With a steady hand and an open mind, Barry C. Levin has turned Snak King into one of the snack industry’s top innovators

Barry C. Levin was cautiously optimistic when he was asked to take over at Snak King Corp. more than 30 years ago.

In those days, the company produced pork rinds in a cramped, 1,200-square-foot facility, had two employees and was struggling to make money.

A 21-year-old ready to take a chance on getting the company turned around, Levin was employee No. 3.

“I figured I’d give it a go and if I didn’t make it, I didn’t make it,” Levin says. “It was low risk because I wasn’t supporting anybody at the time. I was living at my parents’ house and I’m one of those people who doesn’t say no or give up very easily. But it was a real challenge.”

Levin did it all in those days, making sales calls, running the fryer and operating the forklift. When day turned to night, he turned his attention to finances and soon found more efficient ways to run the company.

His goal was very simple.

“I just wanted us to be really good at what we did,” Levin says. “I felt if we did a good job, we would get business. We’d listen to our customers and build a business that serviced their needs.”

More than three decades later, the results demonstrate Levin had a good plan. Snak King soon expanded into a 50,000-square-foot plant and then expanded once more in 1994 when the company purchased its current 177,000-square-foot facility.

Today, the 950-employee company has the largest single-oven tortilla chip line in the snack food industry and its production capacity has doubled. But along the way, Levin has faced more than his share of challenges and obstacles, which would have led many less committed leaders to give up and try something else.

“Companies often spend a lot of money to go on team-building experiences,” says Levin, Snak King’s chairman and CEO. “It could be river rafting or rope climbing or a trip out to the wilderness or whatever it might be. Our team-building experience was that roof collapse.”

Dealing with disaster

The “roof collapse” at the company’s plant occurred in 2004. It came 10 years after Levin and his family lost their home in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, which struck on Jan. 17, 1994, and caused widespread damage throughout the west San Fernando Valley.

As Levin tried to get his own family back on its feet, he simultaneously went to work helping Snak King win over new customers and recover from its own challenges brought on by the disaster.

Ten years later, the collapse of a 12,000-foot section of the roof at the company’s plant presented another challenge for Levin and his team to overcome. Debris crashed down onto $13 million worth of equipment in the company’s production area.

“It was a monumental task,” Levin says. “We had so many things working against us. The health department didn’t want us to operate because we had a hole in the middle of our building. But we pulled together. Our team pulled together and worked to figure out how to get up and running with as many products as we could, as quickly as we could. Then we spent the next 2½ years rebuilding.”

Levin says there was never any question about making a comeback with the business.

“I never felt like there was a decision that had to be made,” Levin says. “I did have the opportunity to take the insurance money and run, but it wasn’t something I ever considered. Something happens, you have to figure out how to fix it and you move forward.”