CATEX: 60 Years of Commitment to the Industry

Friday, April 12, 2024. 11:12am
CATEX: 60 years of commitment to the industry
Pic shows ( l to r ) Oliver Kenny, Chief Commercial Officer, Calor, Conrad Greene, IFSA Chair, Lord Mayor Daithí de Róiste and Sean Martin, Sales Director, Bunzl McLaughlin. PIC: MAXWELLS

Conrad Greene didn’t begin his career within the hospitality sector. Still, his career path allowed him to navigate an eclectic number of roles to arrive at his current position, both as a director of Stephens Catering Equipment and IFSA chairperson. Conrad recently sat down with us to reflect on his career to date and to explain more about what makes CATEX such a unique event. Dubliner Conrad Greene’s experience took him from Dublin to London and back again and ultimately to his current position in Stephens Catering Equipment and as chairperson of IFSA, (Ireland Foodservice Suppliers Alliance). 

Seated in his office in Maynooth, Conrad reminisces about his unconventional entry into the field: “I served my time with the Dublin Gas Company. I was involved in introducing natural Gas to Dublin, Limerick, and Clonmel. It was a job that I enjoyed. There was a lot of contract work involved.”, Conrad explains. “A friend of mine was going to London and wanted me to go with him, but I was content in staying in Dublin. There were no mobile phones, so I received a letter from him two months later saying that there was lots of opportunity over there, so I went. A recruitment company placed me with Nelson Group Services, a catering equipment company to work as a mobile service engineer. This was the beginning of my career in the catering equipment world. I was there for six years and loved everything about it. We had some big clients such as Lloyds Bank, Barclays Bank and News International where they printed the News Of The World and The Sun.” 

Photo: Andrew Downes, Xposure

Despite having no plans to come home, a phone call from his mother at home alerted him about a position in Dublin. “One day in 1992 my mother rang and said a job was advertised for a catering service engineer in Dublin with a company called Stephens Catering Equipment. As Mammies do, she applied for me! I was interviewed by Tommy Caves, the owner of Stephens Catering Equipment. I went back to London thinking I would not get the position, but Tommy rang me a week later to offer me the job. I took it, started two weeks later and I’m still here, 34 years on!” 

Stephens Catering Equipment has been serving the hospitality industry in one form or another for 125 years, initially as Stephens Supplies and then as the Stephens Catering Equipment that we know today following the takeover by the Caves family in 1975. Today it is still a family business, where Conrad found his long-term place.

“I was the first employee in Dublin, we had two service contracts when I started, the ESB and Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud. We faced hurdles, particularly in expanding our reach into new territories. Thankfully hard work and perseverance paid off, and we gradually expanded our employee numbers.” The move was not without its risks however and it took a while for Conrad to find his feet. “I was just after leaving London, what was then considered a good job in a large company and all the opportunities that went with that. I remember my first day vividly. I had to go to the Broughshane office for training. It was my first time crossing the border, which was a bit of a culture shock for a Dub, and I remember thinking ‘what am I doing here’. But the ethos of hard work and drive stood to me. We persevered at it and grew, albeit slowly.” 

BIM Glen Bar. Photo Clive Wasson.

The company has since gone from strength to strength and now is one of the biggest in the market.  “Now we have departments for engineers, sales, accounts, office admin, logistics, and cover the whole country, and have a relationship with some of the biggest names in the industry such as Rational, Foster, Hobart, Williams, Falcon, and many other major brands. We can sell anything from light wares to a €2 million fit-out contract. We are considered one of the top companies now, but there’s a lot of tough competition in the space, which can be healthy and keeps you on your toes. With the manufacturers and resources at our disposal, we’re able to do the larger contracts alongside the regular day-to-day stuff. For example, we’ve recently completed jobs for the ESB head office, Central Bank, Mastercard, Microsoft and others. In my role, upon being awarded a contract, I manage the projects in depth with the main building contractors, mechanical electrical contractors, architects, and design team members. I can’t do my job without the help of the team, which includes all of the people in our offices, both here and in Northern Ireland, as well as our manufacturers, especially our bespoke manufacturer. In the initial phase of any job, there can be a lot of intensity and challenging aspects to the project on drawings and specifications, and that is where teamwork and support are critical.”

Young Chef’s at Kellys Oysters Kilcolgan Galway Photo:Andrew Downes, Xposure


Conrad goes on to explain more about IFSA and CATEX “I’m the current chairman of IFSA, which is celebrating 60 years in the sector next year. The first CATEX show was in the mansion house, 60 years ago and recently we launched CATEX 2025 which will take place in the RDS. This event was started back in 1965 by the then CEA (Catering Equipment Association), a group of like-minded suppliers to the sector who understood the need for such an event.  They created this show for people to bring their wares to the catering industry.  It has become one of the biggest shows in the country.

“CATEX has evolved, it was not as sophisticated then as it is now. When it started out it was all about big ovens and wash ware. But CATEX has evolved over time, it has moved with the industry. Technology is now a big part of it. We have seen a lot of innovation, there are fantastic bits of equipment out there now ranging from, combination cooking to modular cooking, and induction cooking, the tech is second to none. There is a lot of innovation under one roof at the show. Our emphasis for CATEX 2025 is ‘to look back in order to plan for our future’. While tech has moved on, the need for skills is stronger than ever.”

Stephens Catering Equipment is also involved in some of the main events at CATEX.

“We got involved with The Panel of Chefs and their cooking competition, which is one area of the show that is always full and busy,” explains Conrad. “If you’re away from it you’ll always hear the chefs. It’s very intense. If you walk into it, you can feel the energy. We have built up a good rapport and sponsored the panel and the equipment for their cooking competition.” 

Sustainability is also key for CATEX as Conrad explains. “Considering the sustainability challenges facing the industry, I have been involved in setting up a workshop group with IFSA board members to introduce energy and cost savings for our industry. We can show the options for sustainable and cost reduction planning, from individual premises plans, to a full suite of energy services that will be available to our members and all of it will be at CATEX. Companies can also show sustainable products to the attendees as well as new energy saving and waste management technology.” CATEX also isn’t just for chefs as Conrad explains “Whether it’s an exhibit about cleaning products, catering equipment products, food, refrigeration, ventilation or much more. CATEX offers solutions for lots of different issues. For example, in the past people used oil and threw it out. Now companies have solutions for that so we can filter and reuse that oil. These solutions are being brought to the market at CATEX.”


Conrad explains that the benefits of CATEX can be seen long after the show has taken place “CATEX has moulded and shaped the industry going forward. It’s a long day for anyone who is coming to the show, but there are 270 exhibits and it’s important to see them all. Most of the companies can get a lot of business from the show. You might get talking to someone and they show you a drawing of what they want for their kitchen and you think it looks promising for doing a deal, but then they don’t contact you again, but then six months later you get a phone call. All the business isn’t done on the day. It could be 24 hours later or a year later. I’ve gotten phone calls from people who say ‘I spoke to you at CATEX last year, and now my planning permission has been approved, we’d like to work with you’. That’s CATEX. It gives everyone a chance to come and talk to people and thrash out what their needs are. People should look at it as an investment, not a cost. You may think you’ve broken even or made a loss but you never know what phone call you’re going to get six months down the line. “

He also says that he is also focused on developing new faces for the industry. “Chef Network is a partner with IFSA and they’re magnificent. They launched Open Kitchen last year where people with an interest in a chef career can get to experience life in a professional kitchen first hand. They could be an electrician, a plumber, a teacher or a truck driver but they might love cooking at home and want to experience what it is like to work in the industry. It’s important to work under a good head chef and front of house manager to see what it’s like taking something from raw, to cooked to presenting it well.”

Despite never really stopping to think about it, when asked Conrad says he is proud of what he has done in his career. “I’ve never sat back and looked at my achievements, from starting as a service engineer at Stephens Catering Equipment, moving to a sales role, then commercial manager then seven years ago being offered a directorship. I’ve worked very hard, I’m a people person, and I try to listen to people as best I can. It can be tough and it’s not an easy job. I try to understand everyone’s issues as nobody has it easy. I never reflect on my achievements, but Stephens Catering Equipment has always supported me through good and bad days. I couldn’t do it without the teams I’ve worked with. It’s a tough industry, but I’ve got some great friends within it and I’ve always treated people the way I would like to be treated. I’m looking forward to CATEX, it will be a special event.”

Share this:

Explore topics: