Jackson County Times

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Daffin Food Service “139 Years and Still Ticking”

By Bo McMullian

Where else can you go and experience a bit of Jackson County history, a whole century of it, and pick up a box of frozen catfish fillets, a large box, as well? Only at Daffin Food Service, down by the railroad tracks in Marianna. They used to be called Daffin Mercantile, but Co-Manager John Milton says that name has gone down in history itself. It was back in the 1990s that with the help of local artist Karen Reiff who did the logo, the name Quality Food Service was born. “NIFDA” is the trademark name they share which you often see in restaurants.

And it’s not just for restaurant suppliers anymore. Actually, the “cash and carry” retail-to-wholesale counter located at the base of the Daffin complex off Estes Street in Marianna has been around for awhile. But partners John, Bryan and Chris Milton and Gary Lee and Lee Daffin along with fourth generation Chairman of the Board, Hunter Daffin, invite all customers down for their new promotions.

“Its country cookin’ not gourmet,” Milton said. “Just items in bulk for home use, family reunions, caterers and families.” And they stand behind that “Quality” name; on Monday of this week, John Milton, while taking The Jackson County Times on a tour of the complex, was interrupted by business--he had to take back a small truckload of lettuce which had gone bad due to a new supplier letdown, but he didn’t think twice. “It has to be done,.” he said.

This Daffin operation evidently has never made a serious mistake--in more than 100 years! And even before that, since the company was originally begun in 1870 by Robert Daffin. Sydney Daffin built the Mercantile building in the early 1900s out of lime rock from a local lime pit, and that lime rock still stands, you can see it in the warehouse. Along with an elevator still in use--after nearly a century.

The cavernous warehouse, including freezers, sub-freezers and loading docks, spans some 60,000 square feet. John Milton, himself, at it since 1980, and his partners sell more than 4,500 items to 300 accounts. These are mostly restaurants but hospitals and nursing homes are included too. “Anything with a kitchen,” says John, “and we also sell all the chemicals they use.”. The servicing area reaches from Mobile, Ala, back through the entire Florida Panhandle to South Georgia. If you want to check out the long list of items available to you at their store counter, you can see it at their website www.daffinfoodservice.com.

By far the oldest continuously operating business in Marianna, the Daffin Company is a local treasure and model of the highest degree of American business ingenuity. It is a member of UniPro Foodservice Inc., a nationwide food distribution network. UniPro includes 400 shareholder companies like Daffin which all are independently owned. That collective sales volume tops a reported $58 billion.

And it all started, with the original Robert Daffin’s horse drawn wagon in the 1870s rolling throughout the county. “Legend has it,” John Milton said, “that Robert’s brother Ernest would drum up business by wearing a clown costume and turning flips in front of the store, drawing the crowd in. He was thus nicknamed ‘monkey’ Daffin.”

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