|By Debbie Wachter Morris, New Castle
News, Pa.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Mar. 14, 2008 - There was a time when locals would invert their plates when they went to restaurants, looking for Shenango China's logo.
Some still do. But nowadays, restaurant dinnerware is more likely to feature the stamp of Steelite International, a company that also has ties to New Castle.
Steelite -- a manufacturer and supplier of premier dishware, flatware and metalware for the restaurant and hotel industries -- has replaced Shenango China's market, but its service area extends far beyond U.S. borders, explained John Miles, a Laurel High School graduate who is the company president.
Late last year, Steelite opened its new 62,000-square-foot distribution center in Millennium Park. The building features an all-glass showroom that spotlights choices of place settings, and a warehouse that serves the United States as well as countries on other continents.
Steelite moved its distribution center to the industrial park in Neshannock Township from South Plainfield, N.J., where it had been based for 15 years.
A draw to the New Castle area was the persistence of local businessman Angelo Medure, whose company, Medure Development, constructed and owns the Steelite building. According to Miles, Medure and members of the Lawrence County Economic Development Corp. worked hard to entice Steelite to build here.
Linda Nitch, the economic development corporation's executive director, said she recently was eating at a restaurant in Boston and "I flipped over a white rectangular plate and it was Steelite," she said. Nitch added its attractiveness had caught her attention. The waitress called it an "Alice in Wonderland" plate.
She credits Miles for his vision and global entrepreneurship.
"They're using state-of-the-art warehousing equipment," Nitch observed, "and hopefully, the display room will draw more people in to see what we have to offer in Lawrence County."
Millennium Park was attractive to Steelite because of its closeness to major highways, Miles said, noting the company's biggest markets are in Toronto, New York, Chicago and Las Vegas.
Tax exempt status also was a lure, Miles said.
The property is in a Keystone Opportunity Zone, which carries a 13-year-tax exemption status. The zone was formed eight years ago, and Steelite will enjoy full tax exemption in it for five more years.
Miles credited Medure for pushing the project forward, noting, "He was proactive. If it hadn't been for Angelo, Medure Development and Lawrence County Economic Development in helping us put it all together, this place would still be a field." "We worked with our architect, Mike Fagan of Olsvasky and Jaminet of Youngstown, Ohio, and John Miles to design the showroom," Medure explained, adding, "This is a real eye-catcher here."
The room features windows that allow sunlight to highlight the company's shiny specialty ware.
The adjoining warehouse features the only completely level floor in Pennsylvania, explained Jeffrey LeDonne, superintendent for Medure Development. The floor consists of six inches of reinforced concrete that required three pours. Radio frequency-controlled lift trucks are driven along it to select and retrieve orders from the towering shelves for shipment.
"This is the most technical warehouse distribution facility in the county," Miles said.
"We began to look for sites in early 2006," Miles explained, and before breaking ground in Millennium Park a year ago, the search took the company to Virginia, Michigan and Ohio. Steelite prides itself in helping its food service customers sell more wine and food, and it promotes its product by highlighting its design along with the presentation of food or beverage that goes with it.
That is done through product planning, photography and marketing, Miles explained.
The company pays premium wages and benefits to attract the absolute best employees, "and I think we have. We have an intense interviewing process."
The product designer is Nikki Greene of the United Kingdom.
An on-staff chef works with the hospitality industry, offering a plating strategy in food and beverage presentation.
A sommelier helps food service businesses develop their wine and beverage lists, recommending certain glassware designs.
"They want a lot of bells and whistles, and not a lot of companies do all that," he said.
Steelite receives 90 percent of its orders via fax, and about 100 samples of its ware are sent out daily to food service customers.
"They want to see it, feel it and fall in love with it before they buy it," Miles said. Miles has been involved in the dinnerware industry since he was 17, having previously worked at Woodmere China in Union Township and at Homer Laughlin in West Virginia before going to work for Steelite.
The business is in his blood. His father, Joe Miles, was superintendent of manufacturing at Shenango China until 1987.
"Our business has grown 20 percent a year for 14 years straight," Miles pointed out. Its success depends on attention, innovation, dedication and reinvestment, he said.
Kevin Oakes of Stoke-on-Trent, England, Steelite's chief executive officer who has been with Royal Doulton/Steelite for 31 years, visited the local distribution center recently en route to appointments in other cities.
He explained that in 1968, Royal Doulton, formerly the parent company of Steelite, had developed a high-aluminum body factor to create dishware with a high resistance to heat.
That portion of the manufacturing was sold in 1983 and the Steelite company became independent from the famous parent firm.
Steelite ware is durable, Oakes pointed out, and all its products carry a five-year edge-chip warranty.
"We are the biggest player in the commercial china industry in the United States today," Miles said, likening Steelite's product to the Lexus or the Mercedes of the automobile world
"If you're looking for design," he said, "you call us." -- Company goal -- Creating a memorable dining experience with high-quality durable and premier stemware, glassware, cutlery and porcelain for the hospitality industry.
-- Employment -- There are 50 people in warehousing, office and sales.
-- Showroom -- It is 2,000 square feet and all glass, featuring plain to fancy place settings, flatware and glassware.
-- Warehouse -- The 50,000-square-foot facility has a half-million cubic feet with stacks of 15 shelves that extend 45 feet high under the 50-foot-high ceilings.
-- Office -- There is 10,000 square feet of high-tech office space.
-- Service area -- It includes the United States, Canada, South America and the Caribbean.
-- Manufacturing headquarters -- They are in Stoke-On-Trent, England.
-- Factories -- The company also has dish and glassware factories in countries such as Thailand, Mexico, Spain, Indonesia, Japan and Slovakia.
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