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Appreciating the 70-Year Legacy of the Procacci Brothers

The legacy of Joe and Mike Procacci begins with an unbreakable family bond and tells the story of decades of success in numerous businesses. The three Bs – Brothers, Business partners, Best friends – the men began their business together 70 years ago. In 1948, they started Procacci Brothers Sales Corporation in the basement of their parents’ home growers in Camden, New Jersey. The company flourished, growing into one of the largest wholesale produce distributors in the world.

Both brothers recently passed away in November within a week of one another, Joe at age 90 on the 17th and Mike on the 23rd, just days before his 95th birthday.

Their parents, Antonio and Vincenza, immigrated to New Jersey from Cerignola, in the province of Foggia, Puglia, Italy. The brothers really began in business well before WWII, when they would push their father’s produce cart through the streets of Camden, after school, to help put food on the table during the Great Depression. The financial needs of the large family – there were eight children, forced the brothers to leave before finishing high school. But their drive, desire and above all, hard work, brought them success.

Joe Procacci was the innovator in the tomato business. He was the CEO and Chairman of Procacci Brothers for almost 70 years. He brought two new tomatoes, the grape tomato and the UglyRipe to the U.S. market. With the grape tomato, Joe had the idea of creating a new bite-sized snack food. It has proven to be an enormous success. In the case of the UglyRipe, Joe actually had to fight Florida agriculture regulators to sell the tasty tomatoes out of state because they looked so, well – ugly. Proving that looks aren’t everything, the market took off for the delicious tomato. There was no one more passionate about the tomato business than Joe and after decades in the business, Procacci Brothers accounts for 10% of all tomatoes sold in the U.S., with customers ranging in size from McDonalds to the local Italian market. One of Joe’s chief accomplishments was lobbying in Washington, D.C., to save the Perishable Agriculture Commodities Act for the protection of all produce providers.

From their highly successful produce company in Philadelphia, the brothers expanded into real estate with Vineyards Development and Vineyards Country Club in North Naples, Florida. Mike Procacci was the visionary for the development of Vineyards, a golf community that the brothers created on a tract of land they previously owned for farmland.

Two months before Joe’s death, his son, J.M. Procacci, took over the reins of Procacci Holdings as CEO. The younger Procacci grew up in the business, working alongside his dad and his uncle Mike, who were always dressed in suits and ties for meetings and conducted business like gentlemen.

In the case of the two brothers, what gave them the most joy was their families, who are “stuck together like glue.” They built communities, created international companies, fought for legislation to protect both the large and small in the produce industry and brought innovations to that industry such that Joe would always say, “If you’re standing still, you’re going backwards.”

The men’s integrity was also essential in the growth of their produce empire. In the early days, there were no contracts. Millions of dollars of produce were sold “on a handshake and a word” and in that world, the Procacci brothers’ word could be taken to the bank. Humble, direct, honest and true to their word, they always moved forward.

In the 1960s, they purchased the land that would later become Vineyards. The story began in 1959, when Fidel Castro’s regime took over Cuba, which forced one of their vendors to leave the country. They went into a partnership with him, buying 2,000 acres of land at a very good price in Naples, Florida. By the late 1980s, the land had appreciated in value to the extent that it made sense to develop it into a community. The brothers placed two championship golf courses there to help attract more luxury buyers and to aggressively compete with other local developments. This community is one of the most sought after country clubs in Naples.

At an age where many are looking to retire and already a success many time over, Mike began the development of Vineyards in 1987, when he was 65. The project grew to include 38 individual gated communities and includes a 70,000-square-foot clubhouse, as well as 450,000 square feet of commercial space. After three decades, the community is nearing the completion of its 2,900 homes.

As developers of Vineyards, the Procaccis donated land for schools and agreed to maintain public roads at no cost to taxpayers. A farm on the land provided mature trees for the community from the start. It was more than a well-thought out plan, it was a dream that the brothers turned into a reality.

Recently, Mike had been honored by the Naples Italian American Foundation as an outstanding citizen of Italian heritage, acknowledging his contributions to the local community and its residents. He gave time and money to countless charities, never seeking attention or praise for it.\

Mike’s survivors include his son, Michael Jr., daughters, Maria and Annette, eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Joe’s survivors include his wife of 69 years, Teresa; his son, J.M.; daughters, Loretta and Rita; ten grandchildren and one great-grandchild. The two men also are survived by their brother, Sam and sister, Rose.

They will be missed by their many employees who were like an extended family to the brothers who built an empire.