2017 Lifetime Achievement award winner

Ted Koryn

Liberty Foods
Lifetime Achievement

Ted Koryn was born in Amsterdam in 1924 and lived underground in Holland at the beginning of World War II until he escaped to the U.S. in 1942. He joined a Dutch Air Force unit attached to the U.S. Air Force and was trained as an aerial photographer. After the war, his bravery, European background, and facility with several languages were instrumental when he started his own business as a specialty food agent.

In the 1950s, Koryn introduced Americans to Evian water, LU Biscuits, canned escargot, and truffles. Along with his business partner, Abe Landau, he founded the New Jersey-based Liberty Foods, later renamed Liberty Richter. He died in Manhattan in 2008 at the age of 84.

Inspiration… From all who knew him, it was apparent that Koryn enjoyed the good life. He was passionate about specialty foods and had an excellent palate and visual sense. He participated in the first Fancy Food Show in 1954 and was far more than an importer, emphasizes Bill Skura, who worked for Koryn for 20 years under different titles.

“By design, he loved to push people and products out of the box,” Skura says. “He didn’t represent people’s brands, he represented their families, bringing the family name to America. The way he did business was so non-corporate, showing he really cared, leading to an intimate level of trust.”

Koryn’s taste for foie gras and fine wine propelled him to promote classic French products, but his skill set also involved shaking things up, Skura says. “Nobody disliked the status quo more than Ted. He was an outlier and used those tactics to get others to be outliers.”

That included crashing elegant parties around the world. The men would dress in tuxedos and Koryn would instruct Skura, “‘Walk around like you own the place.’ He had no sense whatsoever of caring what other people thought.”

Koryn’s travels exposed him to many European specialties not yet in the American marketplace. In the 1970s, he led the way for the industry to recognize foods from Germany and Italy, breaking away from French dominance.

Impact… “Once you’ve been an aerial photographer in the war, putting your life at risk, facing that level of threat, you have no fear of other people’s opinions anymore,” Skura says of Koryn. “He was recalcitrant, but not in a negative sense. He made it fun to innovate things.” 

Koryn pushed specialty food into high-end retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. Food had not been part of fashion design houses before, Skura notes, and Koryn got it into their gift catalogs. He also helped usher specialty foods into the mainstream at supermarkets, battling for them to be integrated throughout the store instead of segregated in the “gourmet” section. 

The Future… “Ted helped release inhibitions, made people less fearful of new things,” Skura says. “He motivated suppliers, stimulated people into creativity they weren’t planning. He left a legacy of people who today are still doing creative things because of his influence. He taught you to almost embrace fear. Otherwise you can’t be great.”