What started out in 1910 as a side job to fill the summers for a man in the horse business in Benton Harbor, Mich., ended up getting the Litowich family out of horses and into produce.
Ben Litowich got into the produce business in 1910 at 16 years old, buying fruit and shipping it to Chicago. To get started, he borrowed $300 his first season. After making enough money throughout the season to pay back his debt, Litowich lost his last load and his profits for the season.
“He took chances,” said Bud Litowich, his son and part of the second generation to run the company. “It wasn’t always the right way, but in the end it was successful.”
The next year, he got right back into it, and within a few years purchased a Ford truck with hard rubber tires to get himself back and forth from Benton Harbor to his business on the 71st Street Market in Chicago, Bud Litowich said.
“He would spend the day buying on the Benton Harbor fruit market, then go home, take a bath, have dinner, head to the train, take the train two hours to Chicago, sleep until about 4 a.m., then take a taxi to the 71st St. Market and at 6 a.m., he got on a train and came back,” Bud Litowich said. “He did this six days a week.”
Bud Litowich joined his father in 1945, and the two continued to grow the business, acquiring bigger trucks to haul larger amounts. Eventually they gave up the Chicago part of the business, and became a broker and did transportation out of Benton Harbor.
Ben Litowich died in 1951, and Bud, who had become a partner, took over.
The company started operating in Florida over the winters, and eventually, business in Florida became more important than business in Michigan, Bud Litowich said. The company moved to its current headquarter city of Boca Raton, Fla., in 1962.
The third generation to join the company, Ben Litowich, Bud’s son, started his career by loading trucks on the market in the 1970s. Ben Litowich, current president, took the company from a six-person operation to one with more than 20, and launched a new company, Ben-Bud Growers.
“He (the original Ben Litowich) had a wonderful record for how honestly he did business,” Bud Litowich said. “My son Ben is doing it the same way now. He’s built the business larger and more successful than I ever did.”
Ben-Bud Growers was established specifically for grower agent representation, and also to be the importer for those growers, Ben Litowich said.
“Ben Litowich & Son and Ben-Bud Growers have had a strong focus on chain business,” Ben Litowich said. “We’ve had a tremendous expansion in retail business, and we have a tremendous customer base we’re very proud to be involved with, mostly in the Midwest and along the East Coast.”
The company is most active during the early months of the year in its Nogales, Ariz., office, which it opened more than 30 years ago. Guatemala is the company’s No. 1 contributor of product.
“We’re a huge importer of mangoes, and we’re extremely proud of our baby veg program,” Ben Litowich said.
The company carries 18 items in the line, including French beans, baby zucchini, yellow French beans and a bean medley.
4th Generation Organic Market
Ben Litowich’s son Bryan Litowich joined the company in 2005 as an inspector. He recently took a break to help with the company’s first retail store, a high-end supermarket called 4th Generation Organic Market. Ben Litowich’s daughter Ashley also is helping with the store, he said.
“Now it’s back to being the true Ben Litowich & Son again,” Bud Litowich said.