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Supplier Focus: WaterTek

Chris Worsham, director of sales for WaterTek, took over for the popular former owner David Lehman, who was considered by many as an industry guru.

There’s more to water than what comes out of the tap. 

“Water’s like air, you don’t think about it until it’s a smoggy day and you can’t catch your breath,” says Ryan Smith, CEO of Horizon Equipment, the company that purchased WaterTek from its original owner. “Water’s so accessible, you take it for granted.”

It’s the shape your water’s in that impacts the life of your equipment, the quality of your ice cubes and can even alter your recipes. From San Francisco sourdough bread bakers to bagel makers to beer brewers, all have noted the importance of water in their signature products. Years ago when a bagel franchise started opening units outside its original ZIP code, it shipped Brooklyn city water to other locales so the bagels would retain that distinctive taste. 

“There’s chemistry at work with baking,” says Chris Worsham, director of sales for WaterTek, based in Eagan. It all starts with testing, he contends, since the water on one side of the street can be different from the other side. “Water can be broken down into 22 compounds,” Worsham says. Sometimes it’s a matter of taking out and then adding back in or doing a “blend back.”

For instance, he says, “magnesium is a huge buzz word in the coffee world” and superior-tasting coffee has the right amount of this element. So for this customer, WaterTek would take out the elements not wanted in the water and blend back in what is coveted, magnesium. Since taking this job, Worsham, who earned a master’s degree in molecular pathology, has had a crash course in coffee chemistry, among other things, he says. 

The taste of the drinks and food restaurants serve is paramount, Worsham says, but an equally important reason foodservice operators should be thinking about their tap water is the effect it has on equipment. 

The equipment angle is why WaterTek is a separate company from Horizon. It  services the entire industry, including Horizon’s competitors, at the same price point, Smith says. 

Water filtration isn’t a one-filtration-fits-all proposition, which is why they test the water before making recommendations. “Tap water keeps you and me safe, but it’s not always the best thing for equipment,” Worsham points out. While one purpose of filtration is to improve the taste of water for drinking and cooking, water’s chemistry affects the longevity of equipment, which is why WaterTek technicians take the time to read the manufacturing specs for customers’ equipment. Not following those specs, he warns, could void the manufacturer’s warranty. 

Ice machines, for instance, are one piece of equipment that speak volumes about your water quality and maintenance practices. Cloudy ice is bad; as are black specs in the ice, which means the water lines haven’t been cleaned and bacteria is getting into the ice. 

Ice cubes have become as much a part of a cocktail as the cherry or dash of botanical bitters. Need proof? New hot restaurant Martina serves cocktails with four distinct styles of ice, according to a review in City Pages.

Cleaning an ice machine requires not only the actual work, but bagging and freezing ice ahead of time to cover the timespan when the machine is down. “It’s a couple-hour procedure and it’s hard to find time when ice isn’t needed,” Worsham says. Dialing in the proper water can extend the time frame before service is needed.

Good service and customization is WaterTek’s calling card. “You don’t want a hospital to take the same approach as a dive bar,” Smith says. (Although for the safety of dive bar drinkers, let’s not be too different) “We give people access to what they’re wanting for their preferences.”  

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