Valley Wide Beverage founder and CEO Lou Amendola, center, stands with sons Nick, left, and Kenny, right, who are executives in the company, in front of their new distribution center and headquarters being built in south Fresno. Photo by David Castellon
Written by David Castellon
Lou Amendola has never been short on ambition.
He started in the beer business back in 1981 buying a Yuba City Coors distributorship, and over the next two years he bought two more, widening his distribution area.
Then in 1984, Amendola took the chance and bought a much larger distributorship in Fresno, Cencal Beverage, which he renamed “Valley Wide Beverage Co.” and consolidated his businesses here.
Earlier this month, Amendola, now CEO of Valley Wide Beverage — with “Company” recently omitted from the name — paid a visit to a building under construction in a former farm field in south Fresno, south of North and East Avenues.
Fresno’s hot spot
This area, within a “triangle” of intersecting freeways, has gotten a lot of attention of lately, as both Amazon and Ulta Beauty are building large distribution centers there, and city officials are promoting it as a place for more e-commerce and distribution operations.
In between the Amazon and Ulta construction sites sits what in a few months will be Valley Wide Beverage’s new, nearly 300,000-square-foot distribution center and offices.
When asked if he could have imagined having a business this size when he got into beer distribution, Amendola, now 67, looked around the massive, currently vacant space and said, “Not even a little bit.”
On the growth track
In the years since coming to Fresno, Amendola bought numerous other beer distribution businesses, including ones in Visalia and Merced, consolidating all of them to his current 140,000-square-foot facility, a little more than a mile east of the new facility under construction.
Today, Valley Wide distributes most every beer on the market — with the exception of Anheuser-Busch products —from southern Stanislaus County down south to Kings and Tulare counties.
“We service about 2.5 million people in our area,” all restaurants, stores and taverns licensed to sell beer “Over 4,000 accounts and 1,000 different brands.”
“I walk in here and can’t even believe it, that we were able to grow at this pace and be at the size we are,” Amendola said.
But the latest growth of the business he now runs with his three sons — John, Nick and Kenny — didn’t come without some pains.
Amendola built his current facility about 20 years ago, and since then, space has become an issue, particularly after buying out a Coors-Corona distributorship in Modesto a couple of years ago, increasing the amount of beer he has to distribute out of the Fresno facility.
Space has become such a problem that Valley Wide has had to turn down distributing some new beer brands, prompting consideration of relocating to a bigger space or expanding the existing one.
But the decision stopped being a matter of choice after it was determined that the California High Speed rail line in Fresno was coming through Valley Wide Beverage’s facility.
High-speed rail’s touch
More precisely, elevated tracks would run 85 feet above the property — 68 feet above the distribution center’s ceiling.
While a train running overhead is something the business could cope with, Amendola said what he couldn’t work around was concrete pillars supporting the tracks overhead in his parking lot, taking up about 100 spaces for the company’s 300 employees.
“And it cut right through the property. I mean, we weren’t allowed to gas trucks under there, you weren’t allowed to park under there.”
On top of that, the coming high-speed rail line prevents Valley Wide from expanding in most every direction, so relocating became the best option, the CEO said.
Helping feed the poor
These days, Amendola seems surprisingly unbothered by this turn of events because, he said, he has figured out how to make something good out of it.
“It’s worthless to us, but we’re trying to make a deal — I’m confident it’s going to happen — where we donate that property and facility to the Community Food Bank.”
Well, not exactly donate. Amendola figures that once the new distribution center is up and running in February or March 2018, he’ll sell the vacated building to the Food Bank for about $5 million.
As for why, Amendola said he’s been involved in supporting the Food Bank in the past, “but not to this extent.”
That changed when he found out that the organization, which supplies food to about 200 food pantries and other food programs for the needy in Fresno, Madera, Kings, Kern and Tulare counties, had to decline some food donations because of insufficient room at its South Fresno warehouse.
Officials with the organization didn’t respond to interview requests, but Amendola said, “The silver lining came when I found the Food Bank needed some place to go. I could sell that [property] on the open market for several million dollars more in a couple of months.”
“Right now, I think they have 2,000 square feet of refrigeration,” Amendola said of the Food Bank’s current facility. “We have almost 40,000. So they’ll be able to take truckloads of fruits and vegetables that they normally couldn’t take, and the farmers would just have to throw it away. Now they’re going to be able to get all that excess produce — fruits and vegetables — and distribute it out to the Valley so kids won’t be going to bed hungry.”
Sweetening the deal
At least initially, the 140,000 square feet would be far more than the Food Bank needs, but it would have plenty of room to grow, Amendola said, adding that the Food Bank has a smaller number of employees, so the parking spaces lost to the train platform wouldn’t be a problem for the organization.
On top of that, he plans to leave behind the current office furniture, refrigeration system and the loading and packing equipment being used there, as he intends to buy those items new for the new facility.
He estimated the value of the current facility at $6.5-$7 million and the furniture and equipment at about $3 million, so after the Food Bank buys the facility, he figures he will have donated about $4 million.
“We‘re buying everything new because they need all that stuff and can use it,” said Amendola, adding that he wants the food bank to relocate to a place that’s move-in ready.
“And for us, we’ve been fortunate and are able to do it,” he said. “We looked at [distribution] facilities all over the country, and we have the newest and the best.”
Expansion in the future
The extra space will allow the company to grow, which could include distributing soft drinks, too, as Chicago-based Reyes Beverage Group, the nation’s largest beer distributor, penned a deal earlier this year to be the exclusive distributor of Coca-Cola products in California and Nevada.
Amendola said that has opened the door to him considering the possibility of Valley Wide Beverage distributing other soft drink brands in the Valley, and once the new building is finished he would have the space to take on those additional products.
“It’s a very good situation for us. We get a new, large, state-of-the-art facility that we’re building at $30 million-plus, and they’re going to get a facility they can use for the next 25 years.”