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Generation Next: Paul Jaffa out of his EOD suit and in the produce business at S. Katzman Produce

Paul Jaffa’s path and now connection to the produce industry reads like a love story, but his attachment to it has evolved into produce passion.

He began working for S. Katzman Produce Inc., located at the Hunts Point Terminal Market, in 2014 at age 28. He started in maintenance and food safety, but in 2016 he was moved into his current buying position.

“I started buying kiwi in early 2016,” explained Jaffa. “We source from Italy, Chile, California, New Zealand and we’ve even had some product from Greece. The item grew considerably, which lead me to my next challenge of sourcing citrus. S. Katzman sources citrus from every growing region around the world.”

Backing up a few years will clarify how Jaffa and S. Katzman connected. When he was studying at the University of Delaware for his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, he met Cheryl Katzman, one of Steve Katzman’s four children, also a student.

image001Paul Jaffa during his tour as an EOD soldier in the U.S. Army.Jaffa graduated in 2008. He then joined the army. Katzman headed off to culinary school in California.

“Like so many people within a short distance from the World Trade Center, 9/11 hit really close to home,” he explained.

“I decided I wanted to serve, and the ROTC also enabled me to go to college. My intent was to join the army and study defense engineering, government contract, military grade equipment and the like. I ended up serving as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal soldier.”

And for clarification, Jaffa was an EOD, and he wore the bomb suit just like Jeremy Renner’s character in the Oscar winning movie, “The Hurt Locker” did.

“I had three years of training and then did one tour in Iraq in 2011,” he said. “While I was deployed, I started working on my master’s degree in engineering management at Penn State University World Campus. My rank was captain when I was discharged from the army, and I graduated with my master’s in 2013. In all, I served for about five years as an EOD,

He and Cheryl had reconnected, and when he was in Iraq they spoke by Google Chat, Facebook or email every day. They even sent letters back and forth.

“I knew I wanted a family and that is very difficult when you’re in the armed forces,” said Jaffa. “That’s when I decided to take a discharge. Cheryl picked me up from Fort Dix in New Jersey the day I got out, and we’ve been together ever since.”

That’s when he started learning about the produce business.

They were married on Dec.13, 2014, and he jokes about the 12/13/14 date, saying it really happened by accident because it was the first open date the venue they liked had available.

The couple has a 20-month old son, Danny, and Cheryl is now expecting their second child who is due in July.

“Just like Danny, we won’t know the sex of the baby until it’s born,” noted Jaffa. “Once you know a baby is on the way, it’s the only true surprise.”

Cheryl has worked at the family business in the past, but she is currently a stay-at-home mom.

Like most produce professionals, Jaffa’s work days start early and end late. But he still finds time for personal fitness and for his family.

“I go to the gym every weekday morning at 5 a.m.,” he pointed out. “I spin twice a week and lift weights the other three days. My weekends are dedicated to my family. Sometimes it’s taking Danny to swim class or we go to the park or zoo. We like to spend as much time as possible outdoors.”

“Other than that, I like to follow my favorite sports teams; the Yankees, Rangers and Chicago Bears,” he added.

In his short tenure in produce, Jaffa has learned that most people are born into the industry.

“The new generation typically starts by pushing a broom in the warehouse and stacking boxes, and they meet shippers and growers at an early age,” he reflected. “My path to the industry was not as streamlined as some of my peers, and if you told me seven years ago I’d be buying produce, I would not have believed you. My entry into the industry came through my wife’s family’s company, which has been in the Hunts Point Market since it opened.”

He started working for the company a short while after he left the army, but says it wasn’t until he started buying produce that he became hooked to the industry.

“I’m still eager to learn more, especially about buying and selling,” stressed Jaffe. “It’s an interesting time in the industry because there’s a shift from the older generation to the younger generation, and we’re seeing it across the board in all aspects and levels. Older techniques are being phased out and the younger generation is bringing their technology and how they connect with the world in with them.”

But he also understands how technology can change the personal nature of the business as it moves from talking and meeting with business partners regularly to using more impersonal forms of technology.

“It’s somewhat passive-aggressive, and it will likely both help and hurt the industry,” he predicted.

“Nonetheless, it’s moving in that direction,” he continued. “The fax has gone the way of the Dodo bird, as just one example. Those who will be most successful will master both — technology and personal connections — by learning when it’s time to put down the electronics and have a conversation or shake a hand.”

And he’s proud to be a member of the S. Katzman family and team.

“It’s a great company with an outstanding reputation and impressive longevity. It has evolved and grown through four generations, and now we’re welcoming the fifth into the world.”