There are four seasons of the year – winter, spring, summer and fall.
But Bill Andreetta will tell you there are five. The fifth one is his own creation, and it’s the longest of each of the four seasons. He calls it the ham season, and it goes from the end of September to the end of March.
That’s when the Manteca native’s Sunnyvalley Smoked Meats smiling sunshine face – Andreetta’s original creation – dominates home gatherings and grocery-store sales all over the West Coast, the Midwest, Hawaii, Texas, and Canada for the year’s happiest holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year, and Easter. Those are the busiest times of the year at the meat plant on West Yosemite Avenue, when the usually 165 work crew jumps to 200 working three shifts a day. Like McDonald’s golden arches and Carl’s Jr.’s smiling star logos, you know the bacon and ham that you see in the meat section at Costco, Nob Hill, Raley’s, Safeway, and other stores came from the Family City’s facility if you see the logo showing a smiling yellow sunshine face surrounded with rays on the package.
More than a million slices of bacon alone are sliced every day at this facility. This is where all the bacon and ham that are shipped to major grocery stores everywhere are cured and smoked here, sliced and packaged with diligent care by workers before they are shipped to their various destinations.
Sunnyvalley Smoked Meats is a 60,000-square-foot, fully modernized state-of-the-art plant on the east side of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks on West Yosemite Avenue. This year, the business is celebrating its 14th year at this location. They ran out of room at the previous location next to Cabral Motors on the east side of Union Road, which necessitated the move.
“We didn’t have room to do volume,” Andreetta said of the old location. But as big as the new facility is, it’s still not enough for everything that the business needs. So they have “other off-site storage” buildings in Stockton including a warehouse out on the Delta.
Something else happened when the business was moved farther to the west. The Manteca Meat Service that has been a familiar name to many customers and ranchers acquired a new moniker – Sunnyvalley Smoked Meats. The name just came to him one day as he was driving, Andreetta explained. It was the same thing with the smiling logo. The picture simply popped out of his head one day, which he then quickly sketched on a piece of paper.
There was another reason for the name change. It was a legal necessity. The Manteca Meat Service was a retail meat store where customers could come in the door and make purchases for their dining table. His attorney suggested that since the business was going to change identity, from retail to wholesale, a name change should also come into play. And Sunnyvalley was born. The new building opened for business on July 14, 2000. Today, Andreetta is proud to say that Sunnyvalley is the only one of its size in Northern California that is not corporately owned. All the others have been sold to corporations.
Having said that, he quickly said with a big smile, “I’m not for sale. I still love what I do.”
But then he just as quickly added with a laugh this time, “But who’s to say?”
From Brown’s Frigid Freeze to Sunnyvalley
Sunnyvalley indeed has come a long way from Brown’s Frigid Freeze, the forerunner of Manteca Meat Service. That was the business that his parents, Willie and Hazel Andreetta, bought when the family first came to Manteca in 1959. Brown’s was just as the name implied – a meat freezer, which was pretty common back in the day. One of those frozen meat lockers was called Lange’s Butcher Shop. It was located on the east side of today’s Kaiser Permanente building – not the hospital – on West Yosemite. Long after the business closed, a building and a dilapidated old barn stood on the property shaded by towering cottonwood and sycamore trees. Not too long ago, the structures were torn down and the trees and shrubs were removed. The barn was the Butcher Shop, said Andreetta .
There were also the Webb’s Meat Market and Fagundes Meats. Webb’s is gone as well, but Fagundes Meats across the street from the East Cardoza Shopping Center on Jason Street has now expanded as well into catering and not just a retail butcher shop.
The Andreetta’s Manteca Meat Service, like many of the old businesses in Manteca, was owned and operated by families. (The other Andreetta siblings are Marvin who is in construction and lives in Escalon, Linda Barnheizer who works at a doctor’s office, and Karen Joaquin who works for a trucking company.) Besides being the bookkeeper of the family operation, his mother, Hazel, also owned the Scoop News and Fountain in downtown Manteca which has been defunct for years. His mother died young. She was only 51 years old when she lost her battle with cancer in 1976.
His father lived to the ripe old age of 83. He retired young, and continued to work even in his retirement.
His parents were still alive in 1972 when Andreetta bought the business from them. He just finished his two-year stint in the Army where he was a drill sergeant. And he was ready to start the next chapter of his life in the town where he grew up.
‘I never forget where I came from’
Andreetta will readily admit he learned from the best teachers – his parents, and before that, his grandfather.
“My hard-work ethics came from strong roots on a dairy with my grandfather in Modesto,” he said. “My grandfather and my father were the two people who instilled in me hard work.”
His grandfather came to America from Switzerland in the early 1900s and settled on Hart Road in Modesto. He sold the old property and retired, then moved to another 20-acre walnut ranch where he lived until he died.
Everything he knew about the meat business was learned from “OJT – on-the-job training and common sense,” said Andreetta who was most active in Manteca during the 1980s as a member of the Manteca Lions Club (he is a past president), and as chairman of the Manteca Pumpkin Fest when it was held on the Rossi property on Main Street. He is also a past president of the California Association of Meat Processors (1982) and was on the board of directors for eight years.
His business-savvy training began when he was just a young boy working at the family’s butcher shop.
“I started working for my parents when I was 10 years old. Manteca Meat Service was basically a butcher shop where we cut meat for markets,” he said. They also went out and butchered animals at ranches in the area.
Those were the days when today’s state-of-the-art cutting services were still a seemingly far-fetched idea in many an innovator’s and inventor’s mind. Those days of muscle power, wielding heavy and gigantic cleavers to cut the meat and bones of the butchered animals are not mere memories as far as Andreetta is concerned. The hand-forged meat-cutting tools that he wielded in his youth at his parent’s butcher shop occupy prominent places in his Spartan office at Sunnyvalley.
Framed pictures of the old Manteca Meat Service and advertising tear sheets in the Manteca Bulletin showing the prices of meat they sold decades ago are about the only other décor in the office section in the front of the building. In one corner of his private office is a vintage and refurbished roll-top desk that his mother used for many years at the old business. On the walls are other mementoes including a small framed certificate that he earned at the National School of Meat Cutting in Toledo, Ohio, when he was 17 years old. It was an accomplishment that he did on his own without his parents’ prodding. In fact, he saved up the money that he paid for that schooling.
“I was brought up to do everything. I learned to cut meat from my father in the early 1960s,” he said. While he learned the rudiments of the butchering business from his father, “my mother taught me bookkeeping,” he said. His mother did that part of the business for the Meat Market during the weekends, after putting in many hours at The Scoop News. His father did all the repairs in the shop after business hours and on the weekends.
“I never forget where I came from,” said Andreetta who is all hands-on in every aspect of Sunnyvalley including traveling several times a year “clear out” to Winnipeg and Victoria in Canada, Hawaii and other places in the country for his business.
He is at the shop “from 6 a.m. until I’m done” seven days a week. He literally keeps his eye on everything. Some of Sunnyvalley’s products feature special recipes and seasonings.
“I created those. I developed these recipes,” he said, pointing to the label on a package of ham and bacon. The ingredients simply say flavorings, but those are his trade secrets, he explained.
As busy as his schedule is, he manages to make time for his hobby – car racing.
“That’s my hobby; that’s my fun thing,” said Andreetta whose wife, Treva, is a corporate credit manager for DuraFlame in Stockton where she has worked for 26 years.
He is the proud sponsor of Manteca car racer Jacob Gomes. In fact, the other two framed decorations in his office are those of Gomes and his winning cars.
“I think the world of him. I enjoy traveling with him,” said Andreetta who has been sponsoring the promising car racer for the past four years.
As to his philosophy when it comes to succeeding in business, Andreetta said, “First of all, you should know (early on) if you have a passion for that industry or not. If you’re going to work just for the paycheck, you’re probably not going to be successful.”
And that’s something he has told many kids who has worked for him. “Like what you’re doing,“ he said.