D’Arrigo dynasty has grown from farm stand to farm land
By Paul Bufano
Photo by Meredith Whitefield Goncalves
There really are brothers in D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of New York, Inc. Three generations of them. They boast that there isn’t an edible item grown anywhere in the world that they don’t pack and sell from their warehouse in the Hunts Point Terminal Market.
The company supplies more than six percent of all the fruits and vegetables purchased at stores or eaten at restaurants in the New York metropolitan area, according to Matthew D’Arrigo, the youngest grandson of the company’s founders.
As co-president of the board of the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Cooperative Association, D’Arrigo is deeply involved in negotiations with the city to modernize the market, which is being wooed by Newark with promises of substantial public investment.
At the family business, he specializes in berries and tomatoes, buying from suppliers and supervising the workers in the company’s 75,000 square foot warehouse. His week begins at 6 a.m. on Sunday and ends at 5 p.m. on Friday, and his work takes him from management meetings to the loading platform.
To remain successful, D’Arrigo says, the workers have to move fast. Fruits and vegetables remain in Hunts Point on average for just 36 hours, so they arrive at their final destination unspoiled.
The D’Arrigo dynasty was begun by the first D’Arrigo brothers, Andrea and Stefano, who emigrated from Sicily, settling in Boston. According to the company history, the brothers went from manning a farm stand in summer to selling out-of-season produce during the rest of the year, founding D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of Massachusetts in 1923. Two years later when they got a shipment of broccoli seeds from Italy, they bought land in Northern California, planted it and began shipping vegetables east by rail.
The New York branch was born in 1948 at the old Washington Market in Greenwich Village. Andrea’s oldest son Stephen, the father of Matthew and his brothers, took charge.
”Our company is a family business that likes to consider everybody in it family,” said Matthew D’Arrigo. “I’m a very involved person when it comes to dealing with the company and its employees.” Recently, he loaned a worker who was at risk of being evicted $3,100 to pay his back rent.
Jobs at D’Arrigo’s used to be passed down from father to son, but that has changed. According to D’Arrigo, about 20 percent of the company’s 190 workers now come from the Hunts Point area.
”I don’t see any special need to hire somebody specifically because they’re from Hunts Point. There’s something called a commute,” D’Arrigo said. “What matters is their performance and ethic.”
D’Arrigo believes some people are just born with leadership qualities, but he also says they have to work hard.
“My father has dealt us a beautiful hand of cards and I’m grateful; however we haven’t messed that hand up yet” he said. “Getting something is one thing. Holding onto it is something totally different.”
The Terminal Market needs to be rebuilt and its cold storage facilities doubled in size, D’Arrigo contends. New facilities could be built on the 40-acre parking lot, and above the current buildings, he said.
He’d also like to see a farmer’s market at the Terminal Market. A way to support smaller farms in the Hudson Valley and on Long Island, the idea had the support of former governor Eliot Spitzer, but has faded since Spitzer’s resignation.
”We’re a city-owned facility, but the city really wasn’t interested in it until recently,” said D’Arrigo. “It’s only now with our economy in shambles that the city has decided to focus on an important sector.”
The market’s lease expires in 2011, and New Jersey beckons. But, “The preference of our board of directors is to stay in the Bronx,” D’Arrigo told the Star-Ledger, New Jersey’s largest newspaper.