Cousins Mike Porcaro and Greg Zaccaro have come a long way since setting up a table with a plastic banner on Marion Square seven years ago to peddle homemade bags of pralines and honey-roasted pecans.
Today, the pair oversees seven businesses under the umbrella, Tides Enterprises, with total revenue expected to reach $40 million in 2014.
By June, they will move their headquarters from eight buildings of about 35,000 square feet off Long Point Road in Mount Pleasant to a 60,000-square-foot facility off Clements Ferry Road in Berkeley County. The new building already serves as a distribution warehouse for beer from Lithuania, Germany and other countries, apple juice concentrate from China and other products from around the globe.
Earlier this year, they took over the former Regis Milk plant on Meeting Street on peninsular Charleston and turned it into a cold-storage area for food, medical and other products. A separate recycling business, also part of Tides, is set up in the rear. All the while, they've been in negotiations to secure a 20,000-square-foot center with rail service near Charleston International Airport. It will serve as a storage and distribution center to augment current operations.
The two, with experience in food commodities trading, left Chicago for Charleston about a decade ago, and in 2005 founded Tides Commodities Trading Group, which buys and sells food products. Six years ago, they started Charleston Nut Co., and in 2009 they bought Hilton Head Popcorn Co., kept the name as a brand and moved its operation to their Mount Pleasant site.
All of those businesses will move to the new Clements Ferry center, where they plan to hire 10 to 15 employees this year.
The new warehouse operation handles about 100 cargo containers a month for products made in the U.S. and shipped overseas and other products imported from across the globe.
"We are continuing to be a support company, but in a niche way," said Porcaro, president and CEO. "We are always going to be the niche guy."
For example, they recently added a full line of more than 45 spices to the Charleston Nut business.
And the company plans to grow.
Additional acreage behind the Clements Ferry operation will serve as an expansion site for the company that could occupy half a million square feet by 2016.
"That's the goal," Porcaro said.
The company continues to add new products. Later this year, it will offer an all-natural, sweet tea-infused pecan to its product lineup found in more than 400 grocery stores, specialty shops and hotels throughout South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida and Georgia.
They have moved into the Charlotte market, adding semis and trailers to their fleet of eight 16-foot delivery trucks that now travel as far south as Miami and as far west as Atlanta.
Altogether, they sell more than 1,100 products that include nuts, pretzels, popcorn, dried fruits, peanut brittle, candies, jellies, salsa, hot sauce and cider, just to name a few.
Among major chains where products are sold are Piggly Wiggly, Harris Teeter, Bi-Lo, Publix, Whole Foods and Walgreens.
"We are actively pursuing other retail opportunities," he said.
Their Tidal Laboratories business inspects food products imported and exported for all manufacturing operations. Recently, they secured a contract to handle 500 to 600 inbound loads of apple juice concentrate from China that normally come through the port in Newark, N.J. With a three-year contract in hand, they are working to secure an additional 600 loads per year.
"This obviously is good for the port, us and the rest of the South Carolina and Charleston business as these loads need freight moves to final destination," Porcaro said.
Food, though, is just part of the business.
Intercoastal Wholesale and Distribution Inc. handles logistics and cold storage while Caro Inc. shepherds companies through the disposal of hazardous and nonhazardous waste.
Altogether, they have about 50 or so employees, but that number swells in the fall as they crank out specialty nut products for the holiday season. They donate unsold food items to East Cooper Meals on Wheels, and a portion of their core nut products goes to the Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Festival Association. The Medical University of South Carolina also benefits from popcorn sales.
Porcaro based the company's success on a lot of hard work and the pair's ability to capitalize on niche opportunities.
"Our growth has come from our knowledge of the food business," he said.
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.