Performing well in a competitive market

Ted Castle – Owner and President, Rhino Foods, Burlington, Vermont

Feature | 14 December 2021
Ted Castle, President of Rhino Foods, believes that business can contribute to social change. As an employer he has adopted an open book management style with his staff and has implemented the Employee Exchange Program and the Income Advanced Program to empower his team. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
“My wife Anne and I started the business in 1981. I was an assistant hockey coach at the University of Vermont and my wife and I started a little ice cream shop on the side, thinking that it was just a way to make a little extra money,” Ted Castle, owner and president of Rhino Foods, shares as he takes us on a tour of the manufacturing facility in Burlington, Vermont.

“When I left coaching, I had to go work for my wife, and she bossed me around cleaning ice cream machines,” he says with a chuckle. “Then we started to do more wholesale, making cookie doughs and ice cream cookie sandwiches, cheesecakes and other specialty desserts, and now we are here today,” Ted says with a wide grin.

A certified B corporation company, that maintains a balance of purpose and profit, Rhino Foods has been an all-round force for good meeting high standards in business, its employees, community and environment. The specialty ice cream and ice cream ingredient maker has grown form a small mom and pop shop called Chessy’s Frozen Custard into a business employing over 200 people.

Highlighting the work culture at Rhino Foods, Castle explains how the company focuses on empowering employees. “We have a lot of employee practices that we think are unique and make us special at the same time. We are trying to make sure that people come to work as healthy as they possibly can, so when they’re at work they are doing the best job they can,” he contends.

About 35% of the workforce at Rhino Foods are refugees. Ted says that the work ethic, smarts, diversity, and overall contributions of refugees are the best thing that has happened to his company. As an opportunity employer he also hopes to hire more formerly incarcerated people. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
“I think business is really where all the action is and where you can create social change and make a big difference,” Ted emphasizes. “I’m very focused on impacting business, I think it’s where social change can come about and I’m very focused on workplace practices.”

Bringing the lessons and skills he learned from his time coaching, Ted explains how he was able to incorporate elements from sports into the busines and create a competitive and team player environment with the goal of getting everybody to succeed.

“Setting high expectations, as I did with my players as a coach and sharing information about how the company was incorporating an open book management policy. For all employees, this allowed them to really learn the essentials of the business. When we experience a loss we come up with a strategy and when we win we celebrate and set a new expectation,” he reveals.

In addition to the open book management style, the company also implements an Employee Exchange Program, which was developed in by employees in response to a drop in staffing needs during winter months, and an Income Advanced Program to help support the financial well-being of employees. Both programs have had a significant impact to the Burlington area and to the state of Vermont as a whole.

“We came up with the idea of the Employee Exchange Program and not having to lay people off, but to temp our staff out to other companies. And with the Income Advanced Program, our company has so far given out $500,000 in loans to our employees, for emergencies such as getting a car fixed. You can get a loan here in one day for up to $1000, pay for your car to get fixed, drop your kids off at school and come to work and not have to lose your job,” Ted underscores, adding “we want to keep these great employees and we have worked hard to keep them here.”

Ted promotes a competitive and team player environment which is an effective setting for success. Employees learn important business skills and are encouraged to solve problems together and set new expectations and goals. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
Another notable way in which Rhino Foods has impacted the Vermont area is by hiring refugees. “About 35% of our workforce here are refugees, whom we are very fortunate to have and it’s one of the best things that ever happened to us,” Ted shares.

Scanning the room where the team is hard at work he points over to one of the employees and says, “Moez is one of the early adopters and we decided we wanted to be the best company in Vermont at hiring refugees.”

“There is no diversity in Vermont and we found that their work ethic, how smart they are, and what they care about is amazing. They also start to refer and bring other people in and so the retention factor of refugees is remarkable for our company.”

Keen on continuing to use his business as an agent for social change, Ted who says he is motivated by helping people and views himself as an “opportunity employer.” His next goal is to hire more formerly incarcerated people and provide stability and support to member of that community.

“You have to be ready for change all the time,” Ted says reflecting on the evolution of Rhino Foods. “Things keep changing so fast and so much, and that really excites me,” he enthusiastically says. And it is this attitude that has taken Ted from his coaching career to the little ice cream shop, and now to one of the top companies in Vermont.