History, heritage, hard work
Capitol City Produce has grown from a 1890s pushcart operation into a multimillion-dollar business. For the past 48 years, that expansion has come under the guidance of owner Vincent A. “Vince” Ferachi.
Ferachi, 78, will receive the seventh Grace “Mama” Marino Lifetime Achievement Award to be presented by the Baton Rouge Epicurean Society on Aug. 22.
The award is named for Grace “Mama” Marino, of Gino’s Restaurant, who received the initial award in 2007, and honors “a person from the Baton Rouge area who has dedicated their life to service in the Baton Rouge community.”
“In 1890, my grandfather Nuncio Ferachi came to the United States from Italy as a young man with his parents and brother,” Vince Ferachi said. “They started growing vegetables in Iberville Parish. … They built a pushcart and started selling locally. They realized they could do better distributing produce so quit farming and went from a pushcart to horse and wagon.”
Ferachi’s grandfather purchased an icehouse which serviced railcars and began icing produce in his delivery wagons to sell in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
“In the 1940s, my dad, Vincent C. Ferachi, named the business Baton Rouge Produce. He sold the company in 1947 and reopened as Capitol City Produce in April 1947,” Vince Ferachi said. “In those years, the problem was half-dozen produce companies were servicing mostly independent Baton Rouge stores and small restaurants. We lost business when Associated Grocers started, so we changed with the times and started selling produce to school systems, colleges, hospitals and expanded into groceries.”
Vince Ferachi went to work full time in the business in 1964 and a year later became an owner when his father retired.
During the next decade, he bought out other family partners. In 1974, his wife, Sue, joined the business, doing everything from driving trucks to the bookkeeping. The 1980s were a time of expansion and today the company supplies 1,300 customers throughout Louisiana and in Mississippi.
“The company is a secondary supplier of produce to Wal-Mart, Target and a number of independent grocers,” he said. “We got rid of groceries in 1987 when we realized people were more interested in produce. They were looking for more variety and fresh produce.”
Produce is a faster moving business, he said. “Our turnover is daily. We bring in produce from all over the United States and the world. People have gotten used to having things all year-round. They’ve forgotten seasons.”
Capitol City Produce bought out Bano Produce in 2004. Ferachi is also a stock owner in Pro-Act, a company that does sourcing and helps put transport together for other companies.
Today, younger son, Paul, is the company’s chief operating officer.
“I take care of bid work and Sue oversees accounts receivable,” Vince Ferachi said. “Our older son, Michael, is an attorney and he oversees the legal stuff. Our daughter Lesley’s husband, Guy Gremillion, is our national accounts manager.” Daughter Jennifer lives out of state.
Vince Ferachi describes Capitol City Produce as a “$60-plus-million company” with 175 employees and a fleet of 56 trucks, including four tractor-trailers.
“This isn’t a roast,” Michael Ferachi reminded his siblings as they kidded their father about having to work at the business while growing up.
“When I turned 15, he sent me to get a driver’s license in the morning. That afternoon I was driving a truck making deliveries,” he said.
Paul Ferachi said, “I started working when I was 10 or 11. At 14, I was making bank deposits. All four of us have good work ethics.”
“They did develop good work habits,” his father admitted.
“It was just family time. We didn’t think we were deprived,” Lesley Gremillion added.
Vince Ferachi also serves on the procurement committee of the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, is on the board of the national United Fruit and Vegetable Association and the Louisiana Credit Association, and “was very instrumental in getting vegetable bars into schools,” Sue Ferachi said.
“We support a wide variety of nonprofits in the community, especially those which promote or support healthy lifestyles,” Paul Ferachi said.
Vince Ferachi insists he now only works part time, but his family says he still puts in 20 to 40 hours a week and always goes home with a stack of papers.
“Our father worked very hard for over 50 years and our mother, too, to bring fresh produce to south Louisiana and we’re delighted the Epicurean Society is honoring him,” Michael Ferachi said.