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Lessons From My Father | North Star Food & Beverage

6 Lessons Learned from My Father... for 60 Years of Business Success

familyOver 60 years ago, my father "Ted" Whiting, Jr., started a family business…and I mean family! In the photo above, that is him surrounded by just some of his grandchildren, that were all working within the family business that particular Summer.

Following is a slightly edited article that appeared in our industry publication last year. It outlines my perspective of how our family business has lasted for generations.

The foundation of everything I have learned about business started with the advise, encouragement and example of my father. We have built from the principles established by him, and if we continue on his legacy, perhaps we'll be around 60 years from now!



In the Spring of 1953, Ted Whiting, Jr. worked for Meadow Gold Dairies, and was delivering milk to a concessionaire at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. When his customer let him know that the business was for sale, Ted jumped at the opportunity. The rest is history, and in 2013 the Whiting family celebrates 60 years of business.

Today Whiting’s Foods runs 24 food locations on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, operates food concessions in Fairs, Festivals and Special Events throughout California, and is the food and beverage provider at the KP Arena in Santa Cruz. Additionally, they are sought out by parks and attractions everywhere, to provide guidance in the areas of food and beverage, retail and workplace productivity, with a focus on the younger, next generation of employees.

When it comes to recreational and leisure time foodservice, this is a company with a broad base of experience and expertise.

Following are 6 principles that got us through our first 60 years.


Even though we are in the food business, we have always had a people first focus. Our family, crewmembers, staff, and our business and community partners, have always sustained our success.

We seek out feedback from our crew and we want them to be a part of the process and solution for improvements. They are the closest to the customer and can often submit powerful guest driven suggestions.

We view our vendors as true partners and look to gain from their knowledge and leverage their resources, which we have done countless times!

Investing in relationships matters


Being open to new ideas and new products keeps our company fresh. Not everything has worked, but failure isn’t fatal. We have never been afraid to try something new, and then let the customers decide by their spending and feedback if we should continue.

Our business is driven on impulse sales. A hallmark of ours has been in consistently providing new indulgent fun foods that add value to the guest experience, get people talking and become a sought after attraction. For 60 years, Boardwalk visitors have been able to enjoy ice cream in every conceivable format possible. Chocolate dipped bananas, cotton candy and popcorns have also made the six decades list. As years unfolded, funnel cakes, deep fried Twinkies, self serve slush, kettle corn, fresh baked waffle cone sundaes, fresh made churros and garlic and sweet potato fries are examples that are now on the “must have” lists of our guests.

What we sell matters… it drives spending! New menu items that have launched in the last dozen years contribute over 40% of our annual revenue.


We have always made it a priority to understand how we can deliver value in our role as food & beverage providers. Following are some of the ways we have been able to achieve that;

Value means different things to different people. It can be delivered by providing speed of service, or laying out menus and signage in a manner that isn’t confusing, and helps a guest make a food purchase decision that is a stress free experience.

Value also means saving money, and through special offers to season pass holders, discount coupons to park visitors or free soft drink refills that is accomplished.

Value means adjusting menu options over time to meet the always changing and evolving tastes, appetites and dietary requirements of consumers.


One of the great assets of having a family business succeed for 60 years is that there is a lot of experience. And that is a phenomenal asset... if you use it. We have always attempted to build on the legacy of what has been passed down to my generation, and hope that we do the same for the generations to come.

Following is some additional specific lessons from my father that no doubt have contributed in tremendous ways to our continued success. For sure, each of these has significantly impacted my personal success;

  1. Details matter
  2. If you have time to lean you have time to clean
  3. Quality always counts
  4. There is no right way to do the wrong thing
  5. Lead by example


Volunteering and participating in industry organizations is where I really went to school. At an early age it became clear to me that there was much I could learn from others! Attending IAAPA (amusement park) conferences, led itself into committee contributions, and hosting amusement park F&B meetings. Many new lifetime friends have been made.

Through this proactive involvement I have always learned way more than I could ever give. This wide network of business friends has become a resource for new ideas, best practices, benchmarking and brainstorming. It would be impossible to define the value that this has had on our business success.

So many people reached out and helped me when I was young, that today I consider it an honor and responsibility to mentor and help out others that are getting started.

Community and industry participation was always encouraged and respected within our family business. It provided me the ability to make these choices and pursue volunteer opportunities.


A key to our success has always been to focus on what we can do, not on what we can’t. On what is went right, and not what has gone wrong. On the solution, and not the problem.

Un every business and industry, there are so many things that are out of your control… and ours is no different. The weather, economy, school calendars, attendance, other peoples performance and decisions,…. and a California earthquake, are examples that can impact us in a negative way. While all of these are important and require a response, too much focus can keep you from moving forward and making progress.

Employee recruiting, training and education, menu item selection, equipment and product research, analyzing past results, are just a few of the areas that are totally in our control, that have a positive impact on our business.


Today I'll go to work and focus on making sure that future generations of our family are prepared to lead well into the future….for another 60 years and beyond.

Thanks Dad… we won't let you down.

What principles is your business built on? What business lessons learned came from your father/parents or other business mentor?

Thanks in advance for sharing.

About The Author

ken whitingKen Whiting is an amusement park and attractions food and beverage operator, and industry consultant for improvements in F&B, retail and workforce productivity. Reach out with any questions or comments you may have at: