Over 100 years ago, S. Katzman Produce began as a small business in Tribeca with a horse and wagon, selling just collard greens, kale, mustard, turnips and yams.
Today, Samuel Katzman’s grandson, Stephen Katzman, runs the business out of the Hunts Point Market.
“During the Great Depression, my grandfather supported five families,” Katzman recalled. “My great aunt and great uncle were out of work. We shared in the uncertainty of being a country at war and the feelings of fear and being unsafe that came along with that. But we’re in the produce industry and we were responsible for keeping people fed.”
S. Katzman Produce is part of the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center, which supplies 25 percent of the produce purchased in New York City. The Produce Market has continued to feed New Yorkers throughout the pandemic, not closing for a single day. NYCEDC manages the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center.
Katzman, 65, has been in the family business since he was a kid. He spent every summer and vacation working at Katzman Produce.
He graduated Syracuse University in 1976 with a degree in accounting and had several job offers, but ultimately returned home to work.
“Once you’re in this business, you’re in it for life,” he said to the Bronx Times.
Katzman, who took over the company in the early 90s, recalled that there were just 13 employees when his grandfather ran Katzman Produce. Today, there are more than 400 employees.
His grandfather and dad Harold taught him about work ethic, how to treat people and most importantly, how to run a company. He has passed these values onto his kids Stefanie, Samuel and Robert, who all work for him.
“We do all of our business based on integrity,” he stressed. “You can’t make money all of the time but you have to be honest.”
According to Katzman, his grandfather used to close in August and his dad in February, but today it is a 24/7 business. With cell phones and computers, he and his staff are in constant communication with each other, the farmers and their clients.
The company survived the Great Depression, WWII, the Vietnam War, the recession in 2008, 9/11 and is now battling the challenges of COVID-19.
It has been quite an adjustment since the pandemic began, he explained. While meetings are virtual, the facility has remained open the entire time.
The company distributed masks and gloves, along with hand sanitizers and thermometers. They also hired two additional cleaning crews, divided up the office with plexiglass and regularly educated everyone on social distancing protocols.
“We have a very resilient, strong, dedicated and family-oriented workforce here,” Katzman said. “We have people whose parents used to work here before them. Taking care of our employees and their families, especially during tough times, is incredibly important to us.”
In addition to working 4 a.m. to 4 p.m., Katzman makes sure the company is there to help the community. For years, it has made donations to schools and those that face food insecurity.
As he looks to the future, he is happy he is in a family-run business. Though he is 65 years old, Katzman stressed that he has no plans for retirement.
“We’ve always s managed to make a living in produce,” he said. “Every day is exciting you never know what’s going to happen. I couldn’t walk away from this business today.”