We’re celebrating National Entrepreneurs Day by spotlighting our favorite entrepreneur, Tropical’s founder Gerald York. As many of you know, Mr. York passed away a few months ago so this year is an especially emotional one. As everyone who had the pleasure of meeting him knows, he was a wonderful and inspirational man who loved his Tropical employees and customers very much. Mr. York started Tropical Foods along with his wife Betty 40 years ago. Like most entrepreneurs, his path to owning his own company had a lot of twists and turns.
Mr. York got into the industry purely by accident. A Dayton, Ohio native and University of Dayton graduate, he returned from the Korean War and went to the college’s placement office, looking for job leads. Having grown up in an area that was heavily linked to the automobile industry, he saw “ Dayton Nut Products Co” on the office list and assumed it was a screw and nut manufacturer. He walked in the door, smelled peanuts cooking and started to leave, but the owner grabbed him and gave him a sales job – for $70 a week. A lifelong career in the snack industry followed.
Through hard work and dedication, Mr. York eventually became president of Dayton Nut Products Co. He changed the name of the company to Trophy Nut Co. and moved the headquarters from Dayton to Matthews, NC since the owners wanted to relocate to the Southeast. In the early 70’s, the owners were approaching retirement and decided to sell the company. Unfortunately, not only was Mr. York left jobless, but he also had a sales agreement that kept him from competing with the buyers for five years. That experience taught Mr. York a valuable lesson. “I’ve been the president of a corporation and minority shareholder, and I can assure you that being president and majority shareholder is a lot better. You’re in control of your own future. Then, if you screw up all you have to do is look in the mirror. Your destiny is in your own hands.”
This experience spurred Mr. York to consider entrepreneurship. After two years as a consultant with a Chicago firm, he started Tropical Foods in Orlando, Florida. Then, in 1977 after the five-year competition clause period had elapsed, he returned to Charlotte and opened the second Tropical Foods location. His success mounted from there and the company has continued to grow year after year, now being run by Mr. York’s two daughters Carolyn Bennett and Angela Bauer. Mr. York admitted that success might look easy to an outsider, but “it took me 30 years and a lot of blood, sweat and tears. My first desk was a cardboard box. And the chairs in the office were folding chairs. We’ve come a long way, but I wouldn’t change my journey for anything.”
Tropical Foods has grown to six locations located in Orlando, Atlanta, Memphis, Washington DC, Dallas and corporate headquarters in Charlotte, NC.