As a manager of a small poultry processing plant in Wakarusa, Indiana, Nelson Gongwer continuously toyed with new and innovative ways to promote poultry products. He was convinced that there was a better way to cook large quantities of chicken while still maintaining the high quality only found in ďgrandmaísĒ kitchen. Weekend after weekend, he labored over makeshift grills, trying to determine a means to automate the grill while also improving the quality of the end product. Eventually, in 1967, Nelson accomplished exactly what he had set out to do, and the Port-A-Pitģ system and Nelsonísô Food Service Corporation were born. After years of persistence, Nelson had simplified his hobby of entertaining guests while promoting poultry and also had, more importantly, created the process that would soon make Nelsonís a household name throughout northern Indiana.
The Port-A-Pit cooking system gave Nelsonís business a competitive advantage in both product quality and production capacity. The quality of the product, cooked over an open flame and periodically dipped in a family-secret sauce, wowed customers around the Midwest. Everywhere Nelson took his automated barbecue machine people became intrigued, and when they tasted the product, they became immediate fans. The Nelsonís brand took off.
By the 1980ís, Nelsonís was the premier food service business in northern Indiana. Under the leadership of Dean Gongwer, Nelsonís son, the company was preparing more than 500,000 halves of chicken annually at fundraisers, corporate caterings, and other special events in Indiana and Michigan. Capitalizing on a two-part market niche that includes premium products and unique production efficiencies, Nelsonís has always provided its customers with a rare combination of quality and quantity. For example, Nelsonís can feed 7,500 people a delicious, all-you-can-eat meal using only three people to cook the meat. Traditional catering companies, conversely, may require 20 to 30 people to cook for this size of a group.
Of course, this combination has allowed Nelsonís to maintain a repeat corporate customer list that includes the likes of Subaru-Isuzu, State Farm Insurance, Herman Miller, Monaco Coach, Mitsubishi Motors, and the University of Notre Dame. Currently serving these and other customers more than 1,000,000 halves of chicken each year, Nelsonís is a recognized regional brand.
Nelsonís regional success has fueled interest in the company around the country, which prompted the company to license its equipment and sauce in selected markets throughout the United States. However, in order to maximize the Nelsonís system and to build a brand nationwide, Todd Gongwer, Nelsonís grandson, developed the franchise concept in 1995. Nelson's is now poised to establish it's proven processes in franchises and company-owned partnerships within several other major markets throughout the United States.