Thunder Group is fulfilling every foodservice operator’s dream – a customer experience where a spilled drink or dropped dish never ends in a worrisome mess of broken glass or china.
When Mr. Chung Wang enjoys dinner out, he appreciates more than the tastes and aromas of the meal. He’s keenly interested in the plates, glasses, serving dishes and more – their form and functionality can make or break the experience for customers. When wine or cocktail glasses shatter by mistake, the enjoyment factor drops for diners and risk of injury (and cost to the restaurateur) goes up.
It’s his job to notice. Wang is Vice President of Thunder Group Inc., one of the largest manufacturers and international distributors of catering and restaurant ware, and a noted one-stop supplier. The company’s products, ranging from kitchen storage and food prep utensils to bar equipment and tableware, can be found in more than 100,000 restaurants across the United States and around the world. Chances are you’ve eaten from one of its plates or bowls, or sipped something delicious from one of its glasses.
Eating out and celebrating with food is so much a part of our culture, which is just one reason the hospitality industry is a great business to be a part of, Wang says. “I travel quite a bit and I eat at a lot of restaurants. I’m so happy to see when they are using our products and customers are enjoying themselves and enjoying their food.”
Thunder Group, headquartered in City of Industry, California, has taken steps to make foodservice safer and more environmentally friendly. The company prides itself on innovation, manufacturing more than half of its own product line, including its signature polycarbonate glasses and high-quality melamine dishes in gorgeous hues, like fiery red and vibrant orange, and classic neutrals. The melamine looks like beautiful, glazed ceramic, but is exponentially stronger.
The company has recently introduced new heavyweight catering and dinnerware for mass commercial use, including hotels and resorts. Bottom line, Thunder Group’s long-lasting staples replace china and glass, which need to be purchased often in foodservice because of the inevitable chipping, accidents and breakages.
Don’t think pedestrian-looking plastic cups. The popular rock glasses, for example, are constructed of crystal-clear and shatter-proof polycarbonate that mimics the look and feel of glass. They have a stackable base that allows for a more efficient use of space. In other words, these are a great fit for the operator and appealing for the customer, whether you’re drinking a fruity Mai Tai or a fine-aged scotch.
“It’s exciting for the industry because polycarbonate is durable and virtually unbreakable – unless you’re purposely trying to break it,” Wang says, emphasizing the safety and cost savings for the operator. “You don’t have to replenish your glasses so often, which is a big cost, and you could save up to 35 percent in insurance costs,” he says, referring to the lower risk to employee and customer safety.
The martini glasses are designed in a one-piece molding process, eliminating weak joints. All the glasses are guaranteed for 2,000 washes. So if you’re washing them three times a night, you wouldn’t need to replace your stock until two years or more. The company’s products are also dishwasher-safe and NSF International-certified, which means they’re routinely inspected for vigorous commercial health and safety standards. The company also trains its employees in quality control monitoring, guaranteeing a zero percent defective rate.
Even A-list celebrities have likely enjoyed a beverage from one of the Thunder Group glasses. The high ball, shot glass, wine, champagne, rock glass and cocktail glass, for example, were the glasses of choice for one of Hollywood’s favorite nightclubs, the fashionable Supperclub. And Las Vegas, with its pool bars and party clubs, continues to be a growth market for the company with nine properties showcasing its products. The polycarbonate line was introduced in timely fashion in 2009 as new legislation called for these venues to use unbreakables for customer safety.
Thunder Group has a long-established reputation for quality and customer service, from its beginnings in 1956 in Keelung, a small city in northern Taiwan, to making inroads in North America. Thunder Group today has 250 employees, five locations and total square footages are over 500,000 square-foot warehouses in the U.S. The company also has a Sheffield, U.K. operation and an expansive manufacturing plant in northern China with 900 employees on the factory floor. It also imports additional products from suppliers in North America and across Asia.
Wang himself has grown with the company right along with the product offerings. He joined the company as a sales associate in 2001. He had worked in the textile industry and immigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan in 1998, looking for opportunities in the wake of the Asian recession. He took English language classes and studied at Portland State University School of Business, and then moved to Los Angeles to find work. When he was hired on at Thunder Group, there were only three salespeople; now there are 80 and some 4,000 product skus in 17 different categories. He’s seen Thunder Group grow from an $8 million company to an $80 million company in 2017. Wang credits part of the success to making the image and product offerings more westernized.
“Luckily, this was my first job and it’s my only job,” he says proudly. “We came into the [American] market as an Asian company serving Asian customers. That has changed.” Thunder Group originally specialized in traditional Asian cookware and tableware, but now more than 75 percent of its products are geared toward all ethnic foodservice. You’ll find the company’s kitchen and tabletop goods in Italian, Mexican, Latin, and traditional American restaurants and more.
Wang also says the company itself is very culturally diverse, which brings fresh, new ideas and customer-focused thinking. “We’re multicultural, and we have respect and appreciation for our different viewpoints,” he says of the company’s philosophy and direction. Now green initiatives are also underway to make the foodservice industry more sustainable.
To that end, Wang attends National Restaurant Association tradeshows where he still sees so many disposable plastic and paper products. The current challenge is to eliminate items like single-use plastics, for example, that are recognized as a mounting threat to oceans. “We want to design and manufacture more environmental, green products,” he says.
Polycarbonate drinkware is one. It is far stronger than those made from acrylics and glass, and is also recyclable. The company recently introduced flexible, silicon lids that offer an alternative to throwaway plastic and shrink wraps for preserving foods.
“Disposable plastics are very bad for the environment. They’re not biodegradable. We found that the average restaurant spends $6,000 every year on plastic wrap. Our lids are $20 to $30 each. Buy 10 of them and think of how much money you can save just on plastic wrap.”
Wang is clearly excited about how the Thunder Group team is transforming the foodservice industry. It’s no wonder – they’re creating leading-edge products and helping to save the environment in the process.