Restaurants, food service key family business growth through 80 years

If you’ve recently put sauce on an Arby’s sandwich in the Dayton area or had pickles on a local Rally’s burger, chances are you’ve consumed I Supply Co.’s products.

But the Fairborn company didn’t always have contracts with national fast-food restaurants. The family business started in Springfield as Paul’s Cigarette and Tobacco Co. two decades before the first Arby’s opened in 1964, and Rally’s was founded 21 years after that.

I Supply co-President Mario Parisi said what his grandfather started as candy and tobacco supplier to local merchants during World War II now serves about 750 restaurants in six states as it marks its 80th year in business.



“The customer is obviously the key to our success,” said Parisi, who shares the same title as his brother Joe. “But really, just treating people right — whether it’s the customer or employees or our vendor community. Just being a company of integrity and … doing the next right thing.”

The brothers’ father, Chairman and CEO Jerry Parisi, noted “the enduring values that have guided us since day one” in a statement released by the company.

Founder Joe Parisi I and his son played key roles decades ago in expanding the business, laying the foundation for the company that Mario Parisi said employs about 200, most of whom work at its Spangler Road facility.

The elder Parisi branched out in the earlier years by addressing a customer demand for straws, paper napkins, cups, and later paper products and janitorial supplies, according to the company’s history.

Eventually, the company founder decided “getting out of the tobacco and candy wholesale business was probably the right move and to really focusing on the packaging and the cleaning supplies,” Mario Parisi said.

The company name was changed to Industrial Institutional Supply Co., and in 1966 was shortened to I Supply Co.

Needing to adapt with broadline food distribution companies largely dominated the market, I Supply started offering clients customized food service distribution.

“They started broadening their inventory and … food service operators didn’t have to do business with so many different partners,” Mario Parisi said.

In 1982, I Supply landed a contract with the Kettering-based Cassano’s Pizza King, which had some 80 locations in the region, he added.

“My dad made the decision to start getting into food specifically for chain restaurants only to where we started bringing them their pepperoni and the cheese and the pizza crust and everything else, along with the packaging,” Mario Parisi said.

The company had to find a facility with refrigeration, along with similarly equipped trucks, he said.

“So that was a pretty big leap in 1982, evolving and having to adjust — because the market was adjusting — into a food distributor as well as what we were already doing,” added Parisi, a 48-year-old who — like his older brother, Joe — is a University of Dayton graduate.

Now, I Supply has customized food service contracts Arby’s, Checkers/Rally’s, Popeyes, and Steak n Shake in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and parts of Michigan, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

It also provides packaging and janitorial supplies to businesses in the Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, Northern Kentucky and Richmond, Ind. markets, Mario Parisi said.

Businesses such as health care, building service contractors, groceries, and sports and entertainment venues are among its clients, according to the company.

Like many family businesses, Mario and Joe Parisi started working there as kids, sweeping floors and unloading trucks.

“My dad would wake me up in the summers and … I would work. My brother and I both did that as we were growing up,” Mario Parisi said.

After graduating from UD, he said, “I jumped right in,” working the Cincinnati area “and then my dad kind of moved me around the company rather rapidly.

“I’m very thankful he did that for me,” Parisi added. “Because there was nothing better than me understanding what our people at different positions and different levels experience. He kind of put me and my brother on a rapid pace to put us in as co-presidents” in the early 2000s.

“My dad,” he said, “was very committed to my brother and I having an understanding — as best we could — of what our people go through and deal with day to day.”

About the Author