Tina Fitzgerald combined her upbringing on a family farm with her passion for the restaurant industry to form the career she has today, a part of the Subway group to start Independent Purchasing Cooperative.
Fitzgerald, now director of produce and corporate responsibility for the Miami-based purchasing cooperative, got her start with a Subway development agent in Oregon and Washington after working her way up through the foodservice industry since working in a family restaurant at the age of 10.
At the time, Subway’s development agents helped develop franchises in their territories.
“I had been buying, and I’d done some contracting for food items and distribution with Subway before IPC,” Fitzgerald said.
What happened next, in the years before the cooperative’s formation in 1996, Fitzgerald sees as one of her greatest accomplishments.
“Developing this produce program was a huge undertaking. I didn’t think it would be as difficult as it was, but it turned out to be a major endeavor,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald and Mike Spinazzola, now president of San Diego-based Diversified Restaurant Systems, which works with the cooperative, traveled the country visiting hundreds of suppliers and vendors to find the ones that would fit their program.
At the same time, the cooperative’s executives had to bring the franchisees on board with a centralized produce purchasing system.
“She is very passionate at making sure the franchisees are delivered what we set up and what they are promised they’ll get from a quality standpoint,” Spinazzola said.
“It’s all about making sure that we never run out of supply, and that our suppliers feel and believe that they are partners. I think as a buyer that’s what we’re supposed to do, and she does a great job with that — balancing, let’s say, our needs, with those of the supply chain.”
Procacci Bros. Sales Corp., Philadelphia, has been working with Fitzgerald for 13 years supplying cucumbers, peppers, onions and tomatoes, said J.M. Procacci, chief operating officer.
“There are very few people you come across in this business who really know the topics,” Procacci said.
“We’ve worked closely with her on topics of social responsibility and produce issues, and we’ve learned more from her than she probably has from us.”
Bruce Taylor, president of Salinas, Calif.-based Taylor Farms Inc., said Fitzgerald and the Subway chain are one of his company’s longest standing customer partners.