The idea for Viking Range Corporation began in 1980 when Greenwood natives Fred E. Carl Jr. and his wife, Margaret Leflore Carl, wanted a professional-quality range for the house they were building but found that those available were too large and not safe for home use. Fred, a fourth-generation builder who studied business, architecture, and city planning at Mississippi State University and Delta State University, began to spend his spare time designing a range for home use, incorporated Viking Range, and had a prototype built in Los Angeles in 1986. Four years later, after working with contract manufacturers in California and Tennessee, Carl began producing ranges in Greenwood and recruited investors to help expand Viking’s operation. By the end of the 1990s, Viking was producing cooking and refrigeration products as well as dishwashers in three manufacturing facilities. Viking products are sold in all fifty states and more than eighty countries.
Viking has become the symbol for a gourmet lifestyle and has grown well beyond the kitchen. At its peak, the Viking Hospitality Group comprised Greenwood’s Alluvian Hotel, an upscale boutique establishment, and its accompanying spa; Giardina’s Restaurant, a Mississippi Delta dining landmark since 1936; the Viking Cooking School, with locations from New York to California; and the Viking Way of Life Culinary Tours. In 2004 National Geographic Traveler listed the Alluvian among “56 Hotels We Love,” and in 2005 Forbes magazine included it as a “destination to visit.”
Viking Range made an immense impact on Greenwood, where its corporate headquarters occupy twelve buildings across two entire blocks of historic Cotton Row. In addition to its offices, Viking renovated numerous downtown buildings for retail and housing, and many of them are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Several of the meticulously restored buildings have received state and national historic preservation awards. Viking won the 2002 Mississippi Heritage Trust Award of Excellence for Outstanding Re-Use of a large property for its restoration of 101 Main Street as the Viking Training Center. In 2003 the Mississippi Heritage Trust recognized the company for saving one of Mississippi’s endangered historic places, the Irving Hotel (now the Alluvian). And in 2004 Viking received the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street Business Leadership Award for commercial district revitalization.
Viking is a major employer in Greenwood and has consistently been named by Mississippi Business Journal as one of the best places to work in Mississippi. Viking also supports a much larger community, partnering with local colleges to enable Viking employees to earn degrees and making significant financial contributions in and beyond Greenwood. Viking’s founder also enhanced the company’s impact through his personal initiatives and contributions. In 2003, for example, Carl donated $2.5 million to endow the Small Town Center at Mississippi State University’s College of Architecture. Now named for him, the center provides planning and design assistance to rural Mississippi towns and uses its community projects as teaching tools for architecture students. In 2006 the US Small Business Administration awarded Carl one of eleven American Spirit Awards for his volunteerism and leadership in providing goods and services to areas devastated by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma in 2005.
In December 2012 Viking sold its manufacturing operation and its hospitality subsidiaries, including the cooking schools and the Alluvian Hotel, for $380 million to Middleby Corporation, a maker of commercial cooking equipment in Illinois. Because of the slump in the housing market, Viking’s sales had fallen by half from a peak of four hundred million dollars in 2006–7. To increase profits while cutting costs, the new owner laid off 140 of Viking’s 700 employees and closed some of the cooking schools. Carl announced his retirement as the company’s chair, president, and chief executive officer in January 2013.
- Leflore Illustrated (Spring–Summer 2007)
- Mississippi Business Journal (29 December 2012, 4, 31 January 2013)
- Monocle: A Briefing on Global Affairs, Business, Culture, and Design(November 2011)
- Viking website, www.vikingrange.com; Wall Street Journal (1 January 2013)