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1 Tampa Food Families Oral History Project Oral History Program Florida Studies Center University of South Florida, Tampa Library DOI: T30 00008 Interviewee: Dan Fernandez (DF) Interviewer: Unknown Interview date: September 23, 1982 Transcribe d by: Rebecca Willman Transcription date: September 27, 2007 Audit Edit by: Nicole Cox Audit Edit date: October 04, 2007 Final Edit by: Catherine Cottle Final Edit date: November 12, 2008 Interviewer: This is an interview with, now manager, of Naviera Coffee [Company], Dan Fernandez. Many companies formed in the old country. Dan Fernandez: No. They all were formed here. I: Okay, who started the company? DF: This company? I: Yes. DF: My grandfather. His name was Carlos Menendez. And he o riginated the company with his brother, Jose Menendez. That was back in 1921. Now prior to that, they originated another coffee company, which was La Regulador a. They owned that for about three or four years, and then sold it. And they each took a trip bac k to Spain to see their families. And when they came back, then they well, my grandfather went to Tarpon Springs and opened up a restaurant. And he lost everything he had (laughs) doing that! So then he came back to Tampa, and he originated with his brothe r, like I said, in 1921, La Naviera. I: Okay, also going to ask you, how was the name derived, La Naviera? DF: All right, Naviera is the name of a steamship company in Spain, or a Spanish steamship company. And I imagine that he at one time or another when he did come to this country, he came in the Naviera lines, and the name I guess was attractive to him. And he said, "If I ever have a business, I will name it that."
2 I: And then, okay, how were the employees hired? Were they all Spanish speaking at the time? Or a mixture, like American DF: At the time? No. They were all Spanish speaking. Now you got to realize that back in 1921 Ybor City so was West Tampa was a self contained community, composed of Cubans, Spaniards, and Italians. And in order for you to do business in Ybor City, you had to speak Spanish. I: Right. DF: So you had to have people that were able to speak Spanish. And that's why I imagine that, you know, that's why they had people that only spoke Spanish. I: Right. And okay, how mu ch money was needed at the time to open the company? DF: At the time that he opened the company, he borrowed a hundred and fifty dollars from a friend of his, and that's how he started (laughs). I: (laughs) And then there in the time that the business w as going on, that the Depression, World War II, or the Civil Rights movement ever hurt the company? Like during World War II, I know (inaudible) as war. DF: I don't say that it hurt the company I: Oh, so what I mean by that was, did you lose your custom ers? DF: No. I: Many customers that you had DF: No. I: I figured the men would go to war, and the women stay home with the kids, if they had any. And sort of you know, had to tend to their own, and to Ybor City, in the heart of war. DF: Well, let's put it this way, as far as I know, I don't think it hurt the company. I can appreciate that a lot of the young boys from the local area went to war, and I appreciate that. But I think that the majority of the older people that stayed, which were the heavy coffee drinkers. Coffee tends to be a beverage that more mature individual drinks than versus, let's say the youth. I: Right. DF: Youth drinks pop, soda pop.
3 I: Right. Okay, and so in other words, it didn't hurt at all. No (inaudible) DF: I don't thin k so. I: Like when the blacks were rioting in 1964, you know, I thought maybe they might have tried to DF: Well, what it did at that time, like everything like everybody, let's put it this way. Like everybody that was in Ybor City, I think that what it hurt was the foot traffic. In other words, the people that used to come down to Ybor City and walk up and down the streets and do their shopping. I think it hurt that. Where we, I guess compensated for it, was the fact that we do serve chain stores. And in stead of coming to the counter, let's say, and buying the coffee, they would go ahead and buy it at the grocery store. But you must also realize one thing, which is that you're talking to about the late 1950s when there were a lot of cigar factories here i n Ybor City. There was a lot of people working here in the area. There were a lot of people walking around the area because they were working here. That no longer exists as you very well know. There's only what, about three cigar factories left in Tampa? I: Yes. DF: So I: Cigar DF: Times change, needs change. Today we service the state of Florida, whereas at that time, we were only concentrated in Tampa. I: Right. And in the Depression, you know, it didn't hurt nobody? Like DF: I imagine that it did. I: Money? DF: Let's put it this way, I recall you know, occasions when my grandfather and my father both, telling us that they would collect from their customers a nickel a week. Because that's the only way that they could you know, get any money. But what I can tell you by it is that, you know, we survived and we made a living, and it was it wasn't a real fancy living, but we did survive. And I think that coffee is one of the products that, whether you are in a depression, a recession, whatever, yo u're still going to have a market. I: Right. DF: It's not a luxury item, it's more or less a habit forming drink. And you need that cup of coffee in the morning if you're used to having it.
4 I: Okay, and on an average, how many Anglo Saxons, blacks, or S panish and Cubans drink your coffee? Now I know you don't have a DF: No, I know I: An average, but you'd say DF: I have no idea at all. I: You don't even know DF: I have no idea. I: Ten percent blacks or something? DF: I have like I said that I: No idea. DF: I wouldn't even venture to say, because I mean I: Right. DF: I don't know. I: Okay, then you had home deliveries in the beginning, and you have it now? DF: We did. And about three years ago we gave it up. It was no longer economica lly feasible to do so. I: So we'll say like, 1979? DF: About that time is when we gave it up, yes. I: Okay, and through the years, how did the packages cover differ? The package cover? DF: Well when we went to concentrate more, let's say, change store or grocery store and deliveries, what we did was upgrade our packaging. We bought a better bag, a better bag to seal the flavors in, then it would last longer. And then we went into heat sealing, which we had not before. We used to have, you know, regular tape. I: Right there. DF: Yes.
5 I: Okay, and how much coffee was roasted daily before it is packaged for market? DF: It varies. What time of the year, you're in I: Oh yes, in summer DF: In the summertime you don't do as well, in the winter you do more. Like I said, there's I don't know. I: You really can't tell (laughs). DF: You can't tell. I: Right. And who manufactures it right now? DF: The what? I: The coffee. Ya'll do, right? The packaging? DF: Yes. I: Okay. Okay, has the location of the mill or the mills ever affected the company? (inaudible) Now people don't want to come here at night, because of the black situation DF: No, I would say no. And I go back to saying in 1963, when we moved into the present building that we're in. Ybor City was down, and I think since then it has picked up some. I think it's in better position than it was then. But at that point in time, we had competition that moved out of Ybor City. We decided we wanted to stay in Ybor City. We originated in Ybor City we wanted to stay here, it is centrally located. Because our business is not directed to over the counter sales, it really doesn't affect us as to where we are. And as far as manufacturing is concerned, it is ideal for us here. It's centrally located. We can disperse our trucks all over, and it's a good location for us. Now you mentioned a little while ago about the riots. We had no problems, none at all. We had no problems during the riots at all. I: Right because any coffee companies, that would have been on 22 nd Avenue. Where they had some riot problems, because 22 nd [Street] where the riots began DF: You're talking about 22 nd Street. I: Right, 22 nd Street. DF: I imagine so.
6 I: Yes, that's what I meant. DF: I imagine so. Yes, I imagine that would be a worse area than this one. I: Right. And okay, how many managers has this company had? DF: Well, my grandfather managed it until the time he passed away. And then my father and my mother, and then (inaudible). I: That was (inaudible) Okay. And when [the] Ybor City fire came about, you didn't lose any customers? DF: Fire? I: Yes, they said there was a fire here, in nineteen DF: Oh my goodness, I that I can't answer, I don't remember I: No? DF: I don't know. I: No. And how many diffe rent mills does this company have? DF: We have one mill per city, we'd have different labels. I: Different labels and one mill? Okay, what kind of labels are they? DF: Well we package Naviera, we package Norma, we package Aguilla, we package Montaa we package (inaudible). I: Okay. And how many employees now work for the company? DF: Now, presently we have twelve. I: Twelve employees. Okay. Okay, and do you think the company will ever go out of business? DF: No. I: No? (laughs) hope not! Oka y, do you think there's a good location for business? DF: Depends on what kind of business. I: Well, coffee business.
7 DF: Yes, I think it's a good location for it, like I told you know, centrally located. I: Yes, right. And how many college students come around and even know that there is a coffee mill in this area? DF: Very few. I: Very few DF: Very few. I: And did your company supply the coffee for the cigar factories in the thirties [1930s], forties [1940s] and sixties [1960s]? DF: Yes. I: Okay, so they really and did the company ever belong to union? No, right? DF: No. I: Okay, in what did Emodelo join the company? DF: We bought Emodelo six years ago, so that was about 1976. And about three years ago we bought Norma I: Okay, so who were the company's competitors when it first began? DF: Oh my goodness, back at that time, there must have been about ten of them. There used to be La Flor there used to be Colonial. There used to be La Floridana Carac orello is still in existenc e. There used to be, what all these and Anto Modelo, Norma I think there was somebody else, and I can't remember now who they I: What about Hillsborough Coffee Company? DF: Hillsborough Coffee is an American coffee. I: Yes, right. DF: We are also. But at the time we were talking about then, we were strictly doing Cuban style or demitasse coffee. We went into the American business, American coffee business, oh, about fifteen years ago. We did do that. And in that line, as far as competition is conce rned, then you have, well, all the national brands that are here locally. But as far as roasters are concerned, you only have Brisk coffee, Stanley Brothers, and Hillsborough Coffee and ourselves that roast coffee. And (inaudible) and the Cuban coffee. Tho se are the only roasters left here.
8 I: Really have four or five. DF: Yes. I: Okay, now here's one how did Naviera Coffee begin? How did you continue? DF: When we went to American coffee, we fifteen years ago, like I said we knew we had established ou r name as Naviera Coffee, and that was associated with a dark roast demitasse type coffee. So we wanted to create a new name for the American coffee, and we saw that people would not automatically think, Hey, this is Cuban coffee. It isn't. It's a regular hotel and restaurant blend, and we've done quite well with it. I: And from what country are the beans from? The coffee beans? DF: Central and South America. I: Peru and DF: Oh, Peru, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, Columbia, Brazil, Santa Domingo, Costa Rica. It depends what's available at what time of the year. I: And DF: And match the price. I: Right. And how's the coffee on the market that's privy to that? Other products DF: We have a segment of our production is distributed by our own trucks to the chain stores directly. And then we have a segment of our business that we send, and we sell through brokers. And we send through a common carrier I: Okay, now is your grade of coffee mild or strong? DF: Which one? I: Well DF: Are you talking about the American coffee? I: Talking the Cuban? Cuban coffee? DF: Cuban coffee you can have a strong you can have very many blends of coffees and very many different tastes of coffees. Now we have them that are stronger than others, and we have a mild er with it. Still within the Cuban coffee. But we do have different blends in there that you can pick from. In other words, you can get real fine sweet and mild coffees and roast them either in a light roast, which could be your
9 American coffee, or you can roast any of them dark roast. Not quite about a I would imagine it's a about like the color of your shirt I: What like this [points to shirt] light brown? Darkish? DF: Yes. A darkish brown. I: Darkish. DF: And that would be your Cuban coffee, and then you can also, if you happen to buy, you know, cheaper coffees, beans where the coffees are not as mild as sweet then you're going to have a bitterer coffee. I: Right. Okay, now here's a is the coffee ground by hand now? Or by machine? DF: No, mac hine. I: Okay. And which supermarkets and family stores carry your brand of coffee? DF: All the major [grocery] chain stores here. I: Kash n' Karry DF: Oh yes. Kash n' Karry, U Save, Family Mart, Albertsons, Winn Dixie and Publix what else is there? I: Let's see Enterprise DF: Well, they're not here locally any more I: Right, they used to be. DF: They used to be, we used to sell them. And then I would say ninety five percent of the independent stores also. I: Right. Like their own businesses DF: Yes, like (inaudible) and (inaudible) and La Teresita you know the independent grocers. I: Okay, what restaurants buy the coffee do you sell the coffee to? Like Columbia, I know you got it DF: No, Columbia roast their own at one time, oh that was another coffee mill that existed at a time.
10 I: Okay. DF: Columbia coffee, yes. And they shut down their plant as far as selling to the public, and they just roast enough for their own consumption. I: Okay, in other words, restaurants, like you mentio ned La Teresita and DF: Oh yes, I would say we service about, I would say, again, about ninety five percent of all the Latin restaurants here in Tampa. And then in American coffee, percentage wise I don't know what I: Yes. DF: It's not as great. You k now, there you have a lot of national brand competition that you're in. But we do have our share. I: Oh yes. And how many ounces are on today's package as compared to the old packages in the first beginning? DF: The first beginning, I don't know. But I can tell you since I've been here, twenty five years, we originally were bagging fifteen ounces. And about, about twelve years ago, we went to fourteen ounces. We're talking under Naviera and La Norma. La Norma went to twelve ounces, and about five years ago, (inaudible) also bags twelve ounces. Now we bag twelve ounces in Montaa cans, and we bag ten ounces in Aguila cans. But fourteen ounces is what we bag Naviera under. Now our all our American coffee is bagged in pounds, sixteen ounces. I: How are you ranked with other coffee companies? Like you say you're like third? Or DF: Let me put it this way. I don't rank myself with anybody, I just take care of the business that I have I: Right. DF: And standing doesn't mean anything to me. I: That's true, that's true. DF: The name of this game is, like the name of everybody that's in business it's not how much you sell, its how much you make out of what you sell. That's all. I: Yes. And okay, how many commercials have been done? Advertising your coffee?
11 DF: Well, presently advertising and let's see, La Gaceta and (inaudible) In two Latin radio stations. And we have, in the past, advertised on television in Miami, Caf Aguila. Which we also bag. I: It's never advertised in Tampa. DF: No. I: Okay. A nd okay, what family records were kept? DF: Such as? I: Of the coffee, you know, like, how many like when it first began? What records, you know, of your grandfather started [the] company, like he might have kept some records? Like how many DF: Like how many pounds of coffee he was selling? I: How many pounds of coffee he would sell, right. Or import? DF: Yes, we have all that information. (Buzzer sounds in background) I: (inaudible) Okay now, let's see. Okay, now why were most of these mills lo cated in Ybor City? DF: Because the concentration of population of Latin (inaudible) was here. I: That's why? Okay, yes, because I was going to say it's compared to Central Tampa and Eastern Tampa and that DF: Because there weren't any Latin's in tha t area. I: Right. DF: You had the Latin's all concentrated either like I said, Ybor City or West Tampa. And all the cigar industries. So back at that time, you know, they shopped and lived and worked in Ybor City and West Tampa, and that's it. They very rarely went out of there. All this (coughs) all this came to an end after World War II. And World War II changed everything. In the sense that the Latin element that was here at the time became more Americanized with war. And then after the young boys cam e back from war, they had become more Americanized than what they were before. And therefore, they spread out throughout the whole City of Tampa. Which, then the need, again goes for Ybor City because you only spoke Spanish. Well, after World War II, throu gh education and the
12 war and everything else and I guess it's second third generations after the immigrants came, that the necessity wasn't there. I: Okay and what percentage of management were women? DF: Of management where? I: Here. DF: Well, my mo ther was. But she was the daughter of the owner. I: Yes. And then what percentage of the workers were women? DF: Women, we don't have any except my wife who works in the office out there I: Yes. DF: And my mom has consequently retired since then. We did have a lady that used to help us bag, but she retired. So that's it. I: Okay, and this will be the last question what were the different price ranges? From it's early beginning up to now? DF: Eight cents per pound. I: Eight cents per pound. DF: Yes. That's what it was at the beginning. And today let's see, our most economical blend is a dollar [and] nine [cents] in the Cuban coffee. And the American coffee is two [dollars] fifty [cents]. And also about five years ago when the coffee prices went c razy, it got up to four dollars. But I: Okay, yes. DF: Okay? I enjoyed the interview. I: Okay. end of interview
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Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (20 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (digital, PDF file)
Florida food families oral history project
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Interview conducted September 23, 1982.
Dan Fernandez discusses the founding of Naviera Coffee Mills, its long history, and the current state of the business.
Naviera Coffee Mills, Inc.
Family-owned business enterprises
University of South Florida Libraries.
Florida Studies Center.
Oral History Program.
University of South Florida.
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