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Denice & Filice salesman turns to network of friends

Anthony Mazzuca is 25 going on 50. How else would one explain a 700-plus album collection -- not CDs -- dominated by artists of the 1970s? Or 25 Grateful Dead concerts attended, albeit post-Jerry Garcia? He insists he was at Woodstock, though it was the 1999 concert.

There are other signs. He has been working in fresh produce for nearly half his life. OK, most of that has been summer work, but still. He has many friends in the business.

Perhaps the capper -- other than the telltale Deep Purple album -- is his methodical approach to learning the fresh produce business.

Mr. Mazzuca graduated from California Polytechnic School at San Luis Obispo in 2003 with a degree in crop science. Though he knew he wanted to work in fresh produce sales, he felt studying crop science instead of agribusiness would help round out his education. By the time he entered college, he had stacked artichoke boxes for Castroville, CA-based Ocean Mist Farms and moved on to shipping and receiving duties and driving a forklift in summer roles with the artichoke giant.

In his first year at Cal Poly, Mr. Mazzuca grew peppers, corn and tomatoes. When he graduated from Cal Poly, he landed a job as harvest supervisor at Elio Produce in Salinas, CA. During Christmas breaks from college, he worked at the Desert Mist cooler in Coachella, CA -- a branch of Ocean Mist.

Mr. Mazzuca has worked as a salesman at Hollister, CA-based Denice & Filice LLC for a year. He came to Denice & Filice after a short stint as an assistant salesman at Salinas, CA-based Tanimura & Antle. T&A acquired Denice & Filice in 2004.

Mr. Mazzuca is more or less following in the footsteps of his father, Pete Mazzuca, who is now a sales manager at Salinas, CA-based Premium Valley Produce Inc. after having spent 25 years in sales with Ocean Mist. Mr. Mazzuca watched his father and tuned himself into the people his father dealt with and the friends he made. "Lots of people respect my dad," Mr. Mazzuca said.

Mr. Mazzuca's mother, Alene, and younger brother Paul, 23, are not in the fresh produce business. But his younger brother Ryan, 17, has just started in the industry, working in shipping this summer at Denice & Filice.

There is a certain art to handling telephone sales, and the approach can vary depending on the customer. Mr. Mazzuca said that watching other salespeople has helped. "I'm into listening and absorbing. He sees a future managerial role for himself in fresh produce, noting, "You always shoot for the top.

When he is not wheedling Italian sweet onions for Denice & Filice, Mr. Mazzuca often can be found at his bachelor quarters barbecuing up a storm for roommate Tom Eliopoulos and friends on a heavy duty grill built by his uncle. His prowess at the grill has him taking over barbecuing duties for the Central Coast Young Farmers & Ranchers. He also bowls in the Salinas, CA, Produce Bowling League that he helped organize, and he spends time with his girlfriend, Michele Groves.

Studying crop science at Cal Poly fed an interest in entomology, which manifests itself in Mr. Mazzuca's realistic and detailed drawings of bugs. Despite encouragement from his family to flesh out his talent for drawing, Mr. Mazzuca said that he is content to dabble with the creative outlet mostly for his own satisfaction, though he has created tattoo designs for friends.