Jack Karp, born June 16, 1936, the last president and CEO of L. Karp & Sons, Inc., passed away July 23. Karp’s was one of the country’s largest bakery ingredient distributors and manufacturers.
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.
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’ son Joseph headed the company following Joseph’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. Shortly thereafter, Jack’s elder brother Alan—then CEO of the company—tragically passed away from a sudden heart attack.
Returning to Chicago, Jack—a neophyte with the company—assumed its reins. During his 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 Company 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 which changed its direction and indeed that of the bakery foods industry. Recognizing, early on, the successes of retail chains such as Mrs. Field’s, Karp 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 foodservice distributors and acquired or built distribution and sales divisions in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Boston, Tampa and Miami. With great foresight, 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 90s, Karp’s greatly expanded its Elk Grove Village, IL headquarters and production facilities, built a new and separate distribution center in Carol Stream, IL and entered into the production of frozen laminated dough products with a state-of-the-art production line capable of producing 5,000 pounds 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 is survived by his wife Betsy, sons Josh and Jeremy, nephews Lewis Karp and Glenn Soled, and seven grandchildren.