Reflections – The Suter History

Posted: January 27, 2023

Known for innovating and adapting to best serve the needs of their customers to feed people since it began in 1925, the Suter Company’s history of innovation and adaptation extends to their buildings as well.

Charles Suter started Atlasta Farms and, by 1929, leased the old Thompson Piano Company building on the west side of Genoa. Atlasta operated as an egg and poultry business. There “chickens and turkeys were dressed, eggs candled and graded and then distributed widely to restaurants and groceries by truck.”

The May Street Plant in Sycamore, 1957.

They moved to the Teyler building on Main Street in downtown Genoa and took the name Bon Terra Farms. Suter advertised that customers could buy freshly dressed birds by placing orders or while they waited and instructed them to “drive up for yours or phone.”

In 1938, Suter moved Bon Terra to Sycamore to 138 West State Street. Here, the business, spanning two floors and the basement, focused on wholesale and retail poultry and eggs.

Through the early years, Suter owned farms that raised the poultry for the plant. But by the early 1940s the demand for processed chickens became so great that he was forced to sell these farms “in order to devote all his time to the processing phase.”

“Recently the demand for processed chicken has become so great that only by storing fowls in a Chicago refrigerator locker could Mr. Suter keep up with local orders,” a 1946 DeKalb Chronicle article reported. Due to this explosion in growth, Suter made a $50,000 expansion (nearly $800,000 today), building a new one story, 140’ x 80’ plant fitted with machinery then “the most modern available.” This building became the well-known 258 May Street plant.

At the May Street location, Bon Terra became Suter’s Foods, the company discontinued poultry dressing to focus entirely on canning and expanding the food packing operation, and, in 1956, the company incorporated. Charles Suter used “continuous market research, consistent quality control, and steady development” to create “a magically modern food processing plant.” He had “witnessed the evolution of a retail business into a dynamically modern merchandizing organization.”

By the late 1950s, the company’s business revolved around “selling to hospitals, in-plant cafeterias, school and university commissary departments, hotels and restaurants, as well as camps, clubs, steamships and other mass feeding operations.” For this, Suter modified the plant in 1958 “to obtain poultry and meat inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”

In 1959, Suter’s sons Charles and George joined the business and Charles retired. The new generation grew, organized, and equipped the May Street plant. With these innovations and new product lines, they kept pace with their industry—an industry that by 1970, “ranked as the third largest in the nation with nearly $30 billion in sales.” The company continued to expand and innovate at May Street, patenting two kinds of packing machines. These two patents include 28 unique claims between them.

Having joined the company full-time with his brother Dan in 1990, Tim Suter became president of the company, representing the company’s third generation. He has led it through the building of a production facility on Bethany Road in the Sycamore Prairie Business Park that, true to the company’s history, is state-of-the-art and that has accomplished its fifth expansion in 12 years.

Information provided by the DeKalb County History Center. For more information visit
www.DeKalbCountyHistory.org.


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