Remembering an old-school broker at Hunts Point Produce Market
Working with your father can be complicated, but for Paul Mattie, it wasn’t.
“We saw the world from a similar perspective. That’s kind of the way it was,” Mattie said about the late Albert “Al” Mattie, founder of produce broker Canyon Sales Co. at the Hunts Point Produce Market, Bronx, N.Y. The first anniversary of the elder Mattie’s death will be Feb. 18.
Al Mattie represented the old-school ethos of Hunts Point, which is seeing its third and fourth generations step up, often in family-founded businesses. Hunts Point handles 1-3 million boxes of fresh produce at any given time, with about 6,000 people a day on its sprawling 113 acres. The market’s roots trace back to the lower Manhattan Washington Market of 1821.
Al Mattie was a significant player in the fresh produce world, someone whose work ethic was so enduring he continued to walk the outdoor market halls until he was 90, said his son, Paul, and colleague, Mel Schwartz, owner of Dublin Produce Co., Brooklyn, N.Y., until retiring seven years ago.
“He was one of the most honest brokers I ever did business with,” said Schwartz, who worked with Al Mattie for about 40 years. “He was the type of broker that if you were right, he defended you, but if the shipper was right, he defended him. He’s one in a million.”
Born Feb. 3, 1926, in Braintree, Mass., Al Mattie, known as “Mattie” in the business, was called “a pioneer in the potato and onion industries” in The Packer’s “Century of Produce,” which chronicled 1893-1993. Al Mattie played a role in building the Idaho potato brand with General Potato and Onion Distributors of Idaho (GPOD).
After graduating from Boston University with a marketing degree, Al Mattie’s career started at the Boston office of C.H. Robinson Co., a produce shipping and logistics provider based in Eden Prairie, Minn., in the 1950s. His work for C.H. Robinson took him to the Philadelphia branch and then the Washington Street Market in lower Manhattan, N.Y., which moved north to the current site in 1967. There, Al Mattie established a transportation department, overseeing about a dozen brokers.
Then in 1989, Paul Mattie joined his father to open their own brokerage firm, Canyon Sales, also based at Hunts Point. They were the only two employees until about three years ago.
“He set a high standard and had friends in the business all over the country,” Paul Mattie said about his father, a World War II veteran who had five children with wife Barbara and then five grandchildren.
Now that the younger Mattie is starting to experience “just a fraction of the respect” that his father had, he’s beginning to understand that the hard work involved in ensuring the success of both the shipper and receiver is through a long-term partnership among all three parties.
Schwartz admired Al Mattie’s character and the professional way he conducted himself.
“I dealt with a lot of brokers, and I never had a disagreement with Al. We always resolved it with no yelling. He was a very calm man, which is very unusual in our business,” Schwartz said.
When he was barely 21, Bob Johnson was hired by Al Mattie at C.H. Robinson, and worked for him for seven years.
“He put me on the path. You work on it yourself, but he helped put me where I am. I’ll always be thankful,” said Johnson, now president of Johnson Associated Fruit Co., Randolph, N.J., a brokerage company he founded in 1992. “He was a real mentor to me.”