Business / Economy

Farm Fresh Produce closes under cloud of accusations and lawsuits

Opposing lawsuits and bad blood results from produce store venture

Business relationships are like marriages. All require due diligence and hard work to be successful. Some will last a lifetime, while others will end in desolation. Some should never have been. These are unions of incompatible individuals who, for whatever motives, joined in a venture doomed from the outset. And once the warring parties begin with the accusations—sometimes on social media—relatives and friends take sides and lawyers ultimately join the fracas as litigation ensues. 

That’s where Nader Javid and Randy Marino are at this point. As with people once married, when business relationships go bad they often turn into he-said-she-said, or in this case, he-said-he-said condemnations of one another’s integrity and ethics. And each has his own side of the story to tell based on his own sense of what actually happened.

And since the two parties are presently in the process of airing their grievances in San Benito County Municipal Court, it’s becoming a public demonstration of a business venture gone terribly wrong.

Javid has owned SpeeDee Oil Change & Auto Service on the corner of Sunnyslope Road and Airline Highway for 23 years. A few years ago, he decided he wanted to branch out into the fresh produce business and last year opened Farm Fresh Produce Hollister next door to SpeeDee Oil. Less than a year later, he’s closing the doors and selling all the inventory at 50 percent off. He’s not happy about it and puts the blame squarely on Marino.

As each man recently told his side of the story to BenitoLink, it became apparent that, as with any bitter breakup, each believes they have the corner on the truth. In this case, the two stories are miles apart and it will most likely come down to a judge to settle the issue.

As Javid recalls the beginning of the relationship between him and Marino, he said he had visited one of Marino’s five Farm Fresh Produce stores and liked what he saw. By coincidence, Javid said Marino was there and the two met.

Javid said they struck up a conversation and he told Marino he had a prime location in Hollister and he was interested in opening a produce store patterned after Marino’s stores. According to Javid, Marino was agreeable and came to Hollister to look at the location, next to the SpeeDee Oil Change & Auto Service business.

“I said that would be a good business in Hollister,” Javid said, adding that Marino told him to go ahead and build and that he would support him in the enterprise.

Marino remembers it much differently and said there was nothing accidental about it. He said that he and Javid actually met through a mutual friend, Tim De La Grange, who called Marino to tell him Javid wanted to open a produce business and would like to know if Marino was interested in a joint venture. Marino said he wasn’t because he already had enough stores and didn’t need another one. He said he had no problem giving advice, though. They talked by phone and, according to Marino, Javid asked if they could meet.

He said local designer, Manny Leal, and Javid came together for the first meeting.

“I’ve known Manny at least 25 years through the produce and construction businesses,” Marino said. “I told them to go look at my five stores and get some ideas. At that point, we weren’t doing anything together. I made it clear that I did not want to open up a store in Hollister.”

Leal ultimately began to design the new store with Marino giving input. At some point, Javid and Leal parted ways. Every so often, Marino said, Javid would contact him and around 2012 came back to make a business offer.

“He offered me a percentage of the gross sales from the business and all I had to do was give him the know-how and not put any money into it,” Marino said. “He assured me he was a sharp businessman and he could make this work.”

Marino said he agreed to do so for 7.5 percent of gross sales. He felt that since he didn’t have any money invested it couldn’t go wrong and he figured he could make $100,000 a year if the store performed as well as those he owned and operated. They signed an agreement to that effect, but within a year, Marino said Javid called him saying he didn’t have the money to complete the project and asked to borrow what he needed.

Marino said he told Javid that he did not want to invest money, but that Javid told him he had collateral worth $2 million and that he made $12,000 a month from the SpeeDee Lube. All Javid needed, according to Marino, was another $100,000. Marino said he warned Javid that he would not be able to complete the project for that amount, but Javid said he had money coming from “the old country.”

Javid told BenitoLink that he had invested $800,000 of his own money into the building. More specifically, he said the money was from “my kids’ reserves,” borrowing from several sources and by “not making house payments.”

Marino said Javid was not inclined to take his advice and went ahead designing and building the store. He said Javid did do some things very nicely and even better, in some instances, than Marino had. Ultimately, Marino said he did agree to accept the property as collateral and loaned nearly $300,000 toward completing the building. It didn’t take long for Marino to believe Javid was in over his head.

Javid, though, said Marino continued to support the venture by supplying fresh produce for four months. Then he said everything changed and Marino cut off the food supply. Javid said it was because he complained about the quality of the produce and that the items were “leftovers.” Marino said the produce came out of the same central warehouse that supplied his own stores, there were no “leftovers,” and that the spoilage was because Javid had left it outside in the sun.

Javid maintains Marino was selling him leftovers and that it was only after he passed along customer complaints that Marino ceased selling to him. He said he paid Marino every month for what he termed sub-standard produce, as well as a $6,000 monthly franchise fee. On top of that, he said he was paying up to $10,000 a month for several months to repair antiquated coolers and a refrigeration system that Marino had procured for him.

Marino disputed each one of the claims, stating there never was a franchise deal, so there were no franchise fees. He said when given the choice between buying new or used coolers, Javid chose the older machines.

“He has not paid me a single dime,” Marino said. “He did not pay me a franchise fee because there is no franchise. There are hundreds of Farm Fresh Produce stands all over the country so you can’t franchise the name. He wants to say it’s a franchise because of the lawsuit we’re involved in."

Marino said it’s unfortunate the way things turned out, but he now holds the deed of trust on the entire property, including the SpeeDee store, and he believes he will soon own it if the lawsuit goes his way. He said, for the time being, he intends to continue operating the produce store. Apparently, Javid doesn’t think this will happen because as he is closing down one business he’s preparing to open another at the same location.

He has sealed off half the structure and is remodeling the other half to accommodate a Big O Tires franchise store. When Marino became aware of the move to close the produce store and open a tire store he said he understands that Javid is desperate to generate revenue, but added, “Once this lawsuit goes forward and we win that property is mine three days after. I will definitely take a look at the future of it and see what the revenue stream is. I never intended to take the property away from him. I just expected to get paid the money I gave to him to build it and my 7.5 percent for at least 10 years.”

According to Marino, the lawsuit will go to trial this April.

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]