IT ALL STARTED WITH A LEMON...
Erasmo Armata came from Sicily in the late 1890’s through Ellis Island as a poor immigrant. Erasmo settled in Manhattan and frequented the Fruit Auction in lower Manhattan (later the location of the World Trade Center) where he purchased lemons and sold them out of a burlap bag he carried on his back, as he walked the streets of Manhattan. As people continued to buy the lemons, Erasmo began to develop a solid customer base. To continue to fulfill the growing needs of his customers, he traded in his burlap bag for a pushcart with additional items.
At the time, the Washington Street Market was the epicenter of the New York produce world. In the early days, the market had cobblestone streets and horse-drawn delivery carts that were unloaded by hand, as the day of the forklift had not yet arrived. When trucks were introduced, there were still no platforms, so the produce was merely moved from truck to street level and sold. Men worked long, hard days; a sixteen or eighteen hour day was typical. In the winter, Erasmo and other workers of the Market kept warm by big steel oil drums that were used as fire cans on most street corners.
As Erasmo’s customer base grew, he expanded to sell other fruits, which also meant trading in the pushcart for a horse & wagon. Later, as business continued to grow, Erasmo bought a small wholesale store in the middle of one of the blocks of the Washington Street Market – a bold business move at the time.
Erasmo’s family grew, too. He had five sons and one daughter. Four of the sons, Pete, Frank, Joe and Nick went into business with him, and the Armata family had now become wholesalers in the Washington Street Market. Soon Erasmo had the opportunity to buy a store on the corner of Washington and Chambers Street. The corner store proved to be a much better location that helped the business flourish, and Erasmo quickly became known for providing the highest quality fruit.
After 9th grade, Nick Armata first began to work in the family business with his father and three brothers. In the late 1950’s, Nick approached the family and suggested in order for the company to excel, they needed to expand into vegetables and get into the Western produce business for products such as lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. This was a significant and essential move and meant someone would have to go to California and represent the company.
Erasmo’s sons, Nick and Frank, went to meet people in California and started developing relationships on the West Coast. This wasn’t easy, as they had to break through many lines of stereotypes, being young, Italian and from New York. So it was decided that someone would stay in California to cultivate those critical relationships. The older brother, Frank, was then chosen to be the “West Coast guy.” Frank agreed, and relocated to Arizona to continue to represent E. Armata and prove that the Armata family was honest, hardworking, and did business with integrity. This move helped solidify E. Armata as a key wholesaler of Western vegetables.
With Frank’s move, he became a ground broker; the old way to buy. He often had to stay in dingy, second-rate hotels, away from his Arizona home, as he followed the crops from Arizona to southern California and traveled all the way up the coast, deep into northern California. In order to ensure that only the best produce was shipped, this was mandatory…he had to personally walk the fields, and select the specific lots of the vegetables that would be shipped to New York. He was known as the family’s “bird dog,” and the relationships he forged 40 years ago still exist today.
While Frank bought products on the West Coast, Joe was subsequently purchasing fruit through the New York Auction, which at the time was the way it was done. He would go to rail cars and bid on lots of already packaged fruit from the downtown auction. All products that were sold at the Washington Street Market came in and went out the same day since there was little to no storage, and no refrigeration. At the time, all products were shipped in big, heavy, wooden boxes, and moved throughout the market using steel hand trucks with steel wheels that clanked on the cobblestone roads of Washington Street.
Erasmo was very proud of his product and only accepted the best. Everyone knew he would only buy and sell products that met his high standards, guaranteeing his customers would get the very best when they bought fruit and produce from him. To keep the whole operation running smoothly, Uncle Pete focused on handling all the money and accounting in the office above the corner wholesale store, while Erasmo and the other brothers bought and sold the products.
When New York City decided to build the Trade Center, the city needed to find a new location for the Washington Street Market. The marshland in Hunts Point, New York was identified, and the new, state-of-the-art Hunts Point Market was built in 1967.
In 1968, at the age of 85, Erasmo Armata passed away before the company he built from the ground up moved to its new location. Erasmo’s four sons completed the move, and E. Armata, Inc. became one of the original 128 companies to occupy the new Hunts Point Market. At that time, E. Armata had one location in Row A, also known as “Broadway,” and over the years they have expanded to multiple locations throughout the market. Through the years, the number of companies in the market has been reduced to 45, as some companies moved, some went out of business, while others grew. The Hunts Point Market to this day is still the largest market in the country.
E. Armata continues to be a successful, hands-on company, now with multiple divisions of high-quality products including fruits, vegetables, tomatoes, mushrooms, and specialty items. E. Armata presently employs a hand-picked team of hardworking, dedicated and honest people. This team has the desire and heart for this business that Chris and Paul grew up with; a team that will propel E. Armata into the future. The brothers know their father and grandfather would be very proud of what they have continued to accomplish with the company. Chris and Paul are also very proud of the people who work here. The family tradition of honor, quality, and hard work will continue with the 4th generation Armatas, Chris’s children, Nicky, Chelsea, and Michael. Each with their unique talents in business management, accounting, and sales, E. Armata’s 4th generation has been brought up, like generations before them, learning the business from the bottom, so they can continue to uphold the traditions their great-grandfather started. A company with an obsession for quality, and a desire to sell nothing but the best fruit and produce, with the best service possible, is what the Armata family strives for.