Parisian chef finds niche in specialty food distribution

When Bertrand Oriot paid $8,000 for his first pastry order in Houston, Texas, he was worried that he might have to eat a lot cake. Fortunately, with a lot of work and determination, he was able to sell all of it.

“I didn't have any money to buy a truck or van, so I had to use my car,” Bertrand says. “On the second trip to a hotel to deliver more cake, I was met at the loading dock by the chef who told me he would have never approved the food order if he had known I was using my personal automobile.”

Today the French native owns and operates a successful specialty food distribution business with warehouses in San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston. Twenty trucks make deliveries of specialty food items, such as smoked salmon and caviar, five days a week.

Clients include food services at hotels, restaurants, private clubs, and fine dining facilities at hospitals. Some of the largest and most well-known hospitals in the Texas Medical Center are regular customers, including MD Anderson Cancer Center, Texas Children's, St. Luke's Episcopal, and the Methodist Hospitals, that provide gourmet food products for their physicians. The company also delivers to upscale retail outlets, such as Whole Foods Market and Central Market. In addition to a fleet of trucks — mostly UD Nissan — four vans are used for hotshot delivery.

When Bertrand arrived in Houston from France, he had about $300 in his pocket and no experience in refrigerated and frozen food distribution. But he already had finished training at a top Parisian culinary school and had acquired many years as a chef throughout France, including Paris and Provence.

He quickly established his career in the United States with Club Corporation of America. At the end of his tenure with CCA, he was a regional chef supervising 14 to 20 chefs at locations throughout Texas, but he had an itch to start another career.

“I was at a point where I was not in full agreement with the new directions of the company and I was experiencing something of a mid-life crisis at the same time,” Bertrand says. “That created a cocktail of instability that forced me to look for a new direction. I took a year-long sabbatical wanting to find my own business. I thought about opening a restaurant or even some consulting work.

“A company exhibiting at a trade show told me they had no distributor in Texas. They asked if I'd be interested in helping them develop their market here. I couldn't afford to buy a truck. So I had to deliver my first orders using my car. I was making deliveries by myself for the first eight months of business.

“With no previous food distribution experience, I just worked hard, kept my head down, and picked up one food product line at a time. But I knew how to sell products to chefs, and I knew what products they wanted. I could even drop my business suitcase, put on an apron, and give them a hand in the kitchen.”

By 1994, chefs in private dining clubs and upscale hotels throughout Texas were well acquainted with the name Bertrand. Rather than reinvent the wheel, he named his company Bertrand's and started his company with about $40,000. In just two years, company sales already had totaled $1 million.

“I started my business to build a successful company,” he says. “Success, however, isn't just measured in dollars. I have been blessed with much, and I need to give back as well.”

While vacationing at resort, Bertrand met the owner of a cement company who explained to him why he was committed to supporting medical research to find a cure for breast cancer. The cement company owner told Bertrand about his decision to paint some of his trucks pink.

After learning about the mission of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure and National Philanthropic Trust to fund important breast cancer research, education, screening, and treatment, Bertrand decided to follow suit with one of his trucks after talking with some of his equipment suppliers. W&B Service Company in Houston painted the box for Bertrand. Hayes Truck Group in Houston put together the specifications for the truck. Adzact Custom Signs in Houston provided the graphic design. Bertrand recently displayed the truck at the Texas Restaurant Association Southwest FoodService Expo in Houston.

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