On the Line: Alex Jackson Berkley of Frieda’s Specialty Produce

After the recent Hatch chile season, I wanted to learn more about one of the groups that made our annual roasting schedule possible. Alex Jackson Berkley is the granddaughter of Frieda Caplan. She is one of five Caplan women actively involved with Frieda’s Specialty Produce, but I’ll let Alex explain further.

I learned that three generations of Caplan women still work at Frieda’s. Who is involved?
My grandmother, Dr. Frieda Rapoport Caplan, comes to work almost four days a week. She is 94 years old! She signs checks and looks at invoices to see who we’re selling to. It keeps her in touch with our business. And she is always ready to share her wise words of wisdom. Karen Caplan, my mother, is our president and CEO. And my auntie Jackie Caplan Wiggins is our vice president and COO. I am the third generation and work in sales. And my younger sister, Sophia Jackson, recently started on the business development team.

What’s a typical work day like for you?
I get to work at 7 a.m. However, I have already been answering emails while getting ready and making calls on my way to work. I start selling on the phones until about lunch time. Then spend my time planning for the weeks to come, meeting with colleagues about new products and other projects. I try and leave the office around 5 p.m. every day.

Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
Breakfast burritos! Especially Nick’s Deli in Seal Beach and Los Alamitos. Whether it’s after a late night, or when you have an early morning at work, they hit the spot. I recommend getting it grilled.

What’s your favorite way to enjoy Hatch chiles?
My favorite is in a quesadilla. The creaminess of the cheese with the kick of the heat is a perfect balance.

What seasonal products can I look forward to from Frieda’s?
My favorite product that is back in season is our Stokes Purple Sweet Potatoes. Only available until May! You can find them at Ralphs, Sprouts, Whole Foods and Bristol Farms.

Tell me about the United Fresh Produce Industry Leadership Program.
This program brings 12-15 people together from different segments of the industry to learn how to be better stewards of the produce industry. We are exposed to real issues our industry faces like water and labor, and now we’re exploring the issues with limitations on trade and immigration. We also see growing practices of different commodities, and network with leaders from well-known produce companies. Of course, lifelong friendships are made when you spend a total of four weeks traveling with the same group of people. The women from my class go on a trip to another member’s lake house every summer.

Where did you grow up?
I spent half my childhood in Downey and the other half in Seal Beach. My dad is still in Downey and my mom is still in Seal Beach.

What did you major/minor in while in college?
Majored in Communication-Public Relations. Minored in Business.

Favorite meal growing up:
As a child, I loved eating spaghetti with melted American cheese and black pepper while watching Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers. Comfort food!

What’s your favorite childhood memory?
Going to Disneyland!

One food you can’t live without:
Sushi. I told my husband on our first date that would be my last meal. Especially after going to Japan for our honeymoon, I can’t live without it. The way raw yellowtail and salmon melt in your mouth is unbeatable. It’s fresh and healthy! I stick to nigiri versus crazy rolls. Sushi is all about the rice, but the fish is important too, and you get the true flavor of the fish that way.

How did you meet your husband?
We met on J Date! I messaged him first.

Where was your most recent vacation?
We went to St. Maarten with my best friend from college. We are glad we went when we did, as they were recently hit by Hurricane Irma, and now it’s time to give back to them.

Last thing you looked up online:
A house . . .we’re hoping to buy a place next year.

Hardest lesson you’ve learned:
Make time for people who YOU want to be around and value you. Life is too short to spend it with people you don’t love.

Where was your most recent meal?
Cassia in Santa Monica. I assumed it was Italian because of the name. It’s actually Southeast Asian food with a California twist. We had Spicy Wontons (they were SPICY!), Cold Sesame Noodles with Blue Crab (yum), Pork Belly Vermicelli and the Chickpea Curry. One of the most balanced curries I have had. Also, their grilled corn with scallion-coriander butter was addictive.

What profession would you like to try if you weren’t in this business?
I would want to stay in the food industry and interact with restaurants and chefs. Whether it’s PR, management, consulting . . .I love food! When people ask what my hobby is, it’s trying every new restaurant in Los Angeles.

Learn more about Frieda’s Specialty Produce at www.friedas.com.

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