director of operations at Henry’s Foods, said Linow has logged close to a million accident-free miles.
“There’s no telling how many cart loads he’s hauled up and down the trailer ramps,” he said. “Bob is on the road every morning before 3 a.m. delivering product to 60-plus customers – and for most of them, he’s been the only Henry’s driver they’ve known.”
Kuhn said Linow’s relationships with customers have made it easy for them to pass on competitors, knowing the service they receive from Linow cannot be matched. Kuhn said Linow has a perfect driving record, and has trained countless drivers on the importance of driving safely.
“Our company has always done more for our customers than our competitors and Bob has been the model of Henry’s Foods values and what sets our company apart,” said Kuhn. “And as wonderful a route driver as Bob has been, he’s an even better man.”
Dale Cameron, owner/operator of Battle Lake Standard, said when Linow retires, he’s never going to be replaceable. Linow has delivered goods to Cameron’s store for more than 25 years.
“He takes care of us,” said Cameron. “It doesn’t surprise me he was inducted (into the Truck Driver Hall of Fame). He’s the best driver they’ve got.”
Bruce Huseth from Underwood Quik-Stop and Cafe has known Linow since the early 1990s when he built the convenience store. He said Linow is always polite and always in a good mood. And although Linow is not a salesman, Huseth said he can ask him questions about products and Linow provides helpful answers.
A couple of years ago, Huseth said he added the cafe and when Linow found out, he offered him some good advice: put in a ramp going into his walk-in freezer.
“It made sense, so we did and it works really slick,” said Huseth. “It works great for our employees and those making deliveries. He’s just a great guy.”
The International Foodservice Distributors Association had 67 inductees this year into its Truck Driver Hall of Fame. The award casts a spotlight on the industry’s top drivers for their outstanding records of service, safety and skill.
More than 130,000 foodservice distribution drivers are currently on the road, but only those with the best safety records and longevity of service qualify for the IFDA Truck Driver Hall of Fame. The inductees were honored at the IFDA Distribution Solutions Conference Oct. 29 in Orlando.
IFDA is a trade organization representing the $280 billion foodservice distribution industry. More than 15,000 foodservice distribution centers are located in the U.S.