Click on a year to view information about John Vena, Inc. from that time period.
John Vena I emigrated to the USA with his parents and three sisters around 1900, from Gangi, a farming community in western Sicily. As a young man he began selling wine grapes to help the family earn money. As he and his business matured, he took space at 151 Dock Street, the established wholesale produce market in Philadelphia.
The 1919 sales ticket
Anita Vena, elder child of John Vena I, joined the business after high school as a bookkeeper. She later married John “Sonny” Fiorella, her childhood sweetheart. Anita worked continuously at the firm, on a full or part time basis, except for the years she devoted to raising her two children.
Sonny Fiorella joined his father-in-law at the firm after his discharge from the service.
Sonny left his own family’s very well known sausage making business in South Philadelphia to serve in the Coast Guard during World War Two.
John Vena II joined the business full time. He had worked for his father at different times in the preceding years, but was often fired for playing pinball at the nearby saloon. Prior to joining the firm permanently, John Vena II spent some time honing his sales skills at a Chrysler dealership in Oaklyn, NJ. In fact, he never drove any other brand of car after those days.
John Vena I passed away, leaving his daughter, unseasoned son-in-law, and inexperienced son to run the business. In fact, due to his father’s death, John Vena II was forced to delay his planned wedding. Mary Vena, wife of the founder, lent the little firm some money and the company was incorporated, allowing the business to continue.
John Vena II married the daughter of rival produce wholesaler John DiGiacomo. Besides being in the produce business on Dock Street in Philadelphia, Mr. DiGiacomo was a neighbor of the Vena family in Haddon Heights, NJ. His daughter Jean and John Vena II were married in the old St. Rose of Lima Church in that town.
John Vena II, left, discusses cabbage prices with a buyer identified as John Capos at the company’s former location at 151 Dock Street in Philadelphia.
In this year, the City of Philadephia’s long planned dream of a complete food distribution center in South Philadelphia came to fruition. The Produce Market opened amid the operations of the other segments of wholesale fish, meat packing, dairy and grocery distribution. John Vena, Inc. moved into Unit 53.
A map of the planned market
The Unit 53 sales ticket
John Vena retires as president of United's Philadelphia Branch and passes the gavel to William R. Gettz of American Stores Company.. A full complement of the Branch's membership gathered at the Old Bookbinders in Philadelphia for the installation of officers.
John Vena, Inc. along with other investors from the local produce industry put together a small consortium to operate a new technology at that time: Mobile Hydrocoolers. These machines were designed to prolong the shelf life of many fruits and vegetables by “quick cooling” them with ice-cold water. Additionally, their machines were designed to be moved from place to place and follow the crops up and down the east coast. As is so often the case with “first adopters”, the concept was sound, but the operation demanded too much and the investors had to back out in order to tend to their main businesses.
Due to the consolidation of some other merchants on the Market, John Vena, Inc. was offered the opportunity to change locations. Early in 1971 the firm re-located to Unit 77, in the center of the market. That proved to be a more favorable location and spurred positive results.
The Unit 77 sales ticket
John Vena III is recruited to join the firm. After graduating from Butler University in Indianapolis, IN, he married the former Cynthia Hartley of Schererville, IN. John worked in advertising and public relations in Indianapolis. He and his bride decided to give the produce industry a try for a few years.
After a two year fight with cancer, John Vena II passed away. John Vena III took over his father’s responsibilities on the floor, and Anita and Sonny Fiorella continued to take care of the office. The next few years were a time of experimentation as the little company searched for its niche in the marketplace.
Potted flowers and plants for the holidays, especially Christmas, Easter and Mother's Day were a major part of the business from the late 1950's until the early 1990's. Major suppliers were located in many growing areas, including Canada, Ohio and Florida. Transportation rates typically became very expensive from Florida in the Spring, as the supply of trucks became tighter. In an effort to keep costs down, John Vena III decided to try a re-emerging transportation method. In the early eighties, the railroads offering transportation out of Florida began an experimental service. An intermodal route, commonly refered to as "piggy-backs" was opened to the Philadelphia area. That allowed the shipper to load conventional trailers with product that would move over the railroad to a nothern destination.
The trailers would then be off-loaded and delivered to the Philadelphia Market. Mr. Vena was the first to transport full containers of Easter lilies, chyrsanthemums, hydrangeas, and ferns from his Florida growers. The service was very good and was used successfully for some time
In an effort to help steer the company in the right direction, Charlie Pigliacelli, a young but experienced salesman was added to the staff. Charlie graduated from St. Josephs University and began his career at The M. Levin Co. He later worked for Ralph Hughes, Inc., and his strengths and skills enabled him to step in beside John Vena III to build the company. Largely due to the synergy created by their teamwork, a period of growth began that has never stopped.
On December 12, 1990, The Philadelphia Regional Produce Market sponsored a special holiday treat for the troops serving in Operation Desert Shield in Iraq. In the photo are Ray Farber, Market Manager, Sgt D. Dodd, US Army, and John Vena III helping to load the shipment.
Market benefits from advertising - Former ad executive John Vena heading effort to get word out.
Mike Glynn, Western Editor
PHILADELPHIA -- It's one thing to spend $18 million renovating Philadelphia's produce market. It's quite another to get the word out to the market's customers, John Vena knows.
Vena also is rounding up Philadelphia wholesalers to staff a booth at October's Produce Marketing Association convention in Washington, D.C. Although terminals at least in New York, Boston and Los Angeles have conducted public relations campaigns, Vena believes Philadelphia's appearance at the PMA will be one of the first by terminals at the show.
The Philadelphia Regional Produce Market donated a new multimedia computer to John Welsh Elementary School, Philadelphia, in recognition of a teacher's support of the 5 a Day message. First-grade teacher Karen Frebowitz received a "Creative 5 a Day Teacher of the Year" award from Dole Food Co., in conjunction with the Produce for Better Health Foundation's 5 a Day message. Frebowitz was the first recipient of the award. She was selected nationally from all teachers who submitted reports on how they taught students about eating more fruits and vegetables, according to a news release. Dole and the foundation hosted a 5 a Day party to honor Frebowitz, and the Philadelphia Regional Produce Market adopted the school. The produce market's John Vena presented Frebowitz with the computer at the party. The market also donated a large selection of produce for the party. It was arranged as a mini-market at one end of the room. Each child filled a basket with produce to take home.
Summer | November
Due to a decision to downsize his business, a neighbor in Units 105 and 107 made an offer that couldn’t be refused, and a deal was made to ‘trade’ Unit 77 for Units 105 and 107. That maneuver allowed all operations to be consolidated under one “roof”, thereby initiating a period of unmatched growth in sales.
The Unit 105 sales ticket
Summer | November
The Philadelphia Regional Produce Market celebrated its 40th anniversary. Philadelphia City Council President Anna Verna, commemorated the occasion with the Presentation of a Resolution by City Council. As part of the 40th Anniversary celebration, the Market welcomed 550 guests aboard “The Spirit of Philadelphia” for a dinner cruise along the Delaware River.
After months of discussion between John Vena III and Daniel Vena, great-grandson of the company founder, a deal was struck that brought Daniel in as the fourth generation of Vena produce salesmen. Dan graduated from The University of Richmond and had been working in the computer sales and leasing industry at the time of his decision to join the Company. As explained by his father John Vena III, “there are no draftees in this business, only volunteers”. Dan provided a large range of skills, particularly in technology, a fresh point of view, and some youthful energy.
Summer | October | December
JV Specialties, LLC was launched through a partnership with John Hickey, a former company salesman. John has extensive contacts nationally, and very strong ties to suppliers of specialty produce. The company took up residence in the warehouse on Galloway Street, and shippers and customers were assembled. Its mission is to develop brokerage and wholesale customers on a wider range geographically, than John Vena, Inc. can service.
Perceiving a need within the food service industry for fresh herbs, packed to order daily, Herb Services, LLC was created as a wholly owned subsidiary of John Vena, Inc. Through an exclusive arrangement, Herb Services, LLC products are packed in a certified food safe facility, and delivered daily by truck to customers all over the Northeast.
August | October
Unit 101 became available and was added to John Vena, Inc.’s facilities. In one difficult week leading up to Labor Day Weekend, walls were torn down, coolers and work areas re-aligned, and office spaces connected. The company now operates out of four contiguous units. This combined space will be the foundation for a planned program of vigorous growth.
August | October
On September 30, 2008, JV Specialties, LLC merged with John Vena, Inc. JV Specialties, LLC was formed in April of 2005 to open up specialty produce markets on a national level for growers and shippers from Mexico, California, Florida, and Chile. JV Specialties, LLC operated out of the John Vena, Inc. warehouse at 3655 South Galloway Street in Philadelphia, one block south of The Philadelphia Regional Produce Market. The merger of JV Specialties, LLC with John Vena, Inc. will allow the staff of these companies to work from their strengths as well as create value for their suppliers and customers.
On Tuesday, November 3, 2009 John Vena, Inc. achieved another “first”. The company passed a third party audit by the USDA Fresh Products Branch under the GAP/GHP Program, making them the first company in the Philadelphia Market to achieve this certification in The Market’s 50 year history.
On Sunday June 5, 2011 John Vena, Inc. opened the doors to its new home in the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market at 6700 Essington Avenue, Philadelphia, 19153. After 10 years of planning and building, and several delays of the opening date, the time finally arrived to open the gates to the new facility. John Vena, Inc.'s location in units F1 through F6 at the new indoor Market marks the beginning of new growth and positive change for John Vena, Inc.
In June 2012, only one year after opening in the new market, John Vena, Inc. finished installing its new fruit ripening rooms. These state-of-the-art rooms are specifically designed to speed up the ripening process of Avocados, but can also be used for plantains, bananas, and mangoes. The rooms were constructed and installed by Dade Service Corporation, who has worked with other companies such as Chiquita, Del Monte, and Whole Foods.
In June 2014, John Vena, Inc. acquired Unit F6 inside the market. The unit was completely renovated and serves as a repacking facility. The new room will allow more space for custom packing and labeling programs.