When Napa resident Schecky Miluso reflects on the growing popularity of his family’s business, it all seems kind of, well...nuts.
The Miluso family owns Napa Nuts, a wholesaler of nuts, dried fruit, seeds and confections.
Schecky’s parents, Allen and Maxine Miluso, bought the business in 1990 from the Rosenthal family, who started the company as a kosher chicken butchery before expanding sales to nuts and fruits.
Under the Miluso’s ownership, the company moved operations to a garage along Wine Country Avenue, where the Milusos and their children worked side-by-side filling orders.
To help promote Napa Nuts, the family provided samples to local chefs and restaurants. Slowly and steadily, the business grew by word-of-mouth.
Today, Napa Nuts operates out of a nearly 5,000-square-foot space on Industrial Way, where products are stacked in palettes floor-to-ceiling.
Many of Napa Nuts’ products—including walnuts, almonds, plums, apricots, dates and raisins—come from California growers, Schecky Miluso said.
Other products, like macadamias and pine nuts, which aren’t native to California, come from outside the state.
Trucks are sent out multiple days per week for deliveries to produce companies, hotels and dozens of restaurants.
“I didn’t think it would be this successful,” Schecky said, reflecting on Napa Nuts’ humble beginnings.
The garage where it all began, he added, no longer exists.
“I think it’s been razed since for much better housing,” Schecky said.
But his parents’ hard work and entrepreneurial spirit—combined with excellent customer service—live on in the client relationships the company has maintained for so many years.
Here in the Napa Valley, Napa Nuts’ clients include The French Laundry, Meadowood, Bouchon Bakery and Bouchon Bistro, as well as Il Posto, Alexis Baking Company, Oenotri, Foodshed Take Away and more.
Napa Nuts is also a supplier for a business that stocks the snack rooms of Bay Area technology companies, Schecky said.
As a wholesaler, Schecky said they don’t often know the final destination of their products — but that’s part of the fun of running a successful business.
“We don’t even know what snack rooms we’re in,” he said.
It’s also common for businesses to put their own custom label on Napa Nuts’ products. Hotels, for example, will purchase five- to six-ounce tins and put their own branding on it to stock their minibars.
Increasingly, Napa Nuts is shipping products to people and places the Miluso family has never heard of. How some of these new clients found or heard of the company is a mystery, Miluso said.
Napa Nuts has “no real advertising budget,” he said.
After graduating from Napa High School, Schecky and his younger sister, Bonnie, left Napa to pursue other careers.
Bonnie Miluso became a lawyer.
“I was a full-time litigation attorney for 10 years before I decided to come work with my parents,” said Bonnie, who is now CEO of Napa Nuts.
“Selling nuts was something I never thought I would do but I find real fulfillment keeping our small business family-owned and -operated,” she said.
“I thought I would be doing it alone but I am grateful my brother also came to work with the family (particularly because I get to be his boss). It’s not always easy sharing an office with my big brother or working with family, but I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to do so.”
Schecky taught history at a high school in San Diego for 15 years. About two years ago, he moved back to Napa to work as Napa Nut’s Client Relations Manager.
Schecky still vividly remembers the drafty garage where he and his sister helped fill orders after school and on weekends. The garage was “freezing,” he said.
“It was awful and very, very cold,” he said.
His parents didn’t want to pay for machine-packaging at the time, so preparing products for delivery was a family affair. Being surrounded by dried fruit and nuts, Miluso remembers the constant temptation to snack.
“Our cousins would come in to help,” Schecky recalled. “One got uninvited for eating too much.”
In those early days, his parents thought they had a “million-dollar idea” by selling nuts inside wine bottles, Schecky said.
As a teenager, Schecky would help fill wine bottles, by hand, with almonds and pistachios still in the shell. Only about one nut at a time could fit through the neck of the bottle, he said.
While the idea didn’t quite take off as planned, the Miluso’s true key to success was their customer service.
Schecky said his parents stayed on-call 24/7, filling orders and always delivering on last-minute requests.
“That service aspect won the loyalty of customers,” Schecky said. “It’s kept people with us for decades.”
“Our business continues to be successful because we are building off the strong foundations of loyalty established by our parents: treat your employees like family, build relationships with the suppliers of the best products, and go out of your way for customers,” added Bonnie.
“As long as we don’t stray too much from those essential principles, we should continue to grow,” she said.
“Our continued success allows us to treat our employees to the same benefits as much larger companies and to keep up with the new stringent food safety laws. We also sell only the highest quality ingredients; this sets us apart from competitors who skimp on quality for a lower price point. We are very proud of the products we sell and the business that we are growing in our parents’ honor.”
You can reach Jennifer Huffman at 256-2218 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The business news you need
With a weekly newsletter looking back at local history.