Fontana Steps Down at Hot Stuff

By John Lofstock, Editor

Spending five days a week on the road for two years eventually takes a toll on even the most hardened sales executive. Citing a willingness to spend more time at home and a few weeks off to recharge his batteries, John Fontana resigned yesterday as president and CEO of Hot Stuff Foods and its parent company, Allied Capital.

Jim Illaria, a principal for Washington-based Allied Capital, was named the interim CEO of the foodservice company, whose retail brands include Hot Stuff Food On the Go, SmashHits Deli and C-Street Bakery. Its Lettieri’s subsidiary operates the Wrap-Dogs!, QuickStix and Bueno Amigos food brands. Combined, the company has about 500 employees and reported $130 million in sales revenues last year.

"I’m proud of the work we were able to accomplish during my two years," Fontana said in an interview with Convenience Store Decisions. "We were able to turn the company around and make it relevant again. Turning around a company is a ton of hard work, and we all put in a lot of hard work to create stability for all of the Hot Stuff brands and the retailers that operate them. The company is in great shape."

Fontana’s decision to step down comes about two years to the day after he took the reigns at the Sioux Falls, S.D. foodservice provider. He maintained his residence in D.C. and commuted weekly to South Dakota to oversee Hot Stuff’s operations. "Commuting to South Dakota for two years was very hard on my family and, quite frankly, I’m beat," he said, adding the he is leaving on good terms with Allied Capital for whom he worked for the past five years. "This decision came down to my desire to spend more time closer to home with my wife and kids and reconnecting with the people I haven’t been able to spend time with."

During his tenure at Hot Stuff, Fontana said he is most proud of the equity the company has built and the promotions it created to help convenience store retailers be more successful. Specifically, he cited the Big Stuff Pizza concept, a 52-inch party pizza, as popular new item that helped retailers gain a competitive advantage over other pizza marketers. Plus, over the past two years, Hot Stuff added 120 new convenience stores to its distribution network.

"The convenience store industry is a great area to work in with so many good people," Fontana said. "Chains like QuikTrip, CENEX and Holiday Stationstores stand out as our biggest customers, but it’s the smaller chains in rural markets that I enjoyed connecting with. They have a different style of retailing. When you are the only store in a small town in North Dakota you have a much different mindset than a store that is operating as one of 5,000 in a big chain. Interacting with these people for two years and learning about them personally and professionally has been very rewarding."

Fontana also said he hopes to resurface in the industry in some capacity, although after a brief respite. "I love building relationships and the success we created, but the time away from home got to be too much," he said. "I look forward to the next challenge, just one that’s a little closer to home."

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