Made in Baltimore

Small manufacturers that remain found different paths to success

December 30, 2010

Baltimore's manufacturing base has suffered just like everywhere else in the nation — the victim of cheap labor overseas and a changing business climate at home.

What is left of manufacturing in the Baltimore metro area — diminished to about 5 percent of the region's work force from roughly one-third in the heyday of the 1950s — is a small cadre of companies that have found a blueprint for success.

They are large corporations like Under Armour Inc., the homegrown sports apparel maker, and household names such as Domino Sugars, which still operates a factory on Baltimore's waterfront.

And they are lesser-known but stalwart companies that have chugged along for decades, even as the manufacturing base crumbled around them. These niche companies make horseradish and lacrosse sticks and devices to sweep the crumbs from restaurant tabletops.

We take you on a tour of those small manufacturers, and tell the stories of how they started and how they have survived.

Tulkoff Food Products Inc.

The Tulkoff brand of horseradish and other sauces is very much a regional name, but the Baltimore company's reach spans the country.

The family-owned business started by Russian immigrants more than 80 years ago — fittingly, on the city's famed Corned Beef Row block of Jewish delis — still sells Tulkoff products in Baltimore-area grocery stores.

But most of the garlic, ginger and horseradish sauces Tulkoff Food Products Inc. makes these days don't carry the company name. And that's the way Tulkoff executives want it.

The company has moved most of its business from selling at retail to making products for other food and distribution companies.

Some of the products made for others are tightly locked away in a cabinet on the manufacturing floor, away from eyes of visitors. That's because the clients who sell the Tulkoff-made products under their own brand names don't necessarily want it known that someone else makes their sauces.

Tulkoff has taken many steps to increase its distribution. Several years ago, Tulkoff opened an office in California to make it easier to serve customers nationally. And in 2008, it opened a new 80,000-square-foot headquarters in Baltimore's Holabird Industrial Park.

The new building includes upgraded equipment that allows for the production of more products. It also houses a test kitchen where the company can concoct new sauces, both for itself and other companies.

Tulkoff, a private company, doesn't release revenue or sales information, but officials said its strategies have helped the business grow while other manufacturers have suffered.

It hopes to be around another 80 years, if not longer.

"If you're willing to change and adapt with the times, and know that you can't stay the same, you'll last," said Philip Tulkoff, the company's president of the company started by his grandparents.

—Andrea K. Walker

Helmut Guenschel Inc.

Helmut Guenschel has made display cases that house a Gutenberg Bible, vintage baseball jerseys worn by the New York Yankees and the gun used to kill Abraham Lincoln.

And when the Johns Hopkins University needed a company to design and fabricate display cases for an archaeology museum that opened last fall, it didn't have to look far.

Helmut Guenschel Inc. in Middle River has built an international reputation in the field of conserving and displaying priceless art and artifacts. Its clients include the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The company's namesake and president, German-born Helmut Guenschel, came to America in 1954 and settled in Baltimore. Trained as a master cabinetmaker, he initially worked for others. He learned English and earned a civil engineering degree at the University of Maryland.

In 1964, with his brother-in-law Joseph Hugel, he opened the company that bears his name. It started in Highlandtown and later moved to its present location next to Martin State Airport. The company's first museum-related commission came from what is now the Walters Art Museum.

Now 78, Guenschel designs custom lighting, motors, sophisticated security and climate-control systems — whatever it takes to exhibit rare objects for decades. He has received several patents for an intricate metal device known as the "Viewall hinge."

"We do once-in-a-lifetime jobs," he said.

Guenschel's 15 employees work out of a nondescript, cinder-block building that doesn't even bear the company's name. Inside is a metal fabrication shop, a wood mill, a finishing room and a glass mounting area. For every commission, staffers fabricate the cases inside the plant, then disassemble them for shipment and installation at their final destinations. It takes longer that way, but it's a process that sets the company apart.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.