A Next-Generation Entrepreneur: Puccia family legacy lives on

Owner of Sand Flats Produce Company, Vincent G. Puccia stands for a portrait in front of his delivery truck in Watertown. Kara Dry/NNY Business

BY: Rachel Burt
Vincent G. Puccia is following in the footsteps of at least three generations of Puccias before him, creating his own produce business from scratch.
 

    Vincent started Sand Flats Produce in August of 2019. He works directly with restaurants and local businesses, taking orders for fruit and vegetables, picking up produce from his supplier in Syracuse and running deliveries to his clients.   

    The Puccia family has been in the Watertown area since Vincent’s great-grandparents came to the U.S. from Italy and Sicily in 1912. The family has been in the produce business almost as long as they’ve been Americans. 

    “My great grandfather on my father’s side had a produce store over here in Public Square, Larry Puccia and Company” Vincent said. “Then, my grandfather has his own produce business where he would go to Syracuse three or four days a week, pick up stuff early in the morning, come up and then drive up as far as Canton and Potsdam to make deliveries.” 

    Vincent’s company name is a reference to where he and his family grew up. The Sand Flats neighborhood, on the west end of the city of Watertown, was where many of the Italian immigrants who came to the region in the late 19th and 20th centuries settled and built their lives. 

    “Actually, it was my wife who came up with the name of the business, and the logo, which is the Italian flag with basil, garlic and tomatoes,” he said. 

    He said his grandparents tended to a large, community garden in the neighborhood. Vincent said he suspected that so many Italians settled in that region because the sandy soil was good for growing crops, which many Italian immigrants did at the time. 

    Vincent’s business mirrors that of his grandparents and great-grandparents, but unlike many other family businesses, it hasn’t been handed down from generation to generation. 

    “My business actually wasn’t succeeded from my father’s business,” said Vincent’s father David G. Puccia. “My father was still in business when I decided I wanted into the produce business, so I actually took over his uncle’s business.” 

    David built his business through the 1980s and 1990s. In 1985, he built a warehouse at 200 Howk Street that allowed him to receive products directly from producers in California and Florida. 

    In 2011, David sold his business to the Maines Paper and Food Services company, while retaining ownership of the warehouse. In 2015, Maines pulled out of the Watertown area, leaving the warehouse empty. 

    Vincent said that besides keeping some of his equipment at his father’s warehouse, he has no physical presence. 

    “My business is entirely mobile, which is beneficial for me,” he said. “I just don’t have to worry about stocking anything When it comes to produce, when I start stocking stuff I’ll inevitably have loss and all that other stuff.” 

    Vincent’s brother Steven V. Puccia is a manager at Syracuse Banana Company, one of the largest restaurant and institutional produce suppliers in the state. Vincent gets all his produce from Syracuse Banana, which has helped him keep costs low by outsourcing the long-haul shipping, storage and loss-prevention side of the produce business. 

    He said that currently, he is focused on getting his feet underneath him and building the connections he needs to eventually bring on another staff member to handle deliveries, while he handles the sales side. 

    Vincent said he used to work in sales for Maines when they were using his fathers’ warehouse, and has done other sales jobs as well. 

    “I’d like to get to the point where I have a couple guys on the road,” he said. “My strong suit is sales, so I want to be face to face with the customers.” 

    Vincent and his brothers grew up working with their father, but they were never forced into the business. 

    “I never really pushed it on them,” David said. “They all worked for me when they were going through college, of course, and I left it up to them what direction they wanted to pursue.” 

    He said his younger sons, Vincent and Steven, seemed to gravitate more towards the produce industry than David, his oldest son, ever did. They used their long-standing knowledge to forge their own paths. 

    “It seems to come natural to them,” David said. “It’s a business, which you need to acquire knowledge of over years of time. The best way to do that is through experience.”