How Litehouse is making an impact on the place they call home
Photo by Janel Gion
It was 1949, and Chef Ed Hawkins Sr. had a problem on his hands. His boss was complaining about the poor quality of blue cheese dressing they served on salads in their restaurant. Being a man of faith, Ed responded to the problem the best way he knew how … he prayed about it. The answer to his prayer was a blend of mayonnaise, spices, crumbled blue cheese and buttermilk.
Fast forward to 1963. Chef Ed Hawkins Sr.’s sons, Doug and Edward Jr., had a dream of creating year-round employment for the community of Sandpoint, Idaho, by bottling the liquid gold of ranch, blue cheese and thousand island dressing sold in their family restaurant and selling it across the Inland Northwest. They worked tirelessly over the next several decades to make that dream a reality.
A lot has changed since that first jar of Litehouse salad dressing was sold to Roger’s Thrift Store. One thing that has not changed is the company’s commitment to having a positive impact on its employees and the communities in which it operates.
Through the ups and the downs, the good times and the bad, Litehouse has relied upon four core values to keep the organization focused on its mission and grounded in its culture. The first three, Integrity, Commitment to Excellence, and Accountability, have helped keep the organization true to itself by choosing to always do the right thing. But it is their core value of Stewardship that manifests itself in the most tangible way in our local community of Sandpoint, Idaho.
Over the years, there have been few events around town that Litehouse has not sponsored or supported in some fashion. In fact, over the last year, Litehouse contributed over $500,000 to organizations such as Kinderhaven, the Panhandle Alliance for Education, the Bonner Community Food Bank and numerous other nonprofit organizations, churches and youth sporting activities, of which over $400,000 stayed in the Sandpoint community. Recently, the company committed to a new program called “High 5 for Children,” where Litehouse will contribute a minimum of 5 percent of their annual net income to organizations that support meeting the basic needs of children in areas like education, emotional security, health, hunger, shelter or safety. Under this new “High 5 for Children” initiative, Litehouse expects to increase its Stewardship contributions to nearly $1 million per year.
Perhaps Litehouse’s biggest impact on members of the community is its structure as a 100 percent employee-owned organization. What does it mean to be “employee-owned”? Just what it says—that the employees are the owners of the company. This means each year, shares of the company’s stock are distributed to its employees who help operate the business every day. As a result of these contributions, Litehouse’s employee owners have created sizable retirement accounts that will be a great benefit for their future.
“We understand that not every employee owner thinks about their retirement when accepting a position at Litehouse,” says Kelly Prior, president and CEO of Litehouse, Inc. “However, we know that in today’s economy, everybody can use a retirement fund when that time comes in their career. When we look at the accounts of our employee owners that have been here since the start of the Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) in 2006, all of them now have six figure account balances, and still growing,” says Prior.
Being employee owned isn’t just great for the employees of the organization, it also creates a local economic engine. Over the past couple of years, Litehouse has paid out an average of $5.7 million each year to those who have left the organization after earning the ESOP benefits, and it expects to pay an average of $9 million annually over the next several years as well. Since the ESOP was started, Litehouse has paid employee owners who have left the organization a total of $9 million in Idaho alone, and there are additional distributions every year. Because Litehouse is owned by people with deep roots in the community, more dollars stay within our community and will be spent by the retired employee owners on groceries, restaurants, and shopping for their families, resulting in yet another way Litehouse continues to help support its local communities.
“Being good stewards of our community is woven into the fabric of Litehouse and what we stand for,” says Prior. “We encourage all businesses to think through how they can have their own unique and positive impact, no matter how small, on the place they choose to live and work.”
With the company’s continued success, they are seeking to expand their local workforce in Sandpoint. Litehouse has recently increased starting wages and is seeking motivated and reliable workers to join the Litehouse family. A career at Litehouse includes comprehensive benefits, competitive wages, and participation in the Employee Stock Ownership Plan. Many positions at Litehouse do not require previous experience, and a full list of open positions can be found at LitehouseFoods.com/careers.