Texas Coffee Co. copes with loss, moves forward with optimism

When Carlo Busceme III died suddenly and unexpectedly last September, the question arose, “What now?” for the Texas Coffee Company.

Carlo had been president of the Beaumont business for more than 18 years when in 1999, his cousins Joseph F. Fertitta Jr. and Donald P. Fertitta took over management of the company founded in 1921 and famously known for its Seaport and TexJoy products.

Although Joseph had extensive business management experience and Donald had a background in industrial sales, Carlo conveyed a message to his two cousins when they arrived.

“The one thing Carlo told me when we got out here was … there will be no compromise,” Joseph told the Business Journal. “Our grandfather (Charles J. Fertitta Sr.) founded this business, and he was a man of integrity and moral fortitude. … We made a pledge to our family and to our stockholders that we were going to run this company like our grandfather ran it in the sense of integrity and in the sense of moral fortitude.”

In other words, Carlo told his cousins, “We’re going to do this right,” Joseph said. “We’re not going to compromise for us to profit.”

And that’s how Carlo lived his life, according to Joseph.

In 1999, because he knew the business so well, Carlo remained president, Joseph became vice president and secretary/treasurer and Donald vice president/GM. But titles meant nothing, according to Joseph, because the trio worked as a team.

“What I used to tell people when they asked how (we) three (got) along — I said a perfect match,” Joseph said. “I worked with Carlo for 18 and a half years and met with him every morning. In 18 and a half years, we never had a cross word. You tell me how many people you know that are in business with partners or relatives that can make that claim.

“Carlo and I didn’t always agree,” Joseph clarified. “We agreed to disagree sometimes, but we knew how to come to terms, and that’s what made it work. And with three people, that’s why it was a perfect balance because everybody knew their strengths and weaknesses, and that’s how we would delegate or dictate as to what we were going to do.

“It worked because Carlo was willing to communicate. I was willing to communicate, and Donald was willing to communicate everything that took place in this company.”

“Whenever Carlo passed, it was not only a shock to lose a business colleague, but it was a shock to lose somebody that was a confidant, somebody that was a friend — let alone a family member, somebody that could sit down with you and say, ‘Look, I hear what you’re saying, but look at it this way, think about it that way, and then sleep on it and we’ll talk again.’ … He was never demanding. He was never disrespectful. He was a businessman, but he was a kind businessman. He was a businessman that was like no other. … Carlo left an indelible mark on me in so many ways,” Joseph said.

But 96-year old businesses don’t survive on the sweat and blood of one man alone, and it wasn’t the first time the company had lost a valuable member.

“And we’re still here and competing in a market of giants,” Joseph said. “We’re the smallest player on the field. We’re the David and they’re the Goliath. We’re up against all of them. And yet here we are. … The reason we can compete with these giants is because we can do end-around a lot quicker than they can. We can make decisions a lot quicker than they can. We can move into the markets a lot quicker than they can.”

Making the highest quality products available to the customer is also at the top of the list when it comes to Texas Coffee Company’s philosophy.

“We’re buying a high-grade product, and we would never compromise, and for that reason, we would take a smaller profit margin and really get a better product out there for the consumer,” he said. “We’re held to the same standards that the big boys are held to — not only in manufacturing and in product, but also in the way we do business. If we’re going to tell you that TexJoy and Seaport are products that you know and trust, then we’ve got to gain that trust.”

Because Carlo was a working president that dabbled in almost every aspect of the plant, after his untimely death, the brothers realigned the management structure of the company.

Joseph F. Fertitta is now CEO/president; Donald P. Fertitta is executive VP – secretary/treasurer, Toby Castro is regional sales manager and Steve Lyle is divisional supervisor.

With a new management hierarchy in place, how does Texas Coffee Company hope to survive another century?

“I don’t have a crystal ball,” Joseph said. “I can look back to 1921. I can tell you where we’ve been and I can tell you where we are, and I can hope to know where we’re going.”

The future of the company, much like the mantra Carlo introduced to his two cousins when they took over management in 1999, will stay the same, Joseph said.

“We don’t compromise,” Joseph said. “We give … the consumer … a high-grade quality product at a competitively reasonable price and we do it consistently. When you pick up a jar of our red pepper, it’s going to be hot. When you pick up a jar of our black pepper, it’s going to be high-grade. When pick up our garlic powder, it’s not going to look like sawdust and it’s going to be domestic. When you pick up our steak seasoning, it’s going to taste the same it did 15 years ago. When you drink our coffee, it’s going to be the same it was 80 years ago, 90 years ago, because it’s the same recipe.”

But Joseph said he knows the company also has to introduce new ideas to remain competitive.

“We need to do blends because nobody can duplicate our blends,” he said. “They can mimic them but they can’t duplicate them.”

Three years ago, TexJoy introduced a pork blend called Butt and Rib Tickler, and one year later, a chicken blend Carlo creatively named.

“Carlo said let’s put a chicken on a rocket,” Joseph said. “I asked why and he said, ‘Well we can call it Rooster Booster.’ I said I like the name but let’s not put him on a rocket.”

Last year, TexJoy released a seafood blend as well, and all three have something in common.

“All of them have a little icon on them,” he said. “For example, the pork has a pig with sunglasses and a little apron that says T.J. for TexJoy.”

Why?

“Not everyone can speak English, but if you’ve got your child with you and they see that little pig or they see that little fish or that little chicken, they want it. I learned a long time ago that … kids are getting hooked on TexJoy,” he said.

And the brand seems to be becoming a proprietary eponym.

“When people say TexJoy, they don’t think spice, they think brand. TexJoy is a brand. Just like people ask for a Kleenex and mean a tissue, instead of saying put seasoning on it they say put TexJoy on it. When your company earns that kind of adoration, that means you’ve done your job. … When you’ve reached that level, you’ve accomplished what you want to accomplish, and I think we’ve reached that level,” he said.

The company is also considering releasing a TexJoy Old Fashioned Smoked Sausage in 2018, Joseph said.

“Will it happen? I don’t know because that’s a different breed of animal,” he said. “At this point, I’m talking to three meat packers because they all have to be USDA inspected.”

Joseph said he has high hopes moving forward.

“What is the future of this company? Going back to what we’re doing. We’re having market share growth. We’re having revenue growth. Any transition that happens like this is going to be a little rocky … but it’s just business as usual,” Joseph said.

Photo by Kevin King - Texas Coffee Company’s new management structure is Toby Castro, regional sales manager; Steve Lyle, divisional supervisor; Donald P. Fertitta, executive V.P. – secretary/treasurer; and Joseph F. Fertitta, CEO/president.

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