Fast Phil’s convenience stores in North Carolina were just your average convenience stores until Walter Herring came on the scene 10 years ago. Herring’s previous experience as a general manager for an independent supermarket and three convenience stores, as well as an account manager for a major grocery wholesale distributor working with supermarkets and convenience stores, helped him learn the business from the other side.

Since 1962, Far West Meats has proven that it can be successful in the Southern California market – more than 90 percent of its sales come from that region – so the firm is making an effort to expand east toward Texas, Cincinnati and Indianapolis. “We hope that our story is so good, that we’ll get buyers in Texas [and these other areas],” President Tom Serrato explains. “We hope people will see the potential and get behind it.”

In 1992, Coastal Sunbelt Produce was born through a merger of Baltimore-based Coastal Produce Co. and Washington, D.C.-based Sunbelt Produce Co. In 2007, the company merged its operations with L&M Produce and became the leading foodservice distributor of produce and dairy in the Mid-Atlantic region. The Savage, Md.- based firm’s success is mostly credited to its commitment to its customers.

C&E Farms, a Cheriton, Va.- based firm that specializes in hydro-cooled green beans, has been on the leading edge of technology since it was founded by Phil Colson and Lester Erlemeier in 1986. “They pioneered a process of hydro-cooling green beans using cold water chilled to 40 degrees to get the field heat out and extend the shelf life,” says Bob Colson, Phil’s son and current president of the company.

Castella Imports Inc. is one of the largest importers of specialty foods in the United States. “Through hard work and dedication, Castella offers the highest quality products, which exceed industry standards, with unsurpassed packaging, pricing and distribution,” President and owner Bill Valsamos says. The Hauppauge, N.Y.- based firm provides a variety of products such as antipastos, beverages, bread crumbs, bruschettas, cheeses, flavors, food colors, olives, olive oils, sauces, specialty foods, spices, vegetables and vinegar.  

The majority of college assignments are often forgotten about once a grade has been assigned. But Robert Poitras has been living the business plan he developed during his days at the University of North Carolina. In February, Carolina Brewery, the microbrewery and restaurant concept Poitras devised as a student, celebrated its 15th anniversary.

Calandra Enterprises is a firm with its fingers in several pies, co-owner Anthony Calandra says. “The best way of describing our business is a diverse family company,” he says, explaining that the Newark, N.J.-based firm operates bakeries, restaurants and hotels, and invests in real estate.

Although beer is the beverage of choice for many, even the brewski industry is facing tough times because of the economic conditions, says Scott Adams, director of the sales/beer division for Burke Distributing. The Randolph, Mass.-based firm distributes products from more than 50 suppliers, including MillerCoors, Boston Beer Co., Red Bull and a niche spirits business focusing on high-end brands.

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