Leo Rolandelli, aka the “Godfather of Asparagus” who was instrumental at Jacobs, Malcolm, and Burtt for nearly five decades, died Oct. 31. He was 77.
Rolandelli began working for JMB in 1963 and bought the company in 1968, according to a statement from the company. He helped make the company a fixture on the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market, and was president of the market’s merchant association while running JMB.
“Leo was a mentor and confidant to many of us whom came up under him in the asparagus industry,” Dan Miller, JMB production manager, said in the statement.
San Francisco market manager Michael Janis said helping run the market while running his own business was a big task.
“But it’s a position that he took seriously and something he really believed in,” Janis said in the statement. “He really was of the mindset that a rising tide lifts all ships. He understood the value of that sort of work. He knew it was critical.”
Rolandelli shifted JMB’s primary product interest from general produce to asparagus in the 1970s and he mentored and partnered with asparagus growers.
“Leo will long be remembered as one of the originators who helped so many families figure out how to market asparagus,” Jens Hutchens of JMB International said in the release. “He was the last member of his generation that helped to promote fresh green asparagus in everyday use.”
He was also central in helping develop the asparagus crop in Mexico, seeing it as a way to expand seasons, not as a competitor to the U.S., according to the statement.
“Knowing that competition was out there, Leo created the All Green Asparagus,” said Roland Acosta, who began working for Rolandelli in 1968. “He told growers not to throw the tips away and to make them a sellable item. By doing this he made another way to sell asparagus.”
“He was ‘old school’ and those who knew him had tremendous respect for him in the produce industry and for just being a great person,” JMB sales manager Chris Brazeel said in the release. “Unfortunately, we do not see many people like him anymore.”