Date: Mar 03, 2014
Magazine:
March 2014-Special Transportation Issue
Three generations of the Weisfeld Family

Harold Weisfeld

Fruit Distributing Corp.

Los Angeles, CA

Member Since 1958

 

BACKGROUND: Harold Weisfeld grew up in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas where his father had a citrus packing shed.  It was the 1930s and ‘40s and Harold spent a fair amount of time working in the business, and expected he’d become a produce man one day.  After serving in the U.S. Army in the early 1950s, he came back to Texas and worked for a short time, but the packing shed partnership already had several families involved and frankly there wasn’t room for another partner.

 

CALIFORNIA SUNSHINE, BEACH AND WEATHER COMES CALLING:  “I’d spent a little time in California and I had a friend that moved to Long Beach and loved the weather so I came out here and got a job.” 

Weisfeld worked for Mendelson-Zeller Co., a California distributor with a Los Angeles wholesale market operation, for about 18 months before striking out on his own.  “On August 15th, 1958, I started Fruit Distributing Corporation, which I originally called Harold Weisfeld Company, and I’ve been here ever since.”  The 84 year old Weisfeld is not kidding.  Though he sold the company to his son, Jeff Weisfeld, about a decade ago, Harold still comes into the office every day at about 5 a.m. and works the phone until noon.

 

THE EVOLUTION OF A COMPANY:  When Weisfeld opened his doors, more than 55 years ago, he considered himself a shipper in the vernacular of the day.  “I bought off the market and shipped mixed loads all over the country.  I had a customer in Boston, another one in Tampa and a couple in Oregon.  I had them all over the country.”

As time went on and the produce industry changed with the advent of more direct buying, Weisfeld gradually altered his business model.  “I started doing some in-town brokering.  Every time I lost a customer across the country, it seems like I would pick up a new item to represent in Los Angeles.”

First citrus and apples.  Then over the years tomatoes, vegetables, limes, tree fruit, potatoes and onions were added to the mix.

Fruit Distributing Company has acted as an inbound broker for the Los Angeles area for many years now.  “I started with Texas citrus, but not from my dad’s packing shed.  Oh, we did a little from there, but mostly I worked with other guys I knew from the (Rio Grande) Valley.  To this day, there are still guys down there that remember me from those days (when I lived there).”

 

DIVISION OF LABOR:  Soon after the turn of this century, Harold Weisfeld said his son Jeff, who had joined him in the business many years earlier, had his own ideas as to how the run the place and it was time for the elder Weisfeld to step aside…at least as the head honcho.  “It was the right time for a change,” he said.  “Now he gets to deal with the money and all the issues and all I have to do is sell and bring home a few nickels now and then.  I still handle the citrus and the limes.”

Jeff handles the tomatoes and the vegetables and the company has other brokers handling other items.

 

BIGGEST CHANGE IN THE INDUSTRY:  Because of his longevity, Harold Weisfeld takes a very long and broad look at how the industry has changed over his six decades in it.  He admits that the advent of electronic communications in the past decade or so has had a huge impact.  “When I started if I had to go to the rest room, I’d take the phones off the hook so I wouldn’t miss a call.”  He marvels at the fact that a hand held smart phone has more computing power than the entire computer rooms of a generation ago.

But for his money, Weisfeld said the biggest revolution he has seen in the produce industry is the advent of palletization.  “That changed everything,” he said.  “It changed how people ordered.  No longer did you order 40 boxes but you ordered 56 or 52 or whatever was on a pallet.”

He said selling and moving produce from one location to the next within the market changed from being a difficult operation to very easy almost overnight.  Instead of hand stacking a few cartons and using a hand truck to deliver them painstakingly to another house stack by stack, the movement could be accomplished with a pallet jack in a matter of minutes.  Trucks could be loaded in a fraction of the time.  Produce movement was enhanced and simplified.  “That was the biggest change I’ve seen.”

 

ENHANCING HIS OWN LOGEVITY:  As far as his own ability to work is concerned, Weisfeld said a little-known public transportation service in Los Angeles for those in need has “saved my butt and allowed me to continue to come to the office every day.”  Though, he occasionally drives, most nights Weisfeld orders a ride from Access Paratransit.  Because he has sleep apnea (“If I yawn, I’m gone!”) he qualifies for the subsidized rides.  “For $2.50 each way they pick me up in Marina Del Rey every morning, and deliver me to our office in the City of Commerce.  I sleep the whole way and get to work refreshed.”

At noon, they come back and take him home.  Without the service, Weisfeld said he would have had to retire awhile ago.

 

A FAMILY LEGACY:  Besides his son Jeff, who works alongside him at Fruit Distributing Corp., Weisfeld’s other two children are also produce industry veterans.  Both work at Worldwide Produce, a foodservice distributor in Los Angeles.  Stuart Weisfeld is a principal in the operation while Lynde Weisfeld-Kaufman works the sales desk.

 

THE END OF THE LINE:  “I am never retiring,” Harold Weisfeld said.  “You can call me in 2024 when I’m 94 years old and I’ll still be here.”

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