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Steve Vyacheslav Dunaychuk B & E Meats and Seafood Story
Steve (Vyacheslav) Dunaychuk B & E Meats and Seafood Story
Author: B&E Meats and Seafood
February 28, 2019
Like a number of B & E employees, Steve started working at B & E when he was 15 years old, in 1999. His future sister-in-law got him a job as the ‘clean-up kid,’ washing a lot of racks and tubs, among other things. Over time he grew in the company, learning the trade, and eventually was appointed as a manager at the Des Moines shop. He knew, however, that in the long run, he needed more and approached owner Jeff Green about becoming a partner. This is just a part of Steve’s story.
Originally born in Ukraine to a family of eight kids, Steve’s family immigrated to America in 1989. His father was a well-regarded builder who traveled around the former Soviet Union for work, often times being away from home months at a time. At one point, his mother worked three jobs at a time to help support the family. By the time the family left Ukraine, they were considered relatively “comfortable.” They owned their own home, had a little property, a vehicle, and indoor plumbing, which in the rural community they lived in was extremely rare. “Having these things at that time was a big deal,” Steve recalls. “My dad always said that ‘if a person built it, I can figure it out.’ He always pushed us not only to do our best, but to go beyond that. ‘Figure it out, don’t be lazy.’” Despite their success, Steve’s parents knew they could offer a better life for their children (they had 6 at that time) if they moved to America. They were Christians in Ukraine at a time when Christians were heavily persecuted and were considered enemies of the state. Steve’s grandfather was sent to prison in Siberia for a number of years and had a brother who was shot dead on the spot for not renouncing Christ. They knew that opportunities just were not there for them. They weren’t allowed to go to college or get ‘extra’ education. “In school, your grades could be marked down if you were a Christian,” remembers Steve. Also at this time, currency in the Soviet Union was extremely unstable, changing at least three times; you could save all your life, then the next day your savings wouldn’t be enough to buy a pair of boots.
At the end of the Cold War in 1989, there was a small window in which they had to decide whether or not to leave. They did and were allowed to bring 2 suitcases and $80 per person, leaving all their possessions and valuables, as well as their home, which they fully owned, behind. Though they were considered refugees, they still had to be vetted, so first they stopped in Austria before moving to Italy for 6 months or so, waiting to be able to enter the US. While in Italy, Steve’s dad worked for a gentleman who owned a vineyard, fixing buildings, doing masonry, and helping anywhere else it was needed. The owner wanted them to stay, offering a house and work, but the Dunaychuk’s paperwork had finally been completed and they decided to continue to America. They arrived in New York on October 31, which gave Steve’s mother misgivings seeing all the people dressed up for Halloween, which they didn’t know anything about! Steve was 6 years old.
After arriving in New York, the family immediately set out to Washington state, settling in Auburn. They lived together with their sponsors for six months, in a home that had seen better days, but they made it work. The State provided Section 8 housing and Steve’s dad was able to attend college to learn welding. He worked two jobs, with one company doing welding, the other mechanics. Within 6-9 months Steve could speak English easily, though reading took a bit longer, and eventually the family did well. All the siblings went to college and, with the exception of Steve and one other sister, entered the medical field.
At 15, Steve began working at B & E, hired by Jeff Green who was just taking over for his dad and uncle, Bob and Earl. After a few years, he left to work with a fiber optic company, doing installations, line work, and helped install the data backbone at SeaTac Airport. “I hated the Port politics,” he laughs. He ended up leaving that job and went back to B & E while going to college to pursue a career in radiology, with the intention of moving to California; he was 18. One day while on his way to work, he got in a high-speed car accident. When the fire department arrived on scene, the first thing he said to them was ‘Call work and tell them I’ll be late’ before losing consciousness. His longtime friend and future sister-in-law, who worked at B & E, was the one who got that call. Steve was airlifted to Harborview and was in the hospital for almost a week. “It was like they put Humpty Dumpty back together again,” he says. He suffered some pretty serious lacerations, but surprisingly only some hairline fractures on his ribs, despite that fact that the car was totaled.
The accident marked a turn in Steve’s life. “I was not a good kid. Between the ages of 14-17, I did a lot of side jobs that were not legitimate. I met dark people and, ironically, learned a lot about business from them. My dad always said that if you make money dishonestly, it’s like you have a hole in your pocket, you never have enough. And that’s exactly how it felt. I wasn’t even 18 and had a lawyer on retainer to keep my parents from finding out what I was doing. I had three lives: the dark side, my family, and my church friends. I actually had a book where I would write down which people knew what, so I wouldn’t trip myself up. One of the unsavory characters I knew said to me ‘You’re young, you’re smart, get out.’ I did, and then I had the accident. It was my definite out from that world. When I was in the hospital after the accident, I felt this peace. And that’s when everything changed.”
One of Steve’s best friends since elementary school had a sister who would become his wife in 2005, and coincidentally was the first one to see him in the ER with one of his sisters right after the accident. “We met when I was in fifth grade. She says she knew from the moment she met me that it’d be me or no one for her. It took me a lot longer to figure it out, but we’ve been married for 13 years now and have four kids. My family loves her. She’s an amazing woman who does a lot and does everything for the kids. She loves working at the kids’ school, especially decorating for the holidays, and also decorates the Newcastle store for fall and Christmas. I’m often up and out at 4 or 5 a.m., so she takes care of everything at home.”
After the accident, Steve stuck to his original plan and moved to California where he worked with his brother-in-law flipping houses. He stayed there for over a year but returned to Des Moines and B & E in 2004 at the age of 20. He eventually became the manager at that store. The first thing he did was add online shipping but saw where they could do more to advance technologically. He approached Jeff and Trish about buying into the business as a partner in 2008. They agreed, and then got to work. Jeff and Trish opened a store in Federal Way and a few years later in Newcastle. “I was able to do the design and build out from scratch in Newcastle. It was great because I knew what was needed and was able to do it right with the experience that I had acquired over the years, handling the construction, electrical, etc.
“Out of all the different jobs I’ve held and managers I’ve worked with, I learned something: you can’t find better people than those at B & E,” says Steve. “They watch out for you, and often put your interests before theirs. It’s hard to find people like that in business. Jeff and Trish are conservative but very good and thorough in everything they do. I tend to be thinking ‘what’s the next thing we can do’ and they have to sometimes pull the reins back. I look up to and admire Phil, our general manager. He works so hard, so many hours, many off the clock. Being around him reminds me of my dad. He’s always willing to listen and gives very sound advice. I’ve learned so much from all of them.”
Steve’s contributions to B & E are many and include bringing technology to the company. “That was a big change for the company, and we need to do more. We brought in a POS (point of sales) system and started shipping online. It’s not just me; everyone brings something to the company, even people who don’t work for us anymore. They’ve all grown the company in one way or another. Once Jeff took over, there was rapid growth. Phil came in and changed the way things were done. You can see the change. We’ve had to deal things like the cost of goods changing drastically and an increase in staff turnover over the past five years, but we all jump in. I handle some of the buying, especially the seafood. I’m a haggler,” he laughs. He also works the floor at Newcastle and is often at the other shops fixing things, so he knows what staff is doing and it gives him the opportunity to think of what he might be able to do to make their jobs easier. He’s always looking ahead: how do we strengthen our foundation? Is there a better way to train employees? Improve packaging? Improve product? Can we be more efficient? “I generally don’t look at bringing new products in, I look at ways to do things more efficiently while keeping quality high. My favorite products right now are the alder-smoked salmon and the kalbi ribs.”
As for possible future growth, he wants to see their internal foundation strengthened so they will be ready to open more locations if they so choose. “We have a lot of strengths that set us apart. Integrity is very important to us. Our staff has great product knowledge, we treat customers and staff as we’d want to be treated, and we provide great customer service. That’s really our #1 strength, customer service. New hires get product to take home to learn how to cook it and see how things taste so they can then share that with customers. Our employees are what really gives us value.
“I love working here. There are very few people like Jeff, Trish and Phil who are such good, honest people. They have integrity, and more and more that trait seems to be disappearing. Having and being a person of integrity is one of the most important things to me. I am very blessed to be a part of this legacy that is B & E Meats.”
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