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Empire State of Mind

"La famiglia non è una cosa importante—è tutto."

This saying, not unfamiliar to me as a granddaughter of an outspoken Sicilian woman, is one that has replayed over and over in my head as I’ve come to know the D’Arrigos. It means “Family is not an important thing—it is everything.” And if you have ever met even one offshoot of the countless branches of the D’Arrigo family tree, you know this to be true. From a larger-than-life, so-very-Italian dinner table, to the business they have built together, the company is as deeply entrenched in New York City history as the iconic Hunts Point Produce Market itself.

Now, as the fourth era of D’Arrigos sets out to make its mark on the produce industry at large, and as D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of New York tackles a fresh take on the wholesale banana business, Vice President of Operations Kevin D’Arrigo is helping to usher in a new era—one that pays homage to the family that united together to build an empire, but in a way that is so uniquely his generation’s own.

D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of New York is tackling a fresh take on the wholesale banana business“What I love so much about working alongside my family is the sense of duty we all share to keep pushing the company forward. We’re all so proud of what our grandfather and fathers have built, and now is our chance to follow that natural progression—making a gradual shift from traditional terminal market wholesaler to the type of full-service company that is needed to be a strong contender in today’s produce business,” Kevin explains. “I believe the banana business is really going to be our next big step in doing that. We’re increasing our physical footprint and adding another product, which just so happens to be the biggest volume item in the industry.”

When Kevin’s great grandfather, Andrea D’Arrigo, emigrated from his home in Sicily to New York City through Ellis Island in 1904, he was just 16 years of age and didn’t speak a word of English. Despite the uphill battle these facts challenged him with, Andrea and his brother Stefano, who followed to the States in 1911, spent the next four-some-odd decades building an early-day produce empire—D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of Massachusetts in 1923, D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of California in 1925, and, finally, D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of New York, Inc., on Independence Day, 1948. Talk about a hard act to follow for Kevin’s grandfather, Stephen D’Arrigo. But in the tradition of the D’Arrigo family, it was less of “following” in his father’s footsteps for Stephen, and more about taking the opportunities given to him and running with it. It was always a dream of Andrea and Stefano’s to open up a wholesale distribution company in the largest market in America, but it wasn’t until Stephen drove himself from Boston to New York City that their aspiration took shape. The following day, Stephen opened up shop at 308 Washington Street, located in what we now call Tribeca with just five employees in tow.

"What I love so much about working alongside my family is the sense of duty we all share to keep pushing the company forward."

- Kevin D’Arrigo, Vice President of Operations, D'Arrigo Bros. Co. of New York

“My grandfather, then my father and uncles, have all cultivated relationships with both customers and shippers from the ground up based on honesty and fairness. My grandfather built a special environment, where he truly respected his employees,” Kevin tells me. “And then when my father’s generation came, they not only maintained that respect, but further developed a company culture where hard work and honesty always pay off. I look around even today, and so many of the people in key positions were hired as porters and worked their way up.”

When the great “Washington Market,” also known as “the Old Market,” moved from its century-long home in Manhattan’s Lower West Side to the Bronx in 1967, Stephen was eager to help usher in the state-of-the-art, now emblematic Hunts Point Produce Market—still the home of D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of New York today. Even then, Stephen made a point of offering customers a one-stop-shop type of experience—certainly an original idea in a wholesale industry—built off of specialization. As the years progressed, the company expanded into a full-line fruit and vegetable business, building upon product lines, offering more variety, and filling more needs for the company’s customers.

It’s in that spirit of his grandfather, Stephen, and father, Paul, that Kevin takes his next steps to make his family’s business more valuable to the customer—pioneering D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of New York’s wholesale banana business.

“Since I started here, my role has been evolving from sales into a more operational focus. So when the opportunity to purchase a facility from our friends at John Georgallas Banana Distributors arrived, it was the perfect timing and fit for me to learn the business and then manage it,” Kevin tells me. “For the first time, we are in the ripening game, and now, because of the success we are seeing, we are able to accelerate the growth of our tropical department.”

"My vision of the company is that moves like these are our future..."

Under Kevin’s guidance, the company underwent a massive overhaul of the existing facility, ripping out eight of its oldest ripening rooms, filling in unused sections to increase the available refrigerated warehouse space by over 50 percent, expanding from 12 to 16 loading doors, and adding new dock levelers. All in all, the renovations provided an additional 25,000 to 30,000 square feet, and in Hunts Point, space might as well be gold. Better yet is that the facility is right on the outskirts of the produce market, letting the company circumvent some of the stricter rules there, like which commodities it can sell and which hours it can operate—all while remaining close enough that there are no additional costs or hoops to jump through to run between the two locations.

“My vision of the company is that moves like these are our future,” explains Kevin. “And looking further ahead, the two things that I am a big believer in are technology and trucking. Internally, technology will be what we can use to keep our employees at the top of their game, keeping them better informed through free-flowing and more easily accessible information. Externally, state-of-the-art warehouse management will give our market customers a better experience, and to that end, we’re rolling out an online portal and phone app for placing orders.”

Kevin D'Arrigo working at the company's new banana facility

As for trucking—the current hot topic across all points and sectors of the supply chain—Kevin tells me that in just the four years he has overseen it, D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of New York has doubled its dedicated department.

“Seeing how important trucking can be in our customers’ experience, I’ve taken a keen interest in making it as efficient as possible,” Kevin says. “Efficiency obviously reduces costs, but it also makes for faster deliveries, reduced mis-picks and misdeliveries, so little things we can improve upon, like providing GPS for more accurate ETAs, means that our customers are happier.”

Kevin’s voice is strong when he speaks on his vision of what his great-grandfather, grandfather, and father’s business will become in the future, but at the end of the day, he’s not alone. His cousins—his fourth generation famiglia—are still there alongside him.

“People may not believe it, but we really all get along!” Kevin laughs. “But really, it’s beyond that—we trust each other. Every one of us is different and has their own unique personalities and skill sets, but in a sense, we all share a similar idea of what our company is and needs to be—it’s that pride we have for what our family has built, and a sense of duty to keep pushing it forward.”

From one Sicilian to another, family is not an important thing—it is everything. And to that end, the family business is without a doubt in good hands for years to come.