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VegiWorks Inc. grows thriving business from humble origins

SAN FRANCISCO -- Shing Ho took his background in catering for renowned San Francisco-based Bill Graham Presents and fashioned a wholesale produce company -- VegiWorks Inc. -- that delivers fresh produce to its clients.

His days as a caterer brought him in close contact with restaurants in the San Francisco Bay area. He and his godbrother, Nathan Seto, whose parents owned a produce store in the Chinatown section of San Francisco, launched into the business of delivering fresh produce primarily to high-end restaurants. They started in 1992 with one account and a pickup truck purchased by Mr. Seto's father. Today, VegiWorks has about 70 employees -- mostly full time -- and a fleet of 18 trucks.

"We had six or seven contacts in a few days and got four accounts," Mr. Ho said of the company's start. They knew then that they could grow a business base, he said. In addition to high-end restaurants, VegiWorks delivers fresh produce to corporate cafeterias in Silicon Valley as well as hotels, stores and caterers throughout the San Francisco Bay area. The company also provides nationwide shipping.

"We try to give the best service possible, Mr. Ho said. "We hand-pick items restaurants need. Several months ago, Mr. Ho moved VegiWorks to the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market. The location has given the business easy access to vendors on the marketplace. "We hand-shop here and South San Francisco at the Golden Gate Produce Terminal, Mr. Ho said.

VegiWorks opened a warehouse near Candlestick Park in San Francisco in 1992, and then later moved its operation to a 16,000-square-foot warehouse in the city in 1996. The company is occupying the 8,000-square-foot space on the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market previously occupied by Earl's Organics, which moved to a larger location several hundred yards away on the market.

VegiWorks has kept its warehouse location for a combined total of 24,000 square feet. Though the new space is only half the size of its warehouse, Mr. Ho said that the configuration is more efficient, the location is more centralized and there is more room for big trucks to unload.

VegiWorks has enjoyed a 12 - 15 percent increase in sales year to year for the past few years, Mr. Ho said. The company delivers in California as far south as San Jose, east to Walnut Creek and north to the Napa-Sonoma area. Ninety percent of the company's customer base in the Napa-Sonoma area is vineyards and country clubs. VegiWorks uses four or five trucks just to cover its accounts in San Francisco.

Mr. Ho said that VegiWorks handles "Asian, Hispanic, tropical and Carribean items, totaling about 800 different items. "We're like a little farmer's market, he said.

In early July, VegiWorks hired Dan Avakian to the position of vendor and public relations liaison. Mr. Avakian previously worked for Organic Express across the way on the market. An industry veteran, Mr. Avakian co-hosted the nationally syndicated radio show, The Produce Pair. The show recently ceased its seven-year run.