The History of Kohl Wholesale

We’ve achieved tremendous growth since our launch in 1861, but like all great things, we started small. Take a drive through our company history and our favorite moments.


Nikolaus Kohl joined the James T. Baker Company after immigrating to the United States from Germany in 1857. He settled in Quincy, Illinois and began his career in the wholesale grocery business along the Mississippi Riverfront.


Being industrious and energetic, Nikolaus Kohl bought shares in the firm where he was employed. This allowed him to co-found Austin & Kohl Wholesale Grocers. In 1879, Thomas Edison built the first practical light bulb.  The Kohl business started before the convenience of indoor lighting!


Austin retired, so Nikolaus continued the business as N. Kohl Grocer Co., Importers, Wholesale Grocers, and Coffee Roasters. Nikolaus did so with the help of his four sons. The family-owned business became one of the largest coffee roasters in the area, as well as one of the best stocked wholesale grocery establishments in the Midwest.


Edward Kohl, son of Nikolaus, had a daughter named Agatha. She married Matthew J. Ehrhart, and Matthew became involved in the Kohl business. Eventually, in 1921, Matthew became general manager, and finally, the president of the company.


Kohl joined its first buying Group, the Plee-Zing/Lil’ Brave Group, to increase buying power and capabilities. In doing so, the business grew and positioned itself for expansion.


Richard A. Ehrhart, son of Matthew J. Ehrhart, became the president of the company during this year. Prior to assuming this role, Richard worked in every facet of the business.  He worked as a buyer, sales representative, driver, warehouse employee, sales manager, and general manager.  He truly did it all, and notably spent decades buying shares from distant family members. With over 75 years of foodservice experience, Richard left behind a substantial legacy.


The company moved its headquarters along the riverfront to 130 Jersey Street.  This location served as both an office and warehouse facility for over 30 years.  At present, it remains our main corporate office.


Not only did Richard acquire shares that remained within the family, but the company made a concerted effort to buy out competitors.  In this year, Kohl acquired Jenkinson Grocer Co.


Kohl Wholesale held its inaugural food show, the first of many industry events that became legendary showcases we still hold today.


The company continued to acquire competitors including Quincy Supply Company, Inc. in 1988, Mark Twain Produce Co. in 1991, Johannes Meats in 1993, and Burlington Produce, Inc. in 1995.


Richard A. Ehrhart, the 4th generation of leadership at Kohl Wholesale, began his succession plan for the 5th generation.


Part of Richard A. Ehrhart’s plan included opening the Kohl Cash & Carry Showroom. The Cash & Carry is a place where anyone, including account customers or otherwise, can enjoy the convenience of buying trusted foodservice goods in a grocery store setting.


The company expanded the north dry warehouse to accommodate increased business and orders. Along with this, Kohl Wholesale acquired Fritz Althoff Wholesale Meats and Foods in 2004, as well as Warren’s Quality Meats in 2005.


Noticing a prime opportunity in the foodservice industry, Kohl Wholesale created a Beverage, Chemical and Equipment Department.  This department specializes in these items that are an integral part of enhancing our customers’ establishments.  We pioneered servicing and selling sophisticated drink and cleaning machines, kitchen equipment, and more in the same year the original iPhone was released!  We also acquired Rogers Bros. Wholesale, Inc.


To increase Kohl’s buying power, Kohl Wholesale teamed up with UniPro Foodservice Inc., the largest foodservice distribution cooperative in the United States, with over 750 distribution locations to serve our customers.


Within a year of joining UniPro, Kohl Wholesale received national recognition as UniPro’s Co-Op Distributor of the Year.


Kohl Wholesale partnered with Midwest Controlled Storage, otherwise known as the underground caves, to fully utilize this nontraditional freezer-cooler. We still store a variety of freezer-cooler goods in this facility, including protein and produce.


Another year with national recognition, Kohl Wholesale was identified as a Top 35 sales volume distributor in the country.


It was a “HistoriKOHL” year for the company as it celebrated a milestone of 140 years in business.  We commemorated it by creating 2013’s Foodshow around the monumental anniversary showcasing the rich history that fosters continual growth, change and success.  As a proverbial cherry on top, Kohl enjoyed more national recognition as the IFMA Sales & Marketing Distributor of the Year!


The fifth generation of leadership began with Matt Ehrhart, Mark Ehrhart, and Rick Ehrhart, sons of Richard A. Ehrhart. Matt serves as the President, Mark as the Vice President and Rick as the Treasurer. Combined, they possess over 100+ years of foodservice industry experience.  Only 3% of all family businesses operate at the fourth-generation level and beyond.  It’s a fitting testament to the commitment of carrying on the tradition since 1873 and will continue to drive success for subsequent generations.


With business volume increasing to an all-time high, facility expansion was of paramount importance.  After years of planning, a monumental new dry warehouse was constructed.  Anchored on a 40-acre lot built with 7,000 cubic yards of concrete, it houses 137,000 square feet of space with 40-foot ceilings and 10,700 pallet positions.  A dedicated customer pick-up center, 26 truck docks, and parking for 106 trucks and 194 cars facilitates smoother and more functional operational space.  The future of Kohl Wholesale is now.


6th generation of Ehrhart’s join the business working full-time.