When Tom Brugato was about 9 years old, he and his dad would stop off at Pacific Coast Fruit Co. in Portland, Ore., to pick up a supply of produce for the Thriftmart grocery store his father managed.
Little did Brugato know that a few decades later, not only would he be president of that produce company, but he would be married to the owners’ daughter.
Brugato worked his way through grade school, high school and college at the grocery store and said he felt a special affinity for the produce department, where he assisted the produce manager and filled in when he was on vacation.
“That was the place I gravitated toward,” he said.
After graduating from Oregon State University, he went to work for the United Grocers co-op, where he wrote the weekly newspaper ads for several retail banners.
After three years, he signed on with a food broker, where he represented several manufacturers’ products.
In 1993, a year after marrying Nancy Nemarnik, daughter of Emil and Katherine Nemarnik, who owned Pacific Coast Fruit Co., he was asked to join to the firm to head up its brokerage department.
Over the next few years, he did myriad jobs at the firm, including tomato repacking, sales and fresh-cut manufacturing.
In 2014, Brugato, his wife, and brother-in-law, David, bought the company, and Brugato became president.
While he takes his job seriously, Brugato also likes to have fun.
“I have a very playful side that I like to extend to friends, family and people I work with,” he said. “I like to be able to make people laugh.”
Brugato said one of his life goals is to help people enjoy new experiences.
“If they were to change my title, it would be chief experience officer,” he said.
“I like to take people to different places and show them things they have never seen before.”
For example, he said he gets excited about taking customers to a grower’s field.
He has surrounded himself with great people “who do most of the heavy lifting,” he said.
That gives him time to work with the Produce Marketing Association, serve United Fresh Produce Association as chairman of the wholesale board and serve on a number of boards and committees of Pro*Act, the Monterey, Calif.-based foodservice distribution and marketing network.
He enjoys rubbing shoulders with other company owners and presidents in order to “bring ideas back to our company.”
“Innovation is everything to me,” he said.
David Nemarnik, CEO of Pacific Coast Fruit Co., praised Brugato for his work ethic.
“He’s always been a guy who rolls up his sleeves and gets in,” he said. “If you need any help with something, he’s the guy who’s going to help you.”
He’s fun to work with, smart and creative, he said.
“He’s all the things you want in a good leader.”