Caterware MD Mark Drazen has dedicated his Kitchen & Equipment Awards Outstanding Service to the Industry accolade to his mother, Helen, who tragically passed away from Covid just days before he was revealed as the winner.
Drazen said: “I unfortunately lost my 85 year old mum Helen to Covid on 30 November and was at my 88-year-old dad Bernard’s house, looking after him, when the winner announcement was made on 4 December. However, I looked at my phone about 20 minutes afterwards to see lots of congratulations e-mails and texts, so soon got to grips with what had happened.
“I showed it to my dad who smiled for the first time since she passed and he said ‘she was always so proud when things like this happened to you’. Therefore, the timing was perfect to give us a great end to an absolutely horrendous week. Incidentally, Helen was an original shareholder with my father Bernard when the company was founded in 1978. Finally, I have always been a believer that the greatest honour you can ever have is respect from your peers.”
He continued: “Then I went straight back into the office, because this award has been a timely reminder that life goes on; there is plenty to look forward to and a lot further that Caterware can go. Covid-19 may have taken my mother prematurely, but it isn’t going to take the longer term hopes and careers of our employees, and thus we have plenty left to fight for.”
The Kitchen & Equipment Awards Outstanding Service to the Industry trophy, a joint initiative from Catering Insight and Foodservice Equipment Journal, honoured an individual at an operator, distributor or supplier who has really gone above and beyond the call of duty in a long career within this industry.
And Drazen really deserved to be recognised for outstanding service. Indeed, he has only ever worked in the catering equipment industry, spending the last 40 years at his family’s firm. He joined the distributor way back in 1979 as a fresh-faced 17 year old, starting in the company’s warehouse, and indeed was only the business’ fourth ever employee.
Caterware started off just supplying light equipment, but as Drazen moved up the ranks, he was instrumental in moving the firm into heavy equipment and establishing the service and contracts department. His meteoric rise saw him become managing director in 1990, while still only 28. The Blackpool-based business is renowned for its quality, integrity and honesty, which Drazen ensured ran through the company’s DNA.
He has also made it his mission to give back to the industry, serving on the CEDA Council for 12 years and becoming the youngest ever chairman in 2000 when he was 38.
Drazen remains highly respected and is consulted on many industry issues, as sector colleagues know he speaks his mind, but gives his straightforward, no-nonsense views with humility too.
And with typical honesty, he said of his win: “I’m proud, honoured and totally surprised – I thought you only got this type of thing when you were either retired or deceased!”
He praised the Caterware team, saying: “I appreciate the wonderful fellow directors and staff that quite honestly have made me look good over the last 40 years, as it is they that have made Caterware into the successful and respected organisation that it is has become, and also given me the time to be involved in industry related representative issues.
Looking back over his career, Drazen highlighted: “On a company level, I would put this award right up there with the best of them, along with being elected the youngest ever CEDA chairman in April 2000, the Entrepreneur Magazine North West Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 1996 and Caterware winning the Lancashire Evening Gazette Fylde Coat Business of the Year award in 1998.
“On a personal note, nothing ever beats the great feeling you get when you hand over a completed kitchen scheme to a delighted client. Those days are my most memorable moments, and gratefully there are too many to mention, and I am sure a lot more to come. Even better when they are nominated for a CEDA project award because they are different, ground-breaking and considered something really special by ourselves and the customer, and thus lead to a longer term business relationship.”
He added: “Also, I do not underestimate the highlight of so many wonderful people whom I have met and worked with in this industry over the last 40 years. Colleagues, suppliers, customers, PR and media people and various other associated ‘partners’, who have been instrumental in my personal and company development and many of whom have become family friends and will remain so forever.
“Finally, I turned 58 on 8 December. I have no current intention of retiring and still believe I have a good 7/10 years yet to give, especially as I now have my youngest son Jamie, who came in to the business 2 years ago. Accordingly, I would still like to think that my ‘best career highlights’ may still be yet to come!”