Like most of us, Andrea Giraldo looks forward to her first morning cup of coffee. But it’s not just about waking up. For this Pearl River resident, that brew is a daily reminder of her roots: The coffee is her own brand, which sources beans grown on her family’s ancestral farm in Colombia.
The brand, Giraldo Farms, also happens to be a cornerstone of her larger business, A&G Trading, an importer and distributor of specialty foods. Though her focus is on South American products — like fiery habañero sauces and tropical fruits in syrup — Giraldo also carries goods from around the world, like French lentils or dried mushrooms from Italy.
“I distribute anything that is natural, organic, gourmet, or unique,” explains Giraldo, whose offerings include winter and summer truffles (there is a difference) and luxury crabmeat that her clients can’t get enough of, even at $18 a can.
Even from an early age, Giraldo was an international traveler. Born in Manhattan and raised in Orangeburg, she frequently traveled to Colombia as a child to be with family. After earning an associate’s degree in advertising and graphic design at Parsons in New York City, she once again returned to Colombia in 1990. This time it was for a 12-year stretch: She met her husband; had a son; worked in sales and marketing; and dabbled in politics, doing campaign management and fund-raising. Completing the international cycle, the family moved to the U.S. in 2002.
Just two months after transporting all her earthly possessions back to Pearl River, Giraldo heard from friends back in Colombia who wanted her to represent their dried tropical fruit product at the Fancy Food Show in the Javits Center in Manhattan. Even though the dust of her new life had barely settled, Giraldo became the accidental food broker. She soon discovered that representing South American products to an American audience was a perfect match for her talents: “I consider myself not only bilingual, but bi-cultural,” she explains. “I am just as much American as I am Colombian.” As she became conversant in international trade, Giraldo began to build her own distribution business, officially founding A&G Trading in 2004, traveling to industry shows, and even venturing abroad in search of intriguing new products. One memorable trip in pursuit of particularly delectable tuna brought her to Egypt. “The deal fell through, but at least I got to snorkel in the Red Sea,” she says with a laugh.
By far, one important way of deciding whether a product is right for her company is by testing it in her own kitchen. When Giraldo cooks, her Colombian side dominates. “I peel vegetables and dice up onions and carrots. I use real ingredients. I don’t believe in fast food.”
But when Giraldo works, her American side wins out. “In Colombia, they actually take two-hour lunches. The working day is eight to 12, then two to six. I tend to be a 100-miles-per-hour person, so for me to stop to go have a two-hour lunch would be frustrating sometimes.”
One important way of deciding whether a product is right for her company is by testing it in her own kitchen. When Giraldo cooks, her Colombian side dominates
In fact, Giraldo sometimes begins her day at around 4 a.m. in order to zip into Manhattan ahead of the traffic and take orders at specialty shops and groceries, such as Grace’s Marketplace on the Upper East Side, Zabar’s, and Fairway. She also bops around New Jersey and the Valley to show new products and update orders for her supermarket clients, which include ShopRite and Adams Fairacre Farms. She might even check in on the fulfillment center in Lyndhurst, New Jersey, that receives and stores all her products. By early afternoon she’s back home — not to take a two-hour siesta, but to take her son to soccer practice or do paperwork.
To this day, Colombian companies continue to approach her, and she’s in demand as a speaker on international trade topics, most recently at LaGuardia Community College and at International Trade Day at Touro College in Brooklyn. She has also won several entrepreneurial awards for her efforts to bring ethnic foods of the world to America, including the 2012 Latino Business of the Year award, presented at Rockland Community College; and an Orange and Rockland County Women of Distinction award in 2011.
For the past two years, Giraldo has been busy growing the Giraldo Farms freeze-dried coffee business. Why not flavored coffees? Or individual serving packets? A West Coast presence? “It all takes time,” says Giraldo. Just not quite as much time as it would in Colombia.
Article reposted with permission from Hudson Valley Magazine. Read the full article here.
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