Growing up, have you ever dreamed of what the perfect career would be? Was it working on Wall Street? Working in an office? Sales? Buying? Operations? Marketing? Humanitarian? Helping people? Logistics? Farming? Imports? Exports? Travel? What would it be?
For me, I always felt that I could sell anything and I had a strong outgoing personality that needed to have a positive effect on people. I wanted to help to change lives. If I can change one life or give someone an opportunity or an experience that they might not otherwise have, my life serves a mission.
I started in the produce business over 50 years ago. I was an 8-year-old kid growing up in an immigrant household where my father worked 3 jobs to raise the family. He wanted to teach me responsibility, so he would bring me to work in a local fruit store in Queens called Potash after school, where we worked until the store closed. From the first day I remember how excited I was because it felt so natural. I met the coolest people; they were so real. It was like a movie. They treated me like one of the guys with baseball tickets, sneakers, fireworks, etc. Every time I stepped foot into that store, it was all fun and laughs. We joked around, even threw f-bombs, and before we realized it, the store was set up, the trucks were unloaded and the work was done.
I started by watching carriages and packages for the customers. I would get paid $35 a week and make another $15-20 in tips. I would give my salary to my parents – tell them that’s all I made – and keep the tips, making me feel like an adult. Everyone at the store seemed to have a passion for what they did and worked extremely hard. The best part was that you didn’t even realize how hard you were working because you were having fun, making money and enjoying the better things in life.
I immediately started merchandising and setting up the displays, along with working the register and waiting on customers. I couldn’t even reach the register at the time, so I would stand on the milk box. This even led to me being known as the boy on the milk box. That’s how they knew me.
Later, I started selling on the wholesale end and making deliveries and before I knew it, I was 15 and was a partner in a bodega in Queens while still working at Potash. At 20 years old, I was a partner in my own fruit store in Astoria, where I stayed for 3 years and continued to learn. Finally at 23 years old and recently married, I realized life needed to move faster and I needed more, so I got a job in Hunts Point Market.
Fast forward 2 years later, and I landed at Katzman Produce where I was given the opportunity of a lifetime thanks to Harold and Stephen Katzman. 33 years later, it made me who I am today.
For the most part anything you love, you can do in the produce industry—you don’t need a college degree or years of education. The produce business doesn’t judge or have criteria you have to meet. As long as you bring the passion and hard work, we can teach you the business. I have seen people successfully join the produce business from Wall Street, Walgreen’s, Target, Macy’s, Verizon, insurance companies, corporate America, and at least 50 other industries. I have seen people with mistakes in their past come to the produce business and become successful.
There is always an opportunity for anyone who wants a career in the produce business. You just need to work hard, work smart and have passion – leave the rest to us.