Being in the Business of Beans

In 1938, Needham King Hurst established the company, N.K. Hurst, distributing coffee, tea and sugar. Nearly 80 years later, Hurst’s company has grown into a widely known brand and multi-generation family owned and operated enterprise.

July 2017

Writer / Janelle Morrison Photos /JJ Kaplan and Casey Cronin

Native Hoosiers and anyone who is from the region may easily recognize the classic Hurst Beans logos and have most likely enjoyed a crock of any variety of Hurst Bean soups at some point in their lifetime. The company’s secret HamBeens® flavor led to their most well-known product, HamBeens 15 Bean Soup®. Over 18 varieties of beans are selected from the choicest growers in more than 16 bean- producing states. The growers use only U.S. quality seed, and they field inspect their crops and monitor proper harvesting for the Hurst Label. The N.K. Hurst Company prides itself on its standards, rejecting any old crop, split or broken beans and refusing to blend grades of beans. The Hurst family motto is:

“Quality first.” The company just celebrated the ribbon cutting of its newly constructed second location in Zionsville. “We started in the bean business in 1947,” said President Rick Hurst. “We started packing beans at our old location on Pennsylvania Avenue and a couple of other locations before moving to McCarty Street and did all of that between 1938 to 1947. Then we bought the building on McCarty Street where we are in downtown Indianapolis. At one point, we were located on New York Street, and

N.K. went to work one day. Our company was on the first floor, and a piano company was located on the seventh floor. The weight of the pianos collapsed the building, and it all went into the Canal – beans, pianos and everything all over the place.” Consequently, the incident prompted the company’s move to McCarty Street.

Hurst explained that one of the driving factors that led the company to build a second facility in Zionsville was the changing regulations in Food Quality Safety (FQS) and the need to meet the expectations of the company’s clients. “There is a food grade designation that a lot of our customers are demanding from every food manufacturer called Safe Quality Food (SQF),” Hurst explained. “We do all of the things that we need to do to be in compliance with those regulations.” While their existing building works for the seasoning side of the production, it was not going to meet those stringent requirements on the dry bean packaging side of the production.

The Hurst family members and executive leadership began their search for a second facility that would satisfy the new equipment and materials needed to meet the SQF requirements while offering the additional space for the company’s continued growth and development. Rick’s cousin, Jim Hurst, is a Zionsville resident and is part of the company’s leadership team. After an extensive search in surrounding areas, the Hursts exhausted their search for existing warehouse spaces with tall ceilings and a small footprint. They began to look at available land.

“Jim came across the land where we eventually built,” Hurst said. “It was owned by the people who developed the FedEx facility, and it’s an excellent location. Not to mention, it’s an easy commute for Jim.” An Indianapolis resident, Hurst admitted that the commute also works well for him as he can easily commute to either location. “Creekside Park is a great area,” Hurst said. “We live in Indy, but we come up for dinner, and my in-laws are at Hoosier Village. Zionsville is a wonderful community to come up to. I enjoy playing tennis and play at the new tennis facility here in town.”

Most of the Hurst family members attended the new facility’s ribbon-cutting ceremony last month, including Rick’s father, Needham. Needham Hurst and William Hurst (Jim’s father) ran the company for several years before Rick, Jim and Rick’s brother-in-law, Tony Snider, took over the reins. They have been operating the company with the help and dedication of the entire Hurst family and their respective spouses. It was an inspiring sight to see four generations of Hursts celebrating while the fifth generation toddled around the grand new facility. “What our fathers have taught us about managing a family business is that we must respect each other’s jobs within the business,” Hurst said. “We all wear a lot of hats in this business.”

Snider discussed what the new facility will mean to the upcoming generations of Hurst family members. “My role in the company is that I handle purchasing, procurement and negotiating contracts for all of our raw materials, but as Rick said, we all wear a lot of hats in a family business,” he emphasized. “We all have sales responsibilities, human resources and whatever else it takes to get the job done. For the future, I hope that we are here for 150 years or more.

Our Zionsville facility is 180 degrees, production, and efficiency wise, from where we are at our downtown facility, so the next generation will have an easier job producing and packaging beans than we have over the years.” Matt Huntley’s children, who represent the fifth generation, stole the show at the ribbon cutting reception. Looking on at them, Huntley reflected on growing up around the family business and what his hopes are for the future generations. “Growing up, I remember being my daughter’s age and going to the facility downtown,” he said. “Beans have always been a part of our lives.

My grandfather always did our commercials, and I remember hearing his voice on the radio. It is great to see my kids being here to see this new facility and thinking of how it will pass down to them one day. I am going on nine years with the company, and we have family members that have been here a long time. We also have several employees who are our outside family members that have been with us for years. They make the company tick on a daily basis and they’ve played integral roles in the company’s success and in getting the new facility up and running.”

Zionsville resident Jim commended Mayor Tim Haak and the town’s leadership who were involved in the project from start to finish. “Zionsville has been a wonderful place to get this project started and completed,” Jim said. “The town is definitely open for business. The Zionsville Chamber of Commerce and the Boone County Economic Development Corporation were also instrumental in helping us find the property to develop in Zionsville. After an extensive search for an existing warehouse location, we couldn’t find anything that fit our specific needs, so we concluded that we would have to build to our specifications. Everybody involved was helpful and wanted to see us bring our business to Zionsville.

“Another benefit to having our newest facility is that there are new lines of business that we will be able to produce out of this facility that we aren’t able to downtown. Matt Huntley is our first member of the fourth generation of the Hurst family to join the business. His great- grandfather, N.K. Hurst, founded the business; his grandfather, Needham Hurst; and my father, William Hurst, ran the business for several years. My cousin, Rick, myself and Tony have operated this business for many years after them, and Matt joined us a few years ago. He has been instrumental in helping the family understand the necessity to move to a modern space and prepare the business for the next several generations of family.”