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Valli Produce Inc.: Bringing International Flavors to the Midwest
America is a country founded by immigrants from all over the world, and while many people choose to become fully absorbed into the customs and cuisine of the great melting pot that is the USA, sometimes people just want a taste of home. Three immigrants recognized that need and decided to open Valli Produce Inc. in the greater Chicago area to cater to the wide variety of immigrants that have traditionally settled in that region. Valli Produce, a chain of produce and grocery stores that specializes in “hard-to-find” food items from around the world, is the brain-child of three family members: Alfredo Presta and his nephews Lou Tenuta and Frank Chilelli.
Tenuta outlines the firm’s history, saying, “We started with one 10,000-square foot store 22 years ago, and we became very popular in the community. Over the years, we’ve built that up to four stores in the area, each averaging around 34,000 square feet. Our customers know us for our high-quality produce, deli, and fresh meats. We are immigrants so we cater to the immigrant communities here in Chicago, and we offer them a clean environment with lower pricing on unique items that they can’t find elsewhere.”
Strong Work Ethic Key to Success
The family members decided to name their stores after the small Calabria farm town in southern Italy where they were born and raised. It was in that hard-working town that the family members learned the ethics and drive needed to be a success. Through a tenacious entrepreneurial spirit the family has built Valli Produce from a single market opened in the late 1960s into a booming marketplace for the diverse Chicago northwest suburban community. For example, the stores offer 300 varieties of pasta, with a range of Mediterranean oils to match, but they also tend to the needs of Asian, Middle Eastern and Latin American cuisine with all manner of fresh herbs, exotic fruits and vegetables, and plentiful shelf-stable imports (including wines and liquors).
A reviewer, Aimee M., posted the following to the popular consumer-driven business ranking website yelp.com about a 2010 experience at Valli Produce:
“I swoon when I head into the fruits and vegetable section. So colorful, so fresh and so many great deals to be had! The produce is fresh but not overly fresh that you have to use them right away or else they'll go bad. (you know what I mean) There's a great selection of produce which helps a lot when you're in the mind set that the veggies you eat should be varied and colorful!
“Meander over to the olive oil area and you'll find tons of other oils – grapeseed, flaxseed, walnut and truffle oil! I know most truffle oils aren't the real deal, but I found the same brand that I bought at Whole Paycheck for much less at Valli. Score!
“Very nice deli and meat counter. There are lots of different cheese that would rival the selection at Caputo's. I would love to have sampled the fresh ricotta or feta if they had them available too. I loved that there was a good selection of Asian staples – rice noodles, my favorite soy sauce and Filipino rice flour, sweet chili sauce, to name a few.
“The store is huge and very clean. It has wide aisles for easy maneuvering and the service was wonderful! The check-out clerks were friendly and I don't know how to explain it, but they bag the groceries so well – yeah, weird to say, right? But it seemed like they took such care to make sure things don't get smashed and that everything fit without being too bulky.”
Savings Passed Along to Customers
The company’s prices are lower than its competitors because the owners specialize in buying in volume, which allows them to pass on increased savings to its customers. Tenuta also notes that the owners visit the famous South Water Market in Chicago daily to procure what many would consider “niche” or “gourmet” items, but what Valli Produce clientele consider indispensable items to maintain the authenticity of their native cuisines.
In addition to trips to the South Water Market, the company ensures that customers have access to foods from their ancestral homes by importing products directly from foreign vendors. “We respond actively to our customer requests. We import a lot of Indian, Bulgarian and Polish products now because our customers asked us to do so. It’s just good business sense to respond quickly and positively to your customers,” says Tenuta.
All of these items are presented alongside “common” household items, allowing Valli Produce to provide a one-stop shop with reasonable prices throughout. Weekly specials are run, and posted to the company's website. Valli Produce also offers its customers a catering department that can prepare foods for a wide variety of tastes and national palettes for any party or occasion.
With the success of Valli Produce Inc., owners Alfredo Presta, Lou Tenuta and Frank Chilelli, have proven that the American Dream, which promises success through hard work, is still alive and well. Thanks to the assets offered by Valli Produce immigrants to Chicago know that success tastes sweet no matter how you cook it.