Star Kay White Inc., Congers, N.Y., celebrates its 125th anniversary this week on Valentine’s Day. Owned and operated by the Katzenstein family for five generations, its primary focus has been making top-quality ice cream flavor ingredients, such as vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, peppermint stick, marshmallow, graham cracker and rum raisin.
Star Extract Works was founded by David Katzenstein in 1890 in a small shop in lower Manhattan close by the Hudson River. The company was making and selling ice cream flavors at the southern tip of Manhattan in the same location where the World Trade Center North Tower stood. At that time, purchase orders still arrived by hand-written penny post cards, glass bottles were packed in wooden boxes with straw, and the company made its own oak barrels for vanilla extract, said Benjamin Katzenstein, CEO of Star Kay White.
The name Star Kay White was the result of a merger between Katzenstein’s extract business and an ice cream confectionary business owned by Warren White, who Katzenstein had a partnership with, though White was quickly bought out. The two companies operated out of the same office before World War I. The companies officially merged after World War II and became known as Star Kay White. Kay is short for Katzenstein.
In 1928, with the business booming and in need of more space, the company moved to the Bronx. But, according to Katzenstein, the timing was poor. The company over expanded and nearly lost everything. In 1940 at the tail end of The Great Depression, he said his grandfather was happy to have sold a single gallon of vanilla in a day. In 1940, Star Kay White had ten employees, three being family. By 1984 it had grown to sixteen employees, with six being family. “Not very dynamic growth,” said Katzenstein. “But the family had an excellent hard work ethic that established the foundation for future growth.”
In 1984, in need of expansion again, the company moved to its current location in suburban Rockland County. As of 2015, Star Kay White maintains four buildings on a ten-acre campus, employing over 100 people and manufacturing over 40 million pounds of product per year. Its customer base encompasses numerous hundred-year-old relationships with New York, New England and Pennsylvania dairies, to most of the largest multinational food companies.
For the company’s 100th anniversary it celebrated with a family and friends picnic, and also by establishing a Food Science Scholarship at Penn State University, according to Katzenstein. He said the company will likely do something similar for its 125th anniversary.
According to Katzenstein, the future is bright and the next generation is in the wings ready to take over. Ben's sons, Alex and Gabe Katzenstein, are in their mid-to-late twenties and are active participants in the company already. Alex works in manufacturing. Gabe works in research and development. As Katzenstein puts it, "I hope they are working on the sixth generation!"
SOURCE: Star Kay White