Over the course of the year, we pay tribute to 35 living Vanguards and 12 departed heroes. This month’s featured Vanguard is Matthew D’Arrigo of D’Arrigo New York.
Originally printed in the August 2021 issue of Produce Business.
Matthew D’Arrigo grew up under the tutelage of his father, Stephen, who founded D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of New York Inc. in 1948. As the company thrived and diversified, D’Arrigo absorbed much of his father’s industry expertise and would eventually follow him as the company’s chief executive.
The younger D’Arrigo unofficially began in the industry at D’Arrigo Bros. in the summer of 1974, unloading trucks and working on the dock as a porter/warehouseman, and officially became an employee in 1982 as buyer/salesman in the import division. Along with Chet Levatino, he founded the import division at D’Arrigo New York and began importing Chilean fruit, along with honeydews and peppers from Puerto Rico — quite an innovation at the time.
D’Arrigo is responsible for D’Arrigo New York securing an exclusive with Ocean Spray Cranberries in the 1980s. “He essentially developed our chain store business by personally going on foot to every store and creating a rapport with the buyers to build the business with Ocean Spray ads,” says Gabriela D’Arrigo, vice president of marketing and communications at D’Arrigo New York and Matthew D’Arrigo’s niece. “At that time here in Hunts Point, it was just independents and mom and pop places that came to the market to shop.”
Over time, D’Arrigo took on more of a management role within the company and oversaw multiple departments. He known for his leadership and as an innovator. “He is constantly looking at different ways to diversify and grow the company outside of the Hunts Point Wholesale Market,” says Gabriela D’Arrigo.
Rich Dachman, chief executive of Brighter Bites in Houston, TX, says D’Arrigo has taken the traditional wholesale market experience for customers and raised it to a new level, including temperature-controlled showrooms that are more comfortable for customers.
“Something else that has always been critical for Matthew is creating the best environment possible for his team, to ensure that D’Arrigo is the employer of choice, resulting in attracting and maintaining the best talent available,” Dachman adds.
D’Arrigo recognizes that change, big or small, cannot be accomplished alone. When Dachman approached him about partnering together with Brighter Bites in the Northeast, a new collaboration began. “This alliance helps bring food to those in need and facilitate a new relationship between younger generations and the foods they eat,” says Dachman. “D’Arrigo supplies Brighter Bites 20% to 30% of the produce that we supply to families at no charge.”
Dachman describes D’Arrigo’s generous personality both in terms of time and resources. “While I am in his office talking to him, he is focused 100% on what I am asking of him,” he says. “But, he excuses himself to answer an occasional customer phone call — bantering and making the customer feel like the most important person on the planet. He turns back to me and I continue to convince him to help get financial support for Brighter Bites from the Hunts Point Market. He looks at me, takes out his checkbook and writes a check. He is so giving, but does not flaunt it. He’s a class act.”
Throughout his career, D’Arrigo has stepped up and even gone against the grain to influence change. He has served on numerous boards and committees, as well as chairing them. One of his most notable positions was as co-chair of the Hunts Point Produce Market for 13 years.
“He played a major role in pushing the market forward from one decade to the next in a city that is extremely savvy politically,” says Gabriela D’Arrigo. “He established relationships with major city officials, as well as the mayor, to show the importance and need of the Hunts Point Market time and time again.”
D’Arrigo is committed to charitable activities and contributes both to the industry as well as the Bronx community. “Even prior to the pandemic, his mindset was to always give back,” says Gabriela D’Arrigo. “As soon as the pandemic hit, Matthew was actively reaching out to city officials and organizers, asking how he could help support the surrounding communities. He has been a trailblazer in New York City, pushing to feed those in need and to support the customers and retailers who have been struggling to keep the city afloat.”
D’Arrigo serves as an inspiration to many in his employ, on Hunts Point and in the greater industry. “Over the years, he has taught me many things, but the most important has been to lead by example,” his niece says. “He is one of the most intelligent and hardest-working individuals I know. I will never forget what he told me when I came to work for D’Arrigo New York. He said, ‘This will be the best and last job you ever have.’ He could not have been more correct.”