Award rewards retail success in tough times

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce

Norfolk-based Taste Unlimited has been rewarded for its perseverance.

The specialty food store and restaurant/catering company won Norfolk’s Small Business of the Year award in May.

Presented by the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce and the Small Business Development Center of Hampton Roads, the award is based on a variety of factors including financial performance and staff training and motivation. “Taste is the quintessential small business that has succeeded in a challenging marketplace and weathered several events that would have closed a lesser business,” says Jim Carroll, vice president of small business for the chamber and executive director of the small business development center.

Jon Pruden, Taste’s president, says the recognition “validates all the hard work and commitment of team Taste members and their dedication to making the customer experience at Taste the best it can be.”
Taste has made news before. In 2009, the Retail Alliance named it Hampton Roads Retailer of the Year and the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade chose it as one of five “Outstanding Specialty Food Retailers” in the nation.

Taste was founded in 1973. Pruden and his father, Peter, purchased the company five years ago. Since then, Taste’s revenue has grown 60 percent, jumping 26 percent last year alone. “The company has made a lot of changes,” says Amy Jordan, director of marketing and public relations. “We have focused on upgrading our facilities and also our customer experience.”

Some Taste stores had not been remodeled since the early 1980s. “We’ve modernized our spaces,” Jordan says. “We’ve added gluten-free menus at some locations, and we’re expanding outdoor seating.”
The company also has beefed up its online gift business and is redesigning its website to include online lunch orders. “We’ve also invested money in a training program that is a more structured and formal process to learning about the company and our standards for customer service,” Jordan says.

Taste employs 125 people at its six locations in Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake and Newport News. In 2010, it moved its corporate offices and flagship store from Virginia Beach to Norfolk after purchasing a building in the city’s historic Larchmont section. “It’s a great location for us,” Jordan says. “We are still close to downtown Norfolk but also near Naval Station Norfolk and Old Dominion University.” 

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