John Vena Inc. has been in the produce industry for more than 100 years. Follow our journey from push cart vendor on Dock Street to the region’s preferred expert in specialty produce.
The Early Years
The Second Generation
The Specialty Era
The Future is Now
John Vena I emigrates to Philadelphia with his parents and three sisters from Gangi, a small town in Sicily. He begins selling wine grapes to help support the family.
The business grows. John decides to take a stall at 151 Dock Street, the established produce market at the time, and John Vena Inc. is born.
John’s family continues to grow. Anita, his daughter, joins the business as bookkeeper after high school. She works at JVI for the next 60 years.
Anita’s high school sweetheart and husband, Sonny Fiorella, joins the team after his service in the Coast Guard during WWII.
John Vena II joins 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 local saloon. Prior to joining the firm permanently, he spent 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 passes away. His daughter, son-in-law, and inexperienced son are left to run the business. Despite challenges, the family pulls together to incorporate the company, allowing their father’s legacy to continue.
John Vena II marries the daughter of rival Dock Street produce wholesaler John DiGiacomo.
The City of Philadelphia’s dream of reclaiming Independence Hall for tourism comes to fruition. The new Food Distribution Center opens in South Philadelphia amid existing infrastructure for wholesale fish, meat, dairy, and grocery. JVI moves into Unit 53.
JVI, along with other investors, puts together a small consortium to operate a new technology: mobile hydrocoolers. These highly innovative, portable machines prolonged the shelf life of many fruits and vegetables by “quick cooling” them with ice-cold water.
Due to the consolidation of other merchants, JVI is offered the opportunity to relocate to Unit 77 in the center of the market, a location that proves favorable and spurs a period of growth.
John Vena III, John Vena II’s son, is finally recruited to join the firm after several years working in advertising in Indianapolis.
After a two-year fight with cancer, John Vena II passes away. John Vena III takes over on the floor, while Anita and Sonny continue to take care of administration. The next few years are a time of experimentation as the little company searches for its niche in the marketplace.
John Vena III strengthens the company’s niche in potted flowers with new transportation methods: railroad “piggy-backs”. By shipping trailers on existing train routes, JVI is able to establish a competitive edge in the flower market during the Florida season.
Charlie Pigliacelli, a young but experienced salesman, joins the team. He steps in beside John to build the company. Together, they push forward with innovative import programs, first experimenting with a product new to the US market: Dutch greenhouse-grown bell peppers.
The import business continues to grow. John and Charlie push the greenhouse wave forward, bringing in some of the first imports of Israeli on-the-vine tomatoes and Canadian bell peppers.
John Vena III coordinates a rebrand of the Philadelphia Regional Produce Market and organizes a booth at the PMA’s national convention in Washington, DC—the first time a wholesale market has ever been represented at the show.
JVI acquires an additional unit on the market, Unit 103, to house its growing Asian Vegetable Division.
New refrigeration units and larger loading docks are installed in the market. JVI seizes the opportunity to take on additional space in the evolving facility and expands into Units 105 and 107.
John Vena III convinces his youngest son, Dan Vena, to join the team in sales. After a few years in the technology industry following college, Dan returns to JVI with a fresh point of view and some youthful energy.
JVI expands its line of specialty produce, bringing on a variety of new growers from around the world, including Mexico, California, and Chile. The company expands into an additional warehouse on Galloway Street, where repacking and forward distribution services operate.
JVI is named to the prestigious Philadelphia 100 by The Entrepreneurs Forum of Greater Philadelphia and Philadelphia Business Journal, celebrating small businesses in the region that are leading in their fields.
Herb Services, LLC is launched to distribute custom-packed herbs to distributors and broadliners across the region.
JVI takes on additional space in the market, Unit 101, to operate out of four contiguous units.
JVI achieves USDA GAP/GHP food safety certification. It is the first on the market to receive certification.
On June 5, JVI opens its doors at the brand-new Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market with 39 employees. It is the world’s largest fully-enclosed refrigerated building, the length of 14 football fields with 224 sealed dock doors.
JVI takes on its first clients in a risky emerging sector: direct-to-consumer meal kits.
Ripening rooms are installed in one of JVI’s five units. They are built for avocados, but the team quickly begins to ripen other items, such as plantains, mangoes, and bananas.
JVI acquires two additional units, one of which is converted into a modern repacking facility.
JVI becomes the first company on the market to hold a third-party food safety audit for its facility, achieving Primus certification.
JVI hires a full-time Food Safety Manager and achieves SQF Level II certification for all facilities.
JVI acquires an 8th unit on the market & celebrates another milestone: organic handler certification.
JVI celebrates its 100th Anniversary with a team of 85, launching a brand new logo and a refreshed mission statement to start a new century.