Gallery: The Arons Family [5 Images] Click any image to expand.
by Donia Moore
No Business Too Small or Too Large
On June 1, 1951, Dick Arons joined the Marines. A former Navy man, Dick thought he had left his years of military service behind. But he began a new phase of his life, one that is still going strong today, under the watchful eyes of his devoted family. Armed with a college degree from the University of Minnesota, where he was raised, Dick began serving the Marines of Camp Pendleton and El Toro Marine bases jerky and other snacks.
It’s been said that an army travels on its stomach. Apparently, that’s true for the Marines, too, because Dick started selling out of his 1946 Dodge panel truck to the Marine bases that year, after years of helping a neighbor out with his route. He bought that first route from friend and mentor Carl Lykke. His first warehouse was his mother Esther’s garage in Santa Ana, and it wasn’t long before his growing business needed even more space. So he moved his warehouse into a butler-style building in the orange groves near town.
In 1951, Dick married Josephine. Walter and Cordelia Knott attended the wedding of their favorite secretary. Before long, Dick had added many other businesses from snack shops to taverns to his customer list between Camp Pendleton and Santa Ana. Many of them needed janitorial, restaurant, or bar supplies. No business was too small or too large for Dick to add to the route of his fledgling distribution business.
Again outgrowing his warehouse only a few years later, he decided to relocate it to San Clemente in 1957 since he had so many clients in the area. His first local location was at 2709 South El Camino Real. In 1969, son Tom convinced him to purchase the 11,000 sq. ft. facility on Calle de los Molinos, where the business remains today. Although Josephine, Dick’s wife, did not originally want to leave Santa Ana, Walter Knott’s former Secretary soon grew to love being near the ocean.
His customers were loyal and appreciated the service and fair prices Dick offered. For years, he was the only distributor to sell industrial food service supplies. Along the way, he raised a family in San Clemente that has become iconic, known for their sense of service and generosity to the community.
A Family Affair
One of the oldest businesses in town, San Clemente Distributing is still family-owned and operated, with 10 employees – most of them family. Sons Rick, Scott, Curt, Tom and Paul have all been involved in the business. Sister–in-law Angel is the bookkeeper. She and Susan Testa, who worked with the Arons for 27 years and retired recently, were the family’s trouble shooters. Daughter Katie pursued a successful career in modeling with the Ford Agency, and was a fixture on local television. An accomplished author and a former Marketing Director of Casa Romantica, Katie has a deep love for San Clemente and its history. Even their grandmother Esther and Aunt Chrissy worked in the business well into their 90s.
While most of the business that South Coast Distributing has still comes off their trucks, the company also maintains a small retail store on the property for “just-in-case”: just-in-case you run out of cleaning supplies; just-in-case you need a package of nuts; or snacks, or a mop, or a small teapot…almost anything a small business could need in a hurry. Dick’s wife Josephine, mom to all the Arons siblings, still owns the building that houses the business on Calle de los Molinos. She controls the rent, too, and teasingly threatens her offspring with raising it if they don’t treat their customers well.
All six of Dick’s children attended San Clemente High School. While Rick stayed home to help his dad manage the business, a couple of his brothers left to experience other places. Scott went to college and spent six years in Alaska working for a warehouse-supply company. Curt played football in Europe for five years. During the 1987 NFL strike, he doubled as a replacement player for several games. But they all eventually reunited back in San Clemente. Dick loved to drive up on the hill behind the high school to watch his sons practice. He was there so often that the coaches thought he might be a scout for one of the professional football teams.
Not For Sale, at Any Price
As Orange County began to experience growing pains, big box stores started taking the place of many of the family-owned businesses. South Coast Distributing saw a drop in their cash-and-carry customers. Dick was determined to stay in business and wouldn’t allow the bigger stores to drive him out of town, though several tried to buy him out.
Dick’s staunch reply was always the same. “That’s my kids’ livelihood. I can’t do that!”
Their loyal customers stuck with them, even through the recession, because they realized that the Arons always gave them the best service and prices they could.
Orange County was in its infancy when Dick Arons began delivering product to restaurants and bars between El Toro and Camp Pendleton. "For a long time he was the only distributor between Santa Ana and Oceanside to carry industrial food supplies," Rick Arons said.
Sixty-five-years later, South Coast Distributing remains a family-owned business, producing millions of dollars in sales each year. Since Dick passed away in 1998, the business has been run by his dedicated sons. Rick, the second eldest, recently retired from the day-to-day operations to “retool.” But he quickly acknowledges that you never really retire from a family business. Rick credits Curt’s wife Angel with being the business’s problem solver, helping the boys to put out any “fires” that may arise.
Rotarian Par Excellence
Dick was a charter member of the San Clemente Sunrise Rotary Club. He was regularly found smoking his favorite cigars with his friends Joe Oliver or Tony Carbonara outside meetings. When he died in 1998, he left a legacy of generosity behind. He and friend Joe donated a considerable amount of funding to the Club to use on community projects. Grants from the donations have funded a number of community projects in San Clemente. The San Clemente Playschool at Tierre Grande Park is one. The 900 square foot building was formerly the Welcome Center for new home development in Talega. The building was donated by Talega Associates, and moved to Tierra Grande Park, once Talega no longer needed a welcome center. The grant helped to turn it into the charming facility it is. The San Clemente Playschool curriculum focuses on preschool activities for children aged three-to-five-years-old with year-round programs in art, sports, theater, reading, and more.
A Grateful Community Thanks the Arons Family
The Arons family dedication and generosity to San Clemente is legendary. In 1993, South Coast Distributing was awarded the Business of the Year. Dick was the first winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award, and his name was the first to go on the Wall of Fame in the San Clemente Community Center.
San Clemente’s elegant Toast to the Casa has also regularly benefited from South Coast Distributing’s dedication to the community. Casa Romantica in San Clemente has many new programs, such as expanded offerings for children (Casa Kids), classical music (Casa Classic), jazz (Casa Cool), a speaker series (Casa Up Close), a series of openings for visual artist exhibitions (Casa Up close) and a dance series (Casa Kinetic).
Perched high atop a bluff, overseeing the historic San Clemente Pier, Casa Romantica is a showplace for the entire South Orange County area and a genuine part of California. This unique venue in San Clemente has become a place to gather and celebrate the richness of its culture, history and people. Casa Romantica is South Orange County's historic treasure, and South Coast Distributing is determined to help see that it remains so.
Whenever a service club in San Clemente puts on a charity event, South Coast Distributing is there with a helping hand for everything they might need. The Boys and Girls Clubs of both San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano needed a little help putting on special charity events on a shoestring budget. From paper Chef’s hats to paper plates and plastic cups, South Coast Distributing has been more than generous.
The Arons family has been dedicated to San Clemente for two generations. In a world where so much is transitory, that in itself is an accomplishment.
"It's a family business and San Clemente is just the best place to live," Curt Arons said. "We have to keep our dad's legacy going."
Son Rick agrees. “We are so proud of what Dad built during his lifetime, and so lucky to have had him for our dad.”
And, after all these years, son Scott advised that they still have that contract with Camp Pendleton. It’s obvious that San Clemente Distributing is going to be here for a while.