Neither Carmela D’Arrigo, 29, nor her sister, Gabriela D’Arrigo, 23, thought that they would be a part of the family business, D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of California Inc., a Salinas, CA-based grower-shipper of broccoli, broccoli rabe and lettuces founded in 1927.
“We never felt pressured to join,” said Carmela D’Arrigo. “Our father never talked about work at home. I didn’t even ask questions about the family business until the end of my high school career.”
“I had absolutely no expectation that I’d be in the industry,” added Gabriela D’Arrigo.
But the two visited the D’Arrigo Bros. facility in April, “and it was incredible to see everything in person rather than imagine what it was like,” said Gabriela. “Different offices and workplaces have different vibes. This atmosphere is very welcoming. It’s a beautiful facility, and the people take a lot of pride in their work here. They told us that there’s no opportunity to fail here, and it’s true. The minute I don’t know something is the minute they teach it to me — no embarrassment. Everyone has just been so great.”
Both sisters attended Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. Gabriela earned a bachelor’s degree with a double major in public relations and advertising this past May, while Carmela graduated in 2005 with a degree in health science.
After college, Carmela spent six months teaching health and sex education at various charter schools near Tucson, AZ.
“The biggest challenge was with schools for the deaf and blind because I had to learn how to teach these students,” she said. “I would practice blindfolded or with my ears covered so I could get an idea of what the lessons would be like for them.”
She felt that her age and demeanor allowed her to answer very important questions that the students may have been afraid to ask other adults.
Shortly after her teaching experience, Carmela took a position working as a muscle therapist specializing in the temporomandibular joint disorder commonly known as lockjaw, but ultimately decided to give produce a try.
She began working at D’Arrigo Bros. June 27 and is currently a sales assistant, but also has responsibilities for the transportation side of the business, which is something with which she gained familiarity during her three years at Charter Marketing LLC, a Tucson-based truck broker.
“Doing that side of produce, I got familiar with the industry and I gained a lot of respect for the hard work that the transportation end does,” Carmela said. “I enjoyed learning about the different sections of the industry. Each worries about the product, but the responsibility gets shared and passed down the line.
“Even when you order a salad — now I know the whole process and how much work goes into eating a salad at a restaurant,” she continued. “It’s funny because I never would have thought about it before.”
Before joining D’Arrigo Bros., Gabriela worked a variety of jobs in restaurants. “I did everything from being a hostess to a busser to a bartender,” she said. “That’s the closest thing I had to a job in produce, but most of the restaurants I worked at did get [D’Arrigo’s] ‘Andy Boy’ produce.
“I think that everyone should work in the customer service industry at some point to know what it’s like,” she added. “It’s been cool to see the opposite side and see the growing before the food gets to the restaurants — to see how everything flows from where it starts to where it ends.”
Gabriela also has prior experience in a family business, although it was her college roommate’s family.
“We were doing demolition-construction in Alaska during the summer of 2007,” she said. “It was beautiful up there. It was a fun and interesting job. We were paid to break things instead of doing it accidentally. I was trained to operate Bobcats and things like that. We’d go in with sledgehammers and take apart sheds, fix them up and ship them out to different parts of the state.”
Gabriela said that she gained a lot from that experience. Aside from the travel opportunity, that summer gave her a greater ability to put things in perspective.
“It was amazing to see how differently people lived up there — a place that’s not metropolitan,” she said. “It also taught me to look at the bigger picture. If something goes wrong — if I do something incorrectly — I know that it’s not the end of the world. Things can happen, but with hard work and discipline, you’ll come out doing a good job. You get out what you put in.”
While both sisters agreed that they have a wonderful work environment, that does not mean things have come easily. In fact, the challenge is part of what drew them to D’Arrigo.
“This was out of my comfort zone,” Carmela said. “This is a new place and a new side [of the produce industry] for me. I was lucky that I got to come with my sister, but people really grow when they’re put in these challenging situations. I’ve learned that I can’t be so hard on myself. There are a lot of new things in this industry. It’s a matter of being patient and learning piece by piece. Not knowing it today doesn’t mean I won’t know it tomorrow.”
Gabriela has already learned a lot about herself since taking the job. “It’s always advantageous when you get into something different,” she said. “Compared to four years ago, I’m a lot more mature and I can look at things in a different light.”
A part of the sisters’ grounding comes from their backgrounds in athletics. Carmela played softball in college and Gabriela played soccer; both sisters swam as well.
“It taught me how to sacrifice and do things as part of a team,” said Carmela, who added that she also learned a lot about perseverance. “You don’t quit something just because it’s hard or doesn’t go your way. Athletics made me a better person because it exposed me to a lot of things.”
And that exploration and exposure continues through the travel opportunities at her current job.
“I’ve never had to travel for work before,” she said. “It teaches me a lot about time management, but also about the industry. I get to meet people and put a face to a name. It’s letting me grow a lot. Having this opportunity at this age and at this point in my life is great. I have the ability to be a sponge right now and absorb everything that’s thrown at me.”
As members of the fourth generation at D’Arrigo Bros., the sisters enjoy the benefit of having family around, but “it’s more than just our relatives. We all spend so much time here that we’re all like a little family. Everyone is looking out for everyone else,” said Carmela.
The sisters are currently living together for the first time since Gabriela was in sixth grade and Carmela was a senior in high school.
Gabriela said, “It’s been great working together. She knows what’s going on at the office so she understands when it’s been a tough day. She’s really helped me transition from college to having a professional life, which is a huge change. It’s nice to have someone to help me keep my sanity.”
In addition to having each other, the sisters said that having the daily opportunity to speak with family members, both local and across the country, is a huge job perk.
Their father and uncles are brokers in Arizona and on the East Coast, and “we get to talk to them daily instead of just at reunions,” said Carmela. “We get the opportunity to keep in touch more. It gives more motivation and a loyalty to the company, to the name — what it brings and does for people. The quality we put out there is important. Our great-grandfather started this company, and now it’s a big thing that we’re a part of.”
“One thing that I always keep in mind,” said Gabriela, “is that this is a family business. Not only is it professional, but we also have that added element. Fortunately, everyone is very positive and supportive, so it’s a benefit instead of an added stress. We deal with difficult situations together. The work ethic is incredible. I’ve never worked with people who liked their jobs so much.”