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Moreno Bros. 2 is a young company with a hundred-year heritage

LOS ANGELES — Moreno Bros. 2, here, is a new company that opened its doors just two years ago. But founder and President Anthony (Tony) Moreno regards the new venture as a continuation of a multi-generational family tradition that goes back a hundred years.

“I am the fourth generation of Morenos” in the Los Angeles produce industry, Mr. Moreno told The Produce News June 30. He would like his children to have an opportunity to continue that tradition. “I think it is really important that this Moreno name continues on in this industry, because it is one of the oldest families” in the industry,” he said.

Mr. Moreno’s grandfather, Vincenzo Moreno, came to the United States from Italy more than a century ago, settling first in New York and later in Los Angeles. In what is a classic American success story, he started out in business “selling fruits and vegetables out of a wagon on the streets.”

When the old Los Angeles produce market known as City Market, often called Ninth Street Market, was built around 1910, Vincenzo Moreno was among the first tenants to take a stall in the market.

Tony Moreno’s grandfather, Roger Moreno, and his great uncles became involved in the business that was to take on the name Moreno Bros. Then the next generation, consisting of Mr. Moreno’s father, Richard Moreno, and uncles, continued on the tradition.

Moreno Bros. continued to operate on the Ninth Street Market until the “new” Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market on Olympus Boulevard opened in the mid-1980s. At that time, Moreno Bros. became one of the first tenants in the new market.

Mr. Moreno and his brother, Rick Moreno, both worked for a time in the family business, but then “I left the company” and went to work for other Los Angeles produce houses in order to “become a more well-rounded produce guy,” he said. “I went to season. Then I went to Coast. The last job I had was at G.M. Distributing.”

While Mr. Moreno was working for other companies, Moreno Bros. went out of business and Rick Moreno went to work for WJL Distributors in Thousand Oaks, CA, where he continues as a fruit broker.

After a time, “I started thinking” about re-opening Moreno Bros., Tony Moreno said. “I am 48 years old. I have young children that I would love to have go into this business. If I don’t re-open it, there is no one behind me, there is no other Moreno in this part of the industry” and the four-generation Moreno Bros. tradition would be ended. “So I felt an obligation to my ancestors and to my immediate family to re-open it so it could continue on beyond me.”

Moreno Bros. 2 offers a “full line of vegetables,” from potatoes and onions to specialties, with a focus on Asian vegetables, he said. “We have our own growers” and also import produce from Mexico, South America and Italy. “We import Italian chestnuts and Italian blood oranges.”

The company also does a lot of corn. “The only thing we don’t do much of is fruit,” he said.

“We grow, pack, and ship. We recondition. We also cross-dock. We do a little storage … anything we can do to make money. Loading, unloading, service delivery, anything our customers need,” he said.

The company packs some products such as Italian chestnuts and Peruvian sno peas in the “Orabella” label which “used to be the olive oil label of my ancestors,” Mr. Moreno said. “I decided to keep ‘Orabella’ as my label.”

Moreno Bros. 2 services American, Asian and Hispanic chainstores throughout Southern California and also works with foodservice purveyors and other wholesalers in town. The company also has customers in Northern California and Nevada, and “we just started to ship to Idaho,” he said. “But most of it is in Southern California.”

Mr. Moreno said that he “would like to branch out more across the country” when opportunities arise. “It seems like people who are consolidating [for customers] outside of California are doing well.” But “I’m just going … where the orders are, into whatever faced of the industry it takes me,” he said.

When Mr. Moreno started Moreno Bros. 2, the economy was already struggling. But he has no intention of being part of the downturn. “I have no choice,” he continued. “If I participate, I am doomed. I don’t have the luxury of [a] huge nest egg for the recession, so I need to battle every day and hit quotas. I am just looking to continue on and pay the bills” until the economy turns around.

“If I can get through this economy,” he said, the only direction for the company will be “up.”