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The Katzenstein Family of Congers

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The business: Star Kay White
Date founded: 1890
Number of generations in business: 5
Number of family members working together: 5
Owner: Ben Katzenstein, CEO
What it does: Manufactures ice cream flavoring ingredients

The start: David Katzenstein, great-grandfather of current owner Ben Katzenstein, emigrated to the U.S. from Germany in the early 1880s and started his business, manufacturing flavorings for ice creams in 1890, where part of the World Trade Center used to stand. The business moved to the Bronx in 1928 for more space and survived the Depression by “selling a little bit of this and that,” Ben says. With sales going gangbusters; six family members on board in the second, third, and fourth generations; and 16 employees, more space still was needed. Family leaders also wanted to escape their location after experiencing armed robberies. In 1986, the business moved north to Congers where it built a 30,000-square-foot factory. Today, the factory measures 100,000 square feet, and three generations still work together — Ben’s father, Walter, 85, who comes to business daily; Ben, 56, who joined in 1984 after graduating from the CIA and bought out his brother Jim’s share last fall; and Ben’s two 20-something sons, Alex and Gabe. Although Ben knows the wisdom of family members first working elsewhere, the business’ success and growth precluded that, he says, as did each successive generation’s enthusiasm for joining. “I think I surprised my father but we’ve got an interesting niche and three members of the prior generations each worked 64 years.” The company now employs 120 and manufactures 400 products, which it sells to all the major domestic ice cream manufacturers — Haagen-Dazs, Hershey’s, Ben & Jerry’s, Breyer’s, to cite a few. “We get calls all the time to sell. I got one the other day but didn’t return it. We’re not interested,” Ben says.

Why it’s succeeded: Tenacity. “We’ve never quit or let personal or business obstacles get in our way,” says Ben. The family has also followed its founder’s philosophy that only those who work in the business full-time get to share equity. Ben holds majority control with his sons “having a little,” he says. The family has also benefited from non-family management, which is now helping to train the fifth generation. Ben also has lunch daily with his sons to talk shop.

Proudest legacy: The company employs a high percentage of immigrants who become U.S. citizens, raise families, and send their children to college.

Biggest challenges: An aging management team that helped spur growth over the last 15 to 20 years needs to be replaced. At the same time, Ben took the professional step of founding a board last fall, which includes non-family members to guide growth. The company again needs to add more space.

Website: www.starkaywhite.com

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