Charles Ciruli Jr.: Building a legacy from the ashes

07/23/2010 02:53:04 PM
Don Schrack

For the Ciruli family of Colorado, the path to success had to be traveled twice.

As Charles Ciruli Jr. began his college years, the future looked bright. His father, Charles Sr., founded Ciruli Bros. in 1940, and over two decades the company became a successful grower-shipper.

Young Ciruli’s plan was simple: graduate from Arizona State University and join his father’s business.

It was not to be.

The sudden death of Charles Sr. in the early 1960s left the company rudderless. It collapsed.

A few years later, armed with his college degree and his father’s black book of customers, young Charles set out to resurrect Ciruli Bros. It was an exhausting journey.

“He’d do the onion harvest in New Mexico, then move down to Nogales (Ariz.) for the winter and early spring,” said his son, Chris Ciruli.

Late spring found Charles Ciruli Jr. in Bakersfield, Calif., for peppers and melons before moving to Fresno, Calif., for the summer tree fruit season and then south to Chula Vista, Calif., for fall vegetables.

Not all of his relationships with the myriad suppliers were business only. There was the late Sam Parnagian, patriarch of the family that built Fowler Packing Co. Inc., Fowler, Calif.

“What attracted my dad to Chuck was — even at a young age — his enthusiasm, his passion for the business,” said Dennis Parnagian, co-owner and president of Fowler Packing.

“He was committed, always had a positive attitude, had a joy for life and the business and worked tirelessly.”

The combination of attitude and work ethic developed accounts across the country, and “he supported them really well as he did the shippers,” Parnagian said.

Despite his constant travels — what he called the rotation — Charles Ciruli Jr. found time to establish regional offices in Phoenix; Los Angeles; Yuma, Ariz.; Salinas, Calif.; and Santa Maria, Calif., in addition to Fresno and Bakersfield, Chris Ciruli said.

By the mid-1980s, Ciruli Bros. LLC had become a fixture in Nogales. Ciruli ended the rotation, in part because of the growing popularity of mangoes from Mexico.

As more and more importers entered the mango business, the company encountered a hurdle.

“When the market fell, it would pull us into it,” Chris Ciruli said.

For Charles Ciruli Jr., the hurdle presented yet another opportunity.

“With the improved technology, Dad saw the ability to create better treatment for yellow-skin mangoes — the champagne mangoes — and made the move in the late 1990s,” Chris Ciruli said.

At the time, few yellow-skin mangoes were coming to the U.S., but yellow-skin is soon to become the second-largest imported mango variety, he said.


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