Jordano’s has a special department that serves offshore customers like oil rigs and cruise lines.
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Embracing evolution with CEO, Pete Jordano: First of a two-part series that reflects on a milestone year and the road ahead

It’s easy to be upbeat about a 100-year birthday when you’re Pete Jordano. Learning from his father and uncles as the family-owned business took shape in the early 1900s, young Pete had no idea then that the small neighborhood grocery store would someday be responsible for the foodservice needs of thousands of customers across the six Central and Southern California counties Jordano’s Foodservice serves.

In 1975, Pete took the helm as chief executive officer. Today, as the company continues to grow and expand they are preparing Jordano’s Foodservice for profound growth.

We spoke with Pete about their centennial anniversary and how the stepping stones of the past have paved the way for the company to make significant strides in expanding, improving and delivering the quality products and services Jordano’s customers expect today and well into the next 100 years.

Scoop: Your father, Frank, oversaw sales for delivery to retail customers. What were the lessons he imparted to you so many years ago?

Pete: My father worked hard; he was one of the four original founding brothers of Jordano’s. He put in long, physically tough hours and seeing that taught me work ethic. From the age of nine, I worked in the grocery store, cleaning the floors. It wasn’t until I went to college that I learned people celebrate New Year’s Eve with a party – that’s because the last day of the year we did our inventory when the store closed and then we worked long into the night scraping and oiling the floors. That was part of the job and my father expected hard work out of me. But, later that became a bit of a problem. You see, after four years at college and three years in the Marine Corps, I returned to the store. I felt as though I had to prove something to make up for my time away, so I tried to work longer, quicker and faster than anyone else. You must have balance or other things in your life suffer.

Scoop: In your early days of working in the stores, what were the hurdles in getting good produce and products?

Pete: In the ‘40s Santa Barbara was very much a “growing” area – meaning a lot of produce was grown here and many local farmers would bring items into our grocery store. But as the stores grew, there wasn’t enough local produce here to meet the demand. So we began sending a truck to the produce market in Los Angeles on a daily basis. That one truck driver was also our buyer and he worked for our company for 55 years traveling to and from Santa Barbara to LA. Because he was so dedicated, we established strong relationships with those produce markets.

Scoop: What would you say the hallmarks of great customer service were in those early years?

Pete: We were taught how to build a reputation with the customer, to be pleasant, courteous and acknowledge them. It’s the same then as it is today. But we’ve always believed that it starts with the employees and treating them well. The 600 employees working for Jordano’s today, work hard and when you work hard as a company, good things happen. Our average employee has been with Jordano’s for 16 years. We believe it is important to recognize them by complimenting their work and saying thank you. Seems simple, but it’s very important to us.

Scoop: Did you ever have a dream to do something else?

Pete: I probably didn’t know I wanted to live in Santa Barbara when I was younger. After I went to college, I was offered a job with Shell Oil out of the country, and I suppose that was a very romantic idea, but then came three years in the Marine Corps – it was between wars, which meant I was stationed in places like Quantico, Virginia and Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Maybe I saw those places and realized Santa Barbara was a pretty good place, because I returned. Some people think that because I have the Jordano’s name, I was just handed the business. Not at all. When I returned from the Marines, my cousin was running the company and I was started at the lowest level – I worked the forklift, to truck driver, to order desk, and then salesman. But that experience ended up being a huge benefit.

Scoop: How so?

Pete: Well, like so many great companies of today that have deep history, there are storms to be weathered. As I took over the company in the ‘70s, we had to first fix some financial problems and that meant selling off the stores. That was really a hard decision. But when I had to ask our employees to really help out and dig in, I had their respect. I wasn’t asking them to do anything I hadn’t already done. They recognized that and we got out of that stumbling block and the company has a good name – but there were never any silver spoons being handed out.

Scoop: In what ways did those weathered storms inspire greatness within the company?

Pete: It helped us recognize that we had to be ready to evolve. It helped us see that all businesses have a life cycle. For instance, we sold off those grocery stores to Smith Food King that eventually became Albertsons. Unless you are a giant in that industry today, you aren’t going to do very well. It was a really good move for us and we can see that now – then we certainly weren’t sure.

In terms of more recent history, we were at one time in the party rental business which was very successful for a period of time. We had a retail store that at its peak was a cross between a William Sonoma and a Crate & Barrel. We were in the wine distributing business for a while, too. There is a lifecycle to those things and you have be able to recognize when it’s coming to an end and then part with it.

Scoop: What do you think your grandfather, James Giordano, would have to say about the state of the company today?

Pete: I don’t think they could imagine it. When my grandfather came his name was Giordano. He had four sons that went to school in Goleta County and couldn’t speak English. The teacher asked them their name and she spelled it out phonetically. That’s how we became Jordano. So I think he would be surprised to see that spelling become the household name.

We are the oldest continuing business with common ownership in Santa Barbara and the second largest independent foodservice distribution company in California. We have just acquired nine acres of property to build a new facility for Pacific Beverage Company, so we can allow Jordano’s Foodservice Division to expand into a total of 190,000 square feet.

So, as an immigrant who came from Italy in 1888 and worked as a migrant farmer in Santa Barbara, my grandfather – I believe – would be very proud of what’s being created here.

*Stay tuned for our Fall/Winter 2015 issue of The Scoop for a deeper look into Jordano’s expansion efforts!