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May 6, 2019

After 40 years in Hartford, Sardilli Produce & Dairy Co. eyes move to E. Windsor

Photo | The Silverman Group is investing at least $15 million for the planned industrial facility on vacant farmland.
Sardilli has been headquartered on Locust Street in Hartford's South End since 1989.

Sardilli Produce & Dairy Co. Inc., which was recently considering a major expansion in one of Hartford's last remaining tracts of undeveloped land, now plans to end its four-decade run in the city by relocating its manufacturing and warehouse operations to vacant farmland in East Windsor.

The family run food distributor, which currently occupies a 22,500-square-foot facility on Locust Street in Hartford's South End, is proposing to build a sprawling 202,400-square-foot distribution facility in East Windsor for produce manufacturing, warehouse storage and office space.

The plan also calls for construction of a 7,500-square-foot maintenance building to house a fleet of trucks, 372 parking spaces and 25 loading docks. Two of four tobacco barns located on the 22 acres at 12 South Main St. (Route 5) in East Windsor would be retained and renovated.

The proposed project has been moving its way through East Windsor's approval process and is close to getting both town and state approval, according to town records. It's not clear what the project would cost or when it might be completed.

Sardilli did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story.

The move would mean Hartford loses one of the region's largest food distributors. Sardilli has at least 135 employees, records show. Its 212 Locus St. property has an assessed value of $533,470, records show.

It's not clear exactly why the company, led by third generation brothers Devin and Jason Sardilli, is leaving Hartford, but it has been looking for larger quarters to accommodate its recent growth in the booming $12 billion pre-cut produce manufacturing industry, records show.

Michael Freimuth, executive director of the Capital Region Development Authority, said Hartford officials worked to keep Sardilli within the city's borders, but the East Windsor site ultimately provides the company more space to grow and provides easier access to Interstate 91. Both are key assets for any food hauler, Freimuth said.

“I think they cut a deal they thought was favorable, one they thought fit within their business plan,” he said.

Hartford's 74.29 mill rate is also more than double East Windsor's 33.9 mill rate, which means moving will help the company reap significant property-tax savings.

Sardilli was one of two produce distributors that submitted proposals in early 2018 to build on 20 acres of industrial land in Hartford's South Meadows section.

Sardilli, in addition to FreshPoint, a division of Houston-based food distribution giant Sysco Corp., each proposed to lease land at 100 Reserve Road, and build a 100,000-square-foot distribution center.

That land, which is currently owned by the quasi-public Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority (MIRA), operator of the nearby waste-to-energy plant, is considered one of the largest remaining city tracts open for development.

However, Sardilli withdrew its development proposal weeks before CRDA, which was overseeing the bidding, recommended FreshPoint's $39 million bid to MIRA last June. CRDA, at the time, indicated that Sardilli was looking to expand elsewhere.

[Read more: FreshPoint still hopes for $39M Hartford expansion]

According to its proposal to CRDA, Sardilli said it had been searching for a new location in central Connecticut over the last five years to accommodate significant growth, including a 21 percent increase in its workforce between July 2017 and Feb. 2018.

“Unfortunately, we have had to turn away business over the past year due to space constraints at our current facility,” the company's proposal said. “The approximately 20-acre location at 100 Reserve Road in Hartford may be the perfect location for our present and future needs.”

In addition to the distribution center, Sardilli's nixed Hartford proposal included development of a 75,000-square-foot addition for refrigeration space. The total project price tag ranged from $20 million to $30 million, and was projected to add an additional 300 jobs — mainly in manufacturing, management, food safety, quality control and distribution — and generate about $167,000 in property-tax revenue.

In attempts to keep Sardilli local, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said the city explored tax incentives and potential sites for the company, but adequate space is lacking.

“Over the last three years, we've worked very hard to keep Sardilli in Hartford, and we've explored many options,” Bronin said in a statement. “Sardilli is looking at a significant expansion, and one of our challenges in Hartford is that we don't have a lot of undeveloped land available.”

Sardilli also considered new sites in Windsor, Bristol and Manchester, but they were not suitable, records show.

Humble beginnings

Sardilli is a long-standing family owned Connecticut business that traces its roots back to the 1950s. The company laid out its family history in various project documents filed with CRDA and the town of East Windsor.

The late Guido Sardilli, the grandfather of Devin and Jason, founded the company as Sardilli Fruit Stand in 1959 in Southington. Along with his son, Don, the family launched Sardilli Produce & Dairy there in 1975.

The company relocated to a larger space at the Hartford Regional Market in 1980 before moving to Locust Street in 1989. Today, its main products of fruits, vegetables, dairy and specialty dry goods are distributed to customers that include restaurants, hospitals, schools and caterers in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Westchester County, N.Y.

Sardilli said it sources from over 80 farms within a 250-mile radius of Hartford, including Glastonbury's Deercrest Farm, Burnham Farms in East Hartford, Blue Hills Orchard in Wallingford, Hickory Hill Orchard in Cheshire and Dzen Farm in Ellington.

Barring any unforeseen municipal barriers, the company's next chapter will be in East Windsor.

In recent months, Sardilli, owned by parent DDJ Group Enterprises of East Windsor LLC, has won key site plan and wetlands approvals from East Windsor's Planning and Zoning Commission. The company has not yet acquired the South Main Street plot, which is currently owned by John and Daniel Burnham of TJL Investment Trust LLC, according to town records. The land is appraised at $82,900, town records show.

If the company obtains certain permits from the state Department of Transportation, East Windsor planning officials say the company will only need zoning and building permits to move forward with the development.

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