April 6, 2020

McLane Foodservice Driver & IFDA Truck Driver Hall of Fame Winner Alvin Armwood 

 

When McLane Foodservice driver Alvin Armwood pulled up to deliver to a customer’s restaurant in South Carolina one late summer day, he came upon some serious chaos. A line of cars was doubled around the restaurant, while the store manager – working in the aftermath of a sudden hurricane –was frantically trying to stay afloat with no power and a skeleton crew.

So Alvin did what he learned early on in his foodservice distribution career: he parked his tractor-trailer in the nearest large space and walked into that restaurant to lend a hand flipping burgers and tossing fries.

IFDA’s 2019 Truck Driver Hall of Fame Winner has never shied away from hard work. It’s just not in his DNA. The son of a Halifax County, NC sharecropper who farmed tobacco, cotton and peanuts, Alvin was working on the farm by the time he was 12, often missing several days of school to harvest the crops before the winter frost came. “It really taught me about life,” says Alvin, who grew up with nine brothers and sisters. “I learned to take nothing for granted, because nobody just gives you anything.”

By the time he was in high school, Alvin was working in a local steakhouse and driving a school bus full of students to and from high school every day – two jobs that ended up being useful training for his 40-year career as a professional truck driver in the foodservice distribution industry.

When Alvin was a dishwasher at JR’s Steakhouse, he eventually grew more fascinated by what was happening behind the grills in the kitchen than he was in cleaning forks and plates. He became a chef at the steakhouse, cooking and catering on weekends even after taking a full-time job at a furniture manufacturing plant. His move into the distribution side came in 1979, when he was hired by a company that is now part of McLane Foodservice to work in the warehouse loading trucks and pulling orders. The following year, he was hired as a driver.
 
Learning to drive a tractor trailer has come a long way since Alvin took to the wheel 40 years ago. Back then there was no truck driving school or prior experience required. He rode with another driver every week for six months – with just a learner’s permit – and then he was on his own. Of course his school bus driving experience didn’t hurt.

Today Alvin runs the same routes for six-month stints before receiving a new delivery route and set of customers. On Monday morning he’s out the door at 4 am for his first of six stops in South Carolina on the way to Augusta, Georgia. He’s back in Rocky Mt. to his wife Maryann – he calls her “the rock of the family” – on Tuesday by mid-afternoon. Fueled up with the coffee he drinks “365 days a year,” he’ll do a similar shift on Thursday-Friday to seven different restaurants.

Drivers working in foodservice distribution will tell you it’s a challenging vocation, one that Alvin doesn’t approach lightly. “Trying to stay safe is my biggest challenge,” he says. “I have to watch out for other people and cars on the road and especially around the property of the restaurant. Some of these restaurants are in locations that are very tough to navigate.”

With many foodservice distribution drivers earning above-average trucking salaries, it’s a job Alvin often encourages young people to get into, while pointing out it also requires good planning skills, a knack for customer service and a strong work ethic. “I always tell young kids that this industry provides a good job for your family, but you have to want to work,” he says. “You don’t just drive. Your employer has to trust that you’re going to get the product to their customer.”

Alvin says getting inducted into IFDA’s Truck Driver Hall of Fame last year was a “dream come true.” Maryann was by his side to receive the distinguished award, along with his two adult sons – McKenzie, a UPS driver, and Malcomb, a Broadway actor/singer – who flew into Orlando to surprise and support their father. “I never thought it would happen to me,” he says. “When my boss recommended me, I couldn’t believe it. I really cried. Nothing like that has ever happened to me.”
 
To celebrate his accomplishment, McLane Foodservice decided to issue Alvin his own 2020 Freightliner tractor with his name imprinted on the driver’s door.  

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