Amerikooler thrives in a red-hot niche

On its website, a factory in Hialeah humorously refers to its products as “The cool crowd.”

Family-owned Amerikooler produces walk-in coolers and walk-in freezers for a wide variety of commercial clients in the United States and abroad.

About 100 employees at the 200,000 square-foot facility convert insulation material, steel, aluminum, plywood, glue and other materials into custom-made or quick-ship coolers with dimensions ranging from 5×5 feet to 200×300 feet. In periods of peak demand, employment reaches 120.

“We produce between 7,000 and 10,000 units per year and use recyclable materials for all of our products,” said Gian Carlo Alonso, vice president of sales. “We use about 20 different materials from 40 top suppliers to make our coolers and freezers,” he added. “About 90 percent of our materials are made in the U.S., while some special metals are imported.”

Amerikooler sells to food service equipment dealers who line up final customers. But the Hialeah company ships its products directly to end-users in the U.S. and more than 30 other countries.

Amerikooler’s ultimate customers include convenience stores, fast-food chains, restaurants, hotels, supermarkets forensic laboratories. “We even sent a unit to Alaska,” Gian Carlo said.

Some of the businesses using Amerikooler units are Exxon, Chevron and Shell convenience stores, Applebee’s, Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, Jackson Memorial Hospital, Santo Domingo General Hospital, Goya Food refrigerated warehouses in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, Eli-Lilly, Nestlé, and restaurants like Ruth’s Chris, The Knife, Benihana and Don Shula’s.

Amerikooler was founded in 1985 by Mauricio Alonso, who supplied stainless steel for kitchens. Mauricio, the company president, grew the business over time and was joined by his sons, Gian Carlo and R. J. Alonso, also a vice president.

The company, which relied on manual labor at the outset, began investing heavily in computerized equipment several years ago and now runs a high-tech operation. Gian Carlo and R.J. worked together to modernize the company’s production processes. Gian Carlo designed Amerikooler’s proprietary machinery and R.J. designed the company’s software.

For example, measuring and cutting insulation used in all their products used to be done manually, taking many hours and often producing waste due to errors. Today, a machine developed by Gian Carlo precisely scans, measures and cuts each section of insulation material, “in five to six minutes, instead of several hours, with no errors and very little waste,” Gian Carlo said. The insulation is the middle of the “sandwich” that makes up each panel of the freezers and coolers. In the shipping room, a robot rolls around stacks of completed panels, wrapping them in plastic before they are placed on trucks.

“Our automated processes, proprietary equipment and skilled employees give us a big advantage” over competitors, Gian Carlo added.

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