When Jamie Johnson and Bryan Berkett first met at a restaurant in the spring of 2012, a 20 minute chat turned into a four-hour discussion of values, culture and shared experiences. Both were influenced by their family businesses, Johnson from a fourth generation California farming family and Berkett from a fourth generation real estate family. They each cite their grandfather as having positive influence on their life.
Though these seemingly disconnected upbringings don’t appear to be fertile grounds for fostering a partnership, in fact it was a similar upbringing and value system that led them to form Simpatica and become a prominent avocado grower in California. They both believe in a “value- driven” company where “culture” is truly more important than profits.
Johnson’s great grandfather, A.J. West, started the farming tradition with citrus groves in Orange County, California and his grandfather, Harry Johnson, spent his career in the same business running orange, lemon and avocado ranches. Jamie fondly remembers walking the groves with his grandfather as a young boy and after college. While working as a lifeguard in Newport Beach, his grandfather asked him to work with him on their Rancho Simpatica grove. “A couple of weeks later I was working the irrigation lines on the ranch.” Johnson soon caught the avocado fascination and has been in the industry ever since.
Berkett’s grandfather believed in the value of not just buying land, but holding onto it and started the family down that path. Berkett’s grandfather was his mentor and quickly followed his footsteps in real estate after he graduated from college. But he was looking to do something more and that’s when he met Johnson.
They shared a goal to create a value-driven company with a culture where family, employees, customers and healthy, sustainable food come first. Once they agreed on their values, the concept of becoming a significant player in the avocado business flowed freely. Both strongly believe in the future of the California avocado industry.
In April of 2014, Scott Bauwens, a seasoned veteran in the avocado industry, joined the company as chief operating officer. Bauwens loved the idea of starting something from the ground up, creating and molding the culture from the start, and especially immersing himself in the farming side of the business. Like the company’s co-founders, he said, “I firmly believe in California Avocados.”
Soon thereafter, Aris Babayan was added to the team as director of asset management.
The group then turned their attention to hiring a farm manager. Tyler Cobb soon came aboard as director of farming operations.
The Simpatica team of five – who as a group hold the vast majority of the private firm’s ownership – are a perfect match. The Simpatica group is a collection of compatible partners who finish each other’s sentences and have the same family values and culture. One of the other partners of the operation is the Simpatica Foundation. The Foundation reaps some of the profits of the organization for the purpose of ensuring that this becomes a multi-generational firm and that the children of the employees have access to educational opportunities.
But the business goal of Simpatica is to continue to build a significant organization focused on the California Avocado industry, with a keen eye toward expanding growing operations as opportunities arise. Berkett said they are always looking at other crops, “but have yet to pull the trigger on any crop other than avocados. We’re simply a group of guys that love to grow and eat what we consider is the perfect fruit – avocados.”
Avocados from Simpatica and other California Avocado farms are now available at Mollie Stone’s.
Learn more about California Avocados here. Available in the Produce Department.
Get all of your food staples at Mollie Stone’s Markets or order delivery to your door through Instacart.