Family Food Distributors

When Patricia Mendez met her husband John Rivas in 1999, they shared a common passion - food. Patricia had thirteen years’ management experience in the food distribution industry, and John had owned a supermarket and his family a restaurant.

An immigrant from Ecuador in 1989, Patricia recognized a niche that needed filling: supplying nostalgic food products to Ecuadorian immigrants who missed their favorite homeland foods. John and Patricia’s daughter Andrea were eager to start a family business.

With little money, they purchased their first vehicle, an old van for $700. Initially a partnership, Family Food Distributors Inc. of Kearny, New Jersey, was now open for business. They began operations in February 2002 from their home.Within two months, the house became crammed with pallets of products. Patricia found a warehousing company that rented them affordable space for two to three pallets, which quickly grew to two to three truckloads. Research indicated that competition was less fierce in outlying areas such as Connecticut, so they marketed to areas outside of the larger cities, selling into supermarkets, specialty stores, and travel agencies. "Smaller stores move as much product as large ones," says Patricia. "They are as important to us, and we give great customer service. We aren’t and don’t want to be the cheapest, but we do supply a complete line of products."

After two years, the warehousing company was moving, so the business had to move. In summer 2003, needing help and financing, Patricia met with assistant director Dennis Rasugu of the New Jersey Small Business Development Center in Newark. Dennis asked if she had a business plan. "No," answered Patricia. "What’s that?"

Under Dennis’ guidance, Patricia enrolled in an eight-week course at the Entrepreneurial Training Institute, learning valuable business skills and how to prepare a business plan. Upon graduation, she was assigned a mentor for eighteen months. Good things started to happen. The Star Ledger, New Jersey’s largest newspaper, wrote an article about the business. James E. McGreevey, the governor of New Jersey, was announcing at a conference employment statistics that the state had helped to create. Inviting the family, they were cited as great examples of a business creating jobs. Currently, Dennis is helping the business obtain commercial financing through the New Jersey Economic Development Agency. "The SBDC has been so resourceful and helpful," says Patricia, "and their help is free. You have to be persistent and willing to work hard - we work twelve to sixteen hours a day. My daughter Andrea is twenty-three, and she works full-time with us and studies business management full-time at Rutgers University." Family Food Distributors Inc. now has an office and warehouse of five thousand square feet, a subleased truck and new van, and six full-time and two part-time employees. Its continued growth and success of should give new entrepreneurs some real food for a thought.