CHICAGO — Jack Karp, former president and chief executive officer of L. Karp & Sons, Inc., one of the nation’s largest bakery ingredient distributors and manufacturers, died July 22. He was 80 years old.
The third generation of his family to run the business, Mr. Karp guided his company through meteoric growth and directional change before selling it to CSM in 1999.
Founded in 1914 by Louis Karp as a company buying demurrage sugar from the railroads, then re-selling it to Chicago-area bakeries, Karp’s quickly evolved into a full-line bakery ingredient distributor serving the retail and wholesale bakery trade in the greater Chicago area. Louis’s sons Joseph and John headed the company following Louis's retirement and began manufacturing products such as fruit fillings, icing fruits, fondant and other wet products. Jack Karp, after graduating from Harvard Law School, joined the company moving to the West coast to open a Southern California division there.
During Jack’s tenure, Karp’s moved to new suburban Chicago facilities and expanded its manufacturing entering into the production of dry mixes and bases and additional wet goods offerings. Expanding the company’s distribution base, Karp’s purchased Milwaukee Bakery Supply and Twin City Bakery Supply. The company’s wet goods and mixes were sold through in-house distribution and outside bakery ingredient distributors such as Cahokia Flour Co. in St. Louis, Dallas and Houston, Owens of Carolina, Steel City Milling, FlavorRite and others stretching from the Northeast to Florida to Arizona.
In the early 1980s, Karp’s moved into products that changed its direction. Recognizing, early on, the successes of retail chains such as Mrs. Field’s, Karp’s introduced frozen Scoop-N-Bake Chocolate Chip Cookie batter in pails to allow its original retail bakery customers to compete. This was quickly followed by other varieties of cookies, muffins, biscuits and scones. During this period, the company converted its entire truck fleet to “reefers,” built frozen capacity at all of its locations, became a prominent supplier of food service distributors and acquired or built distribution and sales divisions in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Boston, Tampa, Fla. and Miami. Jack defined the company’s frozen mission at that time as “…to become to chemically-leavened doughs what Rich’s is to yeast-raised products.”
In the early 1990s, Karp’s expanded its Elk Grove Village, Ill., headquarters and production facilities, built a new and separate distribution center in Carol Stream, Ill., and entered into the production of frozen laminated dough products with a production line capable of producing 5,000 lbs of pre-cut, filled and finished, bake-off puff dough per hour using only a handful of production workers.
Jack Karp also authored a book, “Principles of Retail Bakery Merchandising,” which provided a guide for countless retail bakery start-ups.Jack Karp is survived by his wife, Betsy, sons Josh and Jeremy, nephews Lewis Karp and Glenn Soled, and seven grandchildren.