From horse-drawn carriages and fishmongers to a fleet of trailers and trucks, the story of Palmer Foods is the story of western New York. It’s a family story spread across five generations. It’s a story about the growth of a city, and it’s a chronicle of the foodservice industry – from consumer to operator; from retail to wholesale; from specialty to broadline. And for all the legacy of its beginning, our story’s most recent chapters focus on improvement, innovation, and service. This is the story of Palmer Foods.
The First Generation
In 1849 Levi Palmer moved to Rochester, New York and opened a storefront at the Centre Market in downtown Rochester.
The Day's Catch
In 1857 Levi Palmer partnered with noted fish culturist Seth Green. At that time there was a thriving freshwater fishery in Lake Ontario. They employed fishmongers who used horse-drawn wagons to sell “the day’s catch.”
In 1861 Seth Green left the partnership and started the first fish hatchery in the United States, located in Caledonia, New York.
The Second Generation
In May 1861 Levi died and Dwight Palmer, at the age of 24, continued as the second generation in the family fish business. Upon Levi’s death, Dwight partnered with the Perkins Brothers (owners of the American Hotel in Rochester) until 1875.
1860s-1890s: Early Expansion
Dwight Palmer followed in his father’s footsteps and took Palmer’s into the 20th century. For the next 40 years this second-generation company continued to grow its reputation for supplying the finest and freshest seafood to area customers.
As the company grew and expanded, they moved through several locations including Palmer’s Fish and Oysters on Front Street. Most of the seafood was caught in this area, however shell oysters were brought in via the Barge Canal and eventually by train.
In 1903 Dwight retired, and due to the young age of his children, Dwight partnered with Walter Price. Walter along with Dwight’s eldest son, Burt, then ran the business together.
The Palmer Brothers
Dwight died in 1910, and Burt (age 31) and his brothers Dwight Jr (age 22) and Lawrence (age 29) took over sole ownership of the business as Palmer Bros.
The Third Generation
In 1915 Burt left the business and third-generation brothers Dwight Jr and Lawrence took over. Burt died in 1931.
Palmer Fish Company
In 1919 Palmer Fish Company, a nearly 70-year-old business, officially incorporated and expanded by moving the company’s headquarters to 141 State Street.
A Reputation for Quality
Due to improved transportation and refrigeration and increased customer demand, the Palmer brothers began importing seafood from across the US and around the world. Instead of exclusively selling fish from the Great Lakes, Palmer’s became known as a quality supplier of fish, clams, shrimp, scallops, oysters, and lobsters from the East Coast and beyond.
The Fourth Generation
When Lawrence died in 1950 and Dwight Jr died in 1951, Dwight Searson “Bud” Palmer continued the fourth generation in business. Bud, who served in WWII and graduated with an MBA from Harvard Business School helped create the memorable slogan, “Make Your Next Dish Palmer’s Fish.”
Bud was also an innovator and entrepreneur who changed the business from mostly a retail operation to predominately a wholesale operation serving restaurants, schools, business and industry, and higher education.
Under his leadership Palmer’s became the largest fresh and frozen seafood distributor in Rochester.
Father & Son
Upon graduation from college in 1975, Dwight McGregor “Kip” Palmer joined the business full-time. Bud and Kip collaborated on the transformation of Palmer’s from a fresh and frozen seafood specialist to a broadline foodservice distributor.
A New Home
Palmer Food Services relocated to the Genesee Valley Regional Market in Henrietta, New York, expanding the facilities and the distribution business. The retail store continued to provide the public with quality seafood and delicious fried fish dinners.
1980s – 1990s
Palmer’s continued to expand its offerings by incorporating more fresh and frozen food products as well as dry groceries. This change allowed for a one-stop shopping experience for restaurants and other wholesale customers. After acquiring Jacobson Meat Company in 1981, Palmer’s started supplying restaurants and institutions with custom cut quality meat and poultry in addition to fish and seafood.
Bud Palmer died in February 1997 and will always be remembered as a warm and caring leader who lived his faith every day. His values still resonate throughout the company.
The Fifth Generation
The company continued to grow and in 1991 Dwight McGregor “Kip” Palmer, age 38, became the fifth-generation owner and President of Palmer Food Services, making it the oldest family owned and operated business in Rochester.
Direct To You
In 2008 and 2009 Palmer’s designed, built, and opened a new retail concept, Palmer’s Direct to You Market, at the Genesee Valley Regional Market (then adjacent to its distribution center).
This new enterprise, built on the history and tradition of over 160 years of retailing, featured a much more extensive offering of fresh and frozen proteins, grocery, and prepared foods – all with special focus on personal service.
Growing Up & Out
The wholesale foodservice distribution business continued to grow and eventually outgrew its facilities. In 2014 the wholesale operations moved from the Genesee Valley Regional Market to 171 Weidner Road in Chili, New York. This three-times-larger facility provided the much-needed space for both the growth of the business and the efficiency of the operation.
In 2020 Palmer’s designed and built a new satellite sales office and culinary center in Buffalo to service the growing presence in Western New York. Though the grand opening was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Palmer Foods Buffalo Client & Culinary Center officially opened its doors in May of 2022.
2000s – Present
Full Service, Broadline
By 2002 Palmer Food Services had expanded through acquisition as well as organic growth to become a full service broadline food distribution company. Palmer currently supplies independent restaurants, K-12 schools, regional chains, colleges/universities, casinos, and healthcare facilities with the finest and freshest meat, poultry, and seafood (as well as thousands of other items).
As one of the nation’s largest Certified Angus Beef® brand distributors, Palmer is currently shipping from Buffalo to Utica, extending all the way to Atlantic City and New York City. Palmer Foods is set apart by the experience of its people, the quality of its products, and their passion for client success.