Like most CEOs, David Mintz thinks about his business day and night and goes to great lengths to make sure everything runs on schedule. But unlike most CEOs, Mintz wears a kipah at work, and there is a big mezuzah on the doorpost of his office. And when a guest is introduced, instead of saying a simple hello, he greets with a friendly handshake and a warm Shalom Aleichem. Mintz is the head of Tofutti, a company that makes a wide variety of strictly kosher foods and frozen desserts sold across the US and abroad.
If asked to describe Mintz, most people would probably say that he’s a successful businessman. But he’s also a food expert and innovator. Perhaps the title that best suits him is hassid, because of his unshakable trust in God and in the power of the blessing of a tzadik, in this case the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson zt”l.
Mintz speaks about Tofutti with the enthusiasm and excitement of someone just starting out in business. Yet in fact, Tofutti recently celebrated its 30th year as a publicly- held company (stock symbol: TOF) and Mintz has held the reins since he founded it 35 years ago.
The company is doing very well. In the quarter ending on June 29, 2013, the most recent available, sales rose 13% from the comparable earlier period to $4,262,000. And gross profit jumped more than 30% to $1,489,000.
Although Mintz makes it all sound easy, getting to where he is now has been anything but simple. Starting in the fur business, he worked very long hours for half of the year but needed a source of income for the remaining six months. With the blessing of the Rebbe, he purchased a small grocery in upstate New York, giving him a start in the food business. Then, again on the advice of the Rebbe, he opened Mintz’s Buffet, the first glatt kosher restaurant in Manhattan, and branched into catering. “It was a gold mine,” he recalls. “People who didn’t know what kosher was came in to eat glatt kosher food.”
But an unexpected development brought that to a halt. Donald Trump purchased the entire block in order to build Trump Plaza, and Mintz was forced to close the store. Mintz rejected the sympathy of friends, explaining that “Everything Hashem does is good and something better would come along.”
While Mintz’s Buffet was open, he observed that many non-Jewish customers were asking for ice cream for dessert. However, as the owner of a kosher meat restaurant, he couldn’t offer any dairy products. And so Mintz had begun experimenting to find a way to make a dairy-free ice cream.
Like other food experts, he believed that making such a product from soy was possible; however, no one was able to figure out how to do it. For the following several years, Mintz worked late into the night to find a solution, only to have repeated disappointments. One night he went to the Rebbe to say that he was giving up.
“The Rebbe told me not to,” he recalls. “He said in order for Hashem to send a blessing you need a receptacle for it. Keep trying. It may take time but the breakthrough will come.”
It didn’t come soon. Mintz continued experimenting, literally around the clock, but every effort fell short. That prompted the head of a food lab, where Mintz had been testing his products, to ask him, “Young man, you keep failing. Where do you get all this perseverance to continue?” Then a new problem surfaced: He ran out of money.
Again he went to the Rebbe, who urged him to continue. “Have bitachon (trust),” he was told. “That’s the key. The more bitachon you will have, the more God will help you.” Months later, all of a sudden, the breakthrough came and all of the blessings began to materialize.
After Mintz began selling the non-dairy frozen dessert, he learned that the really big market for Tofutti’s products was not from the kosher market but rather from lactose intolerant and vegan consumers. According to Mintz, the total number of people who want dairy-free products is nearly 100 million in the US alone. According to Non-Dairy Delights Today, Tofutti’s products are sold in 36 foreign countries, some of which have to cover the Hebrew lettering on the packages before they can be placed on store shelves. And there are almost 90 products consumers can choose from, including different kinds of hard cheese, cream cheese, sour cream, pizza, ravioli, and blintzes, in addition to a large variety of frozen desserts. And, as a result of the Rebbe’s advice to spend 60% of his time on developing new products, more are on the way.
The company is working on a line of wraps with both savory and sweet fillings that will be ready to eat after just three seconds in a microwave oven. A Tofutti feta cheese may soon join the other pareve cheeses already being sold. Tofutti is also working on various vegetable protein products not made from soy. Those familiar with the food industry know that competition is intense and sometimes ruthless. There are other problems, too. For example, gaining shelf space in supermarkets can be very challenging and sometimes very costly.
As the head of a food company, Mintz is well aware of all of those. Yet, despite it all, he is upbeat and optimistic. One of the blessings Mintz received from the Rebbe was that he should never have any serious worries, and when he had concerns, to neutralize those by learning Torah. Mintz follows that advice every day. When some issues come to mind during his trip to work each morning, “I learn Torah insights, and by the time I get to the office I’m relaxed and my mind is clear.”
Away from the office, Mintz is involved in charitable activities. The Rebbe once urged him to get involved with mikvaos and, based on that advice, he built Mikvah Sarah Devorah in New Jersey in memory of his mother. The mikvah was built to high standards of beauty, with a waterfall in the waiting room and stones used in the project, brought from Jerusalem. The mikvah has become so popular that it was necessary to expand the facilities. Interestingly, after construction, the mikvah was found to be built over an artesian well, making it one of only five in the country that have a source of such pure water. He also assists Lubavitch shluchim and Chabad houses. “To this day, the blessings the Rebbe gave me are coming to pass,” says Mintz. “I owe everything I have to God and the Rebbe, who was His messenger.”
By Gerald Harris