Van’s Kitchen, the flagship brand of VAN Oriental Food, is a certified women-owned and minority-owned egg roll manufacturer supplying over 10,000 supermarkets and convenience stores across the U.S., with $45 million in annual sales.
Led by CEO Theresa Motter, Van’s Kitchen has weathered the COVID pandemic to sign over 10 new distributor, supermarket and grocery store accounts, increasing the company’s client base by 28%. Van’s Kitchen has spent the past year fulfilling more orders, marking a 40% increase in sales year-over-year.
“We are honored to be recognized by Refrigerated and Frozen Foods magazine,” Motter said. “It affirms all the hard work we’ve done and reflects the investment in our company and people. Our roll models (Van’s term for employees) work hard and this is for them. I don’t make anything – we’re successful because I’ve never made an egg roll.”
The growth has allowed Van’s Kitchen to add new positions to its human resources, production and operations departments and also introduce an entirely new shift to keep up with increasing demand. The 140 employees of Van’s Kitchen produce millions of egg rolls annually at the Dallas, Texas, facility and their food is sold in Publix, Walmart, Kroger, Giant Eagle and other retailers nationwide.
Founded in 1986, by Vietnamese immigrants, Van and Kim Nguyen, Van’s Kitchen has stayed true to its niche the past three decades by producing egg rolls with top-quality ingredients and a goal to “make every bite the best one.”
Twenty years earlier the couple moved to America with their two-year-old daughter, Theresa, determined to find a new home and a new life. Now fresh out of college, Theresa intended to just “help out” for a couple of months, but that couple of months never ended, and neither did her dedication to her family, her team and her customers.
“We started with an IBM typewriter, green notebooks and 3x5 index cards. I would invoice in triplicate,” Motter said.
Originally Van’s Kitchen supplied foodservice providers but Motter soon secured a contract with Walmart, back when the company had only 50 supercenters.
“I’m proud to say we’re a 30-year supplier with Walmart,” she said. “When they wanted prepackaged egg rolls, we moved into microwavable trays. Then we added capacity to sell frozen egg rolls wrapped in a flow wrapper.”
By 1993, Theresa’s husband, Carl Motter, had joined the team, growing the purchasing, IT and sales departments.
In 2014, Van and Kim retired, with Theresa becoming CEO and Carl serving as CRO.
Since then, the company has focused on innovation and meeting the needs of its two customer bases: hot and cold deli and frozen foods departments in grocery stores and convenience stores that offer Van’s Kitchen products on roller grills.
Egg rolls are sold in 2-packs, 4-packs and 5-packs in chicken, pork and vegetable flavors and the company’s latest creation, Chili Lime Chicken. It blends the familiarity of traditional Asian fusion with zesty flavors, featuring white meat chicken, fresh thinly sliced cabbage, sweet carrots and aromatic onions with zesty chili lime seasoning in a crispy, crunchy wrapper.
Van’s Kitchen works with a culinary company on new flavor profiles and uses a stage-gate process that includes taste testing by a slate of “egg roll connoisseurs.” The new flavor was the result of a year-long process and three rounds of tweaks on the spice mixture.
“We wanted it to be a big, bold flavor. If somebody says it’s spicy, I want the product experience to match the brand promise,” Carl Motter said.
The company has started creating content surrounding more than just eating their egg rolls.
“Younger consumers are not looking for an Asian meal to eat at dinner. They are using our eggrolls as part of a meal so we are working on content surrounding deconstructing recipes, egg roll wine and beer pairings – it’s our why is to feed people with love,” he said. “If you’re a consumer and I’ve helped you sneak vegetables to your kids, then I consider it a win.”
Van’s Kitchen manufacturers its egg rolls using locally-sourced ingredients and makes their own egg roll wrappers, setting the ingredients and thickness in a way to control quality and processing speed. The egg rolls are produced in a partially-automated process.
“When we first started everything was as manual as it could be,” Motter said. “We do everything fresh, in small, artisan batches and it all starts with the wrapper. We don’t buy pre-ground meat, for example. Everything is done in house and then the egg rolls are lightly fried before being individually-quick frozen.”
The company uses sustainable practices at its headquarters, including converting the entire building to LED lighting and an energy-efficiency update to its HVAC system.
In 2020, the company introduced a new tray sealing machine that is up to 35% faster, packaging egg rolls more efficiently with better labeling capabilities to reduce waste.
Last year, Van’s Kitchen signed a deal to be in all Publix Super Market locations and redesigned its packages to include a QR code linking consumers to the company’s website.
Van’s Kitchen is carrying on the traditions it was founded upon by Theresa’s parents: faith, family and friendship, and by sharing a belief in the Golden Rule and the power of heart-centered leadership.
“We call each other roll models because that’s what we are – we are role models to each other,” Carl Motter said. “We replaced the old-school job performance review and instead have quarterly conversations around our five key values – humility, excellence, love, generosity and authenticity.”
The company’s charitable donation of 90,000 egg rolls each month to food banks is equivalent to over 500,000 meals donated annually. Van’s Kitchen financially supports No Kid Hungry, a national campaign working to solve problems of hunger and poverty, and its Van’s Cares Fund, which is dedicated to helping the company’s associates and vendor partners who are in financial, medical, and personal need. Van’s Kitchen grows the fund by matching every employee contribution.
More than 80% of the company’s employees are members of a minority group and everything – including daily text messages to employees – are translated into three languages: English, Spanish and Vietnamese.
“Being based in Dallas, the immigrant story is reflective of a lot of our roll models. At Van’s Kitchen, employees show up each day with the purpose of empowering underdogs, outsiders, and the ‘least of these’ to rise up, conquer challenges and fulfill their dreams,” Motter said. “My parent’s story is the beginning. We live diversity. Making every bite the best one is not just words on the wall. This is who we are.”