Bill Mametsuka (left) and Paulo Ho of VegiWorks offer specialty produce items, such as squash blossoms and fresh winegrapes, as well as personalized customer service.
Bill Mametsuka (left) and Paulo Ho of VegiWorks offer specialty produce items, such as squash blossoms and fresh winegrapes, as well as personalized customer service.

SAN FRANCISCO — VegiWorks Inc. has come a long way since the days nearly two decades ago when Paulo Ho and his brothers did business out of a pick-up truck.

The wholesaler of specialty produce and related Asian specialty food items has grown to the point where its current 12,500-square-foot stall on the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market is too cramped.

“It’s just not enough space to handle produce and being organized,” said Bill Mametsuka, sales manager. “We’re constantly moving things. Being efficient is one of the factors for moving over there. Growth is definitely part of it.”

But one thing it hasn’t outgrown — personalized customer service, he said.

Come October, VegiWorks plans to move across Jerrold Avenue into a more modern, 20,000-square-foot facility that was recently vacated by Earl’s Organic Produce, which will move next door into even larger digs.

Unlike the current facility, which features open docks, the new building has closed docks that will help improve cold chain management when loading produce items into trucks.

The new facility also will allow VegiWorks to better comply with food safety rules — something on everybody’s minds, Ho said.

“It’s just not worth investing into this place because it’s going to get torn down,” Ho said, referring to their current stalls that are slated to be rebuilt as part of an overall market improvement program. “Food safety programs — I think that’s where it’s at, and that’s where we need to be.”

Mametsuka agreed. “I think being food safety-compliant and addressing other safety and health issues, I think it’s a requisite that companies need to follow.”

Many of the large, corporate foodservice clients also demand it, he said.

In addition to its wholesale business, VegiWorks operates 15 refrigerated delivery trucks to handle its core business, foodservice.

As with any successful marketer, the firm has tried to differentiate itself with the products it handles and the service it provides, Mametsuka said.

It carries such in-season specialty produce items as mutsu apples, squash blossoms and fresh wine grapes. VegiWorks also handles related Asian foods, such as shio koji, a fermented rice product made in San Francisco from rice grown in Dos Palos, Calif.

Even when it moves into the new facility, the heart of VegiWorks will remain its people and focus on service, Mametsuka said.

“Our motto has always been customer service, whether we deliver or have a sales rep take care of the account or have people walk up to the window,” he said.

Having partners and employees with diverse backgrounds helps, Ho said, adding he came from the wine and food side. Ho also is one of five partners in the business.

Mametsuka is a former chef and restaurateur who frequently works with top chefs to plan menus using locally grown produce.

Drawing from his produce and culinary knowledge, he said he can help them avoid major menu faux pas.

Recently, a chef had mentioned he wanted to feature California pomegranates in November. Mametsuka said he suggested another produce item since pomegranates had started early and might not be available by then.

“I think you have to listen to your customer and pay attention,” Mametsuka said.

“And adapt,” Ho interjected.

“You have to listen and get to know your accounts and really develop a relationship,” Mametsuka said.

VegiWorks also keep its customers up to date on the latest in-season produce items through a weekly e-newsletter.