AT THE EXCHANGE. Cliff Bowen, Tom Lackmann, Joe DeScenza and Neil Reyer in a frozen moment of time.
On February 22nd the foodservice industry lost one of its great role models—Tom Lackmann. A child of the Great Depression, he invested $2,000 in hard-won savings in 1954 to become one of three partners in a Long Island coffee shop. That humble beginning was the start of a lifelong career in hospitality marked by personal achievement, unmatched good will and a reputation as one of the industry's most acknowledged mentors.
A 1992 Silver Plate winner, Lackmann founded the company that still bears his name and continues his tradition—Lackmann Culinary Services. In lieu of a lengthy obituary, FM asked several of Lackmann's long-time colleagues to offer memories of him for this page.
"My relationship with Tom goes back more than 20 years. He was a genuine and caring person as an individual and very professional in his business dealings. He was one of a kind.
"Tom had a very human touch. All the people who worked for him were loyal and he was the same way in return. He also was one of those who believe that you inspect what you expect—he had very high standards in business and would not compromise on them. That was why he was successful and why he always had one of the highest client retention rates in the industry."—Richard Ysmael
"Tom confirmed in me and mentored to all of us the highest standards of our industry."—Cliff Bowen
"One thing Tom said over and over again was, "When you're green, you grow." As long as you were open to and listening to new ideas, you were growing yourself and your business. That was the way he looked at life. He was always trying to learn something new.
"At SFM conferences, the two of us always sat in the front row and he would always take notes. Afterwards, he would want to know, 'What did you learn? What do you think of the point that speaker made? What did you get out of this conference?' He was always trying to stretch your understanding as much as his own...
"When I picture Tom, I see him with a thousand things on his mind and a lot of balls in the air, but outwardly, his countenance was always that you were the focus of his attention and that there was nothing else on his mind."—Frank Burrows
"Tom was just a friend to the industry. He treated everyone with kindness and generosity. He had absolutely no ego...and yet he always marched to his own drummer. He was a very classy guy. He gave his people credit for everything and never took credit for himself.
"Occasionally we would talk about common problems in the business and he would say, "You've just got to do the right thing. You can't go wrong doing the right thing."
"His company was his life—I asked him at an SFM conference once what he did for a vacation -he didn't play golf or have any hobbies that I knew of. He said, "This is what I do for a vacation! I come to see my friends and to learn."
"Life is a long ball game. You may meet the same guy on second again, so you better treat him right the first time."—Tom Lackmann
"He would come across the room, put his hand on your shoulder and say how good it was to see you again in a way that made it the most meaningful thing that happened to you all day. He raised the self esteem of the whole industry."—Gus Gregory
"I think everyone in the business dining segment owes something to Tom Lackman. He was the ulminate gentleman of B&I, a gentle giant who gave to everyone. He was a cornerstone in the SFM family and contributed to all equally and unselfishly. Tom was the kind of person we should all honor and reflect upon. His passing is a great loss for the industry and all of those who knew and loved him."—Debi Benedetti
"He was a giant among men. When he gave you his word, he stood by it. He never shirked any responsibilities and he gave back to the industry constantly. He will be missed."—Joe DeScenza
"He was the kind of man who built his life, his reputation and his company around one thing-—caring about the other guy, about what the guy on the other side of the table was feeling. He also was many other things—an excellent businessman, a progressive thinker, a student of the industry who was never satisfied. He had the ability to shoulder great responsibility gracefully, under any circumstances. But that one character trait—making everyone he dealt with feel like a special individual in his eyes—was a gift he gave to others that came back to him tenfold." "He pushed his team constantly, but pushed them by loving them, taking care of them, trying to help them. He was caught up in his love of the hospitality business and the idea that it was always about taking care of the other guy. He built his company around that."—Peter Alessio
"Tom was a great friend and colleague and it is not easy to say goodbye to one for whom we all cared so much. The word retirement was not in his lexicon, and I often kidded him that he would "die with his boots on". He agreed with that assessment and happily continued on to the age of 74. However, he was still too young to leave us.
—"Tom was a purveyor of optimism, good cheer and genuine kindness. He was a true entrepreneur and at the same time, the quintessential gentleman, courteous to all and without a mean bone in his body. "
He enjoyed the respect of all who knew him, was dedicated to his clients and employees and remained a good friend to all his competitors. And lest we forget, he was immensely dedicated to our industry and ever-supportive of the Society for Foodservice Management—I don't believe he ever missed a meeting.
"Tom was loath to accept the status quo when it came to running his business. He was a stickler for continuous improvement long before it was trendy. His drive to constantly grow and improve his company was equaled only by his desire to share with others all that he learned along the way. Tom certainly gave back far more than he received in this life.
"In a hyper-competitive industry, this was a man who had no enemies. A man who gave unwavering support to his family, his employees and the industry he loved. And a very humble man who would have blushed at the very idea of being remembered in such a public way.
"So long, Tom. We'll miss you."—Neil Reyer