retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Normally, MNB would err on the side of being gallant and never mention a woman's age.

(Yes, that seems sexist. But I was raised to be a gentleman.)

But since the Los Angeles Times is taking note of this particular birthday, I think I will do the same.

Frieda Caplan, who has done so much to revolutionize the field of specialty produce with her Frieda's Finest brand, helping to popularize items that had never been hard of by most people, much less tasted, has just celebrated her 90th birthday - though, as the story notes, she remains chairman of the company and "still comes to the office each day, and signs all the checks to produce suppliers. (Her daughter, Karen Caplan, is president of Frieda's Inc.) Her gait has slowed, but her mind, her wit, and her enthusiasm for family, business and political affairs are as effervescent as ever."

Here's how it all started, according to the Times:

"Frieda graduated from UCLA with a degree in political science in 1945, and started working in the office of a lawyer who was head of the CIO political action committee for Los Angeles, one of many liberal political involvements across her career. In 1951 she married Alfred Hale Caplan, president of a longshoremen’s union and a labor relations consultant.

"Four years later she was working as a production manager for a nylon thread factory when she became pregnant, and looked for a job that would give her flexibility to take an extended leave to care for her child. She started working upstairs at the Seventh Street wholesale produce terminal in downtown Los Angeles, as a secretary for Giumarra Brothers Fruit Company’s stall, which was managed by her husband’s relatives.

"One day when her husband’s uncle was on vacation, she filled in as a cashier downstairs on the selling floor, and started selling mushrooms, which were a minor sideline for the company. Women sales vendors were even rarer – she was the only one at the time – but with her promotion mushroom sales took off." Several years later, she opened her own specialty produce business ... and helped to change the shape of the business.

So ... Happy Birthday, Frieda Caplan. And many more.
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