Kirk Halpern was one year and one day into his law career, and he was not happy in his chosen profession.
He yearned to build something into a tangible success. So he called his father, Howard Halpern, founder of Buckhead Beef. “I told him that I was looking to make a jump,” Halpern recalls. “He asked if I had a pair of shoes.”
He joined his father’s company, and the duo transformed it into one of the largest privately owned meat purveyors in the country. They sold it to the Sysco Corporation in 1999, and Halpern stayed on as president and chief operating officer until 2005. Soon after, the Sandy Springs resident founded Halperns’ Steak & Seafood Co., which also achieved success. Gordon Food Service acquired it in 2015, and Halpern left in 2017.
Over the 18 months that followed, Halpern developed a slew of single-family rental homes. He pursued his passion for philanthropy, which led to his current appointment as chair of the board of directors of Goodwill of North Georgia. Then he returned to his roots in July 2019, launching Farmers & Fishermen Purveyors to serve local chef-owned and operated restaurants. But the experience became an unexpected one that saw him change his entire business plan overnight.
Why did you decide to return to the meat and seafood purveyor industry?
I’m a 30-year professional, but it’s been my entire life. I grew up in this business. This is the industry I know. It’s what I enjoy. I have a passion to build, and I wanted to build a new company. I have a passion to serve, and I wanted to serve my customers, community and employees. I also have a passion to work with my son who’s 24, and I wanted to create an opportunity for him to have a business if he earns it.
What was your initial goal for Farmers & Fishermen Purveyors?
I spent 18 months thinking about the model. I thought about how distribution is always done using big trucks and Class A drivers. I wanted to change the environmental footprint and give an opportunity to people who have the inclination to be drivers but not the certification. Atlanta is a Mercedes town, so I bought Mercedes-Benz vans, which anyone can jump into and drive. I made sure that all packages could be carried by the drivers; usually they’re 80 pounds, but everything packed for me is under 20 pounds. I wanted a model that would bring a great level of flexibility with it. So my model was actually “go small or go home.”
How did the pandemic change your approach to the business?
It was early March, and we were serving 120 of the top restaurants in Greater Atlanta. But on March 16, the market dropped. Restaurants were closing down. I was getting call after call canceling orders. My suppliers were at risk. I went home, and my wife had sent out a text to some friends to see if they needed meat and seafood. As I pulled into the driveway, I saw five suburban Sandy Springs women grabbing boxes of salmon. I had an epiphany. We needed to take care of the community. I sat down with a yellow legal pad and spent 13 hours redesigning the business. There would be no firing, no furloughs and no reduction in pay or hours. We were going to work and grow through this crisis. We would deliver directly to people’s homes, which we had never done before.
How is business today?
It’s gone so well. We’ve developed a great customer base. And those customers are so thrilled to receive quality products at home for a great price. I’m also hiring during this crisis; I had 35 employees, and now I have over 55. We’re still serving restaurants, and I wanted to help them as they reopen. So I started Cooking Chatter, a show on Facebook Live, so chefs could share their tips for cooking the products we offer. It brings the restaurant customers and home delivery customers together. We’ve made it fun.
Why do you think your new approach has been so successful?
I love Atlanta, and we were able to do this because of where we are. There’s a sense of community and the idea that we’re all in this together. I couldn’t have done this in any other state or any other city.
FARMERS & FISHERMEN PURVEYORS
15 Minutes With columnist at Simply Buckhead. Freelance feature writer, children’s book author and President of Green Meadows Communications, LLC.