Our family has been importing gourmet cheeses and other complementary foods from Western Europe since 1971. Many of us who work here have either grown up in this business, or have worked in the cheese industry for enough decades to appreciate the traditions and quality of the farms that we are lucky enough to help support.
What Makes Us Unique in our Industry
As an established cheese and butter license holder, Epicure Foods is able to directly import products that our competitors purchase second or third hand. This allows us to offer more competitive pricing and better quality product (rather than relying on the quality control of 2 or 3 other warehouses).
Our business motto is to import and distribute products that we ourselves would enjoy. If you are looking for a cheap, bland piece of cheese whose sole function is to hold up a price sticker please contact any one of a number of our competitors. If you are looking for a delicious French, raw milk aged goat cheese that would go well with a nice glass of wine then you have found the right place.
Damir Drezga immigrated here from Croatia over 30 years ago. Epicure Foods was a company created by himself along with his desire to succeed. And now almost 35 years later, Epicure still stands. We went from importing our first Havarti from Denmark to now importing cheeses from all over the world. We even have begun to touch home by distributing a product from the Dalmatian Coasts of Croatia. We welcome the opportunity to offer you a wide selection of gourmet products.
As a child, my father, Damir Drezga grew up during the Second World War in the communist era in Zherev, Croatia. His family had very little money and when my grandfather was killed by the enemy, my father had no choice but to take the role as the head of the household. Despite the opression of the war which forced poverty and hardships we can only imagine, he did the best he could to look after his mother and younger brother. However, these hardships still prevailed and the struggles of living day to day were painful.
After the war, Zherev residents continued to struggle to survive and with Croatia offering little in the way of opportunity. Upon completing school, my young father made the decision to travel to Germany where he had been told there were better opportunities for work to help support his mother and younger brother.
Arriving in Germany, Damir found that work was extremely hard to find. He tried to sell rugs to locals, but aside from an elderly lady who took pity on the tall, thin and hungry Croatian, Damir could not sell a thing. He was about to give up, when he thought of the United States military base nearby. Here he was more successful. The American soldiers readily purchased his carpets and after sending money back to his mother and younger brother, Damir began to save a little. Who would know that this idea would slowly manifest its way to an opportunity he could only dream of?
During Damir’s time in Germany, his ability to speak the English language greatly improved allowing him to befriend a number of American soldiers. Here he learned quickly about the opportunities in the United States. Their stories inspired him to save as much money as he could for a flight to America. However with the cost of living in Germany and with the money he sent back to his family, it was very difficult to save enough. A local convent heard of his plight and offered to lend him the money for a one way ticket, but only if he promised to return it once he earned enough money in the states, which he did, with interest. So with a small bag of clothes and a few dollars in his pocket, my father arrived in New York, leaving behind the struggling European life he knew, and stepping into the unknown, but perhaps the land of opportunity!
After struggling with small jobs, Damir found some work in the importing industry. He began working for a few importers in Manhattan, the most diverse and developing city in the USA. It was here that Damir realized his potential. His hard work ethics were enamored by one boss who agreed to support his long awaited dream, the “American Dream” his own business. A small loan of $500 was provided to purchase his first pallet of Gouda from the Netherlands and the rest was up to him. Damir began his American Opportunity by importing and selling food products. Any spare time was dedicated to buying and selling. With the bare necessities, Damir slowly tried to develop what is known today as Epicure Foods Corporation.
Now married with his first child, my older brother Stephen, Damir worked from his tiny apartment in Flushing NY, where he spent his time walking the streets of Manhattan in the rain and snow (to save 10c on the subway) drumming up business. One of his first customers was an elderly buyer at the Famous Zabars. The buyer only bought one or two pieces of Gouda from my father, now and then, more out of pity for the struggling young salesman, but upon the old buyer’s retirement, Damir gave him a gift, a bottle of brandy. This astounded the older gentleman, as no other supplier had even wished him well upon his departure. He told his replacement that he should buy all his cheese from Epicure Foods. And it is with this customer service and persistence that my father managed to grow a strong and successful Import and Distribution business today.
My father struggled through the early years in a very competitive industry, but was able to look back at the harder times with good humor. Times when he would stay all night in his small rustic warehouse to guard the cheese with his trusty shotgun, and stolen vans that would be found later relieved of the merchandise inside.
In order to survive in business, my father always told us “Never give up”. He stood by this simple statement and went on to build a thriving business. By this time, my parents were further burdened by my younger sister and myself. Needing more space, they moved out of his apartment in Flushing to build their own house in central New Jersey.
Recently, my father passed away leaving myself and my brother to take the reins. Since then we have encountered our own share of challenges.
In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy devastated the east coast of New Jersey destroying homes, towns and businesses. The warehouse where we kept our inventory was flooded and an external wall was completely torn away. The offices were littered with debris and most of the computers destroyed. Outside, trucks and vans were overturned and half submerged in the flood waters.
At first, this looked like the end of Epicure Foods. The final result of more than 40 years of my father’s hard labor. But we were determined to “Never give up”. With my father’s tenacity and determination our outstanding team couldn’t let his legacy go so easily. The entire company, donned protective clothing and got knee deep in dirty water to start the lengthy cleaning process. In the mean time we moved to an alternative warehouse, the old inventory was destroyed and fresh product acquired. The whole office worked out of one tiny, rented room, working diligently to maintain the high level of service our customers expect.
Slowly but surely we managed to stabilize the company despite the financial burdens and lengthy disputes with insurance companies.
As most of the vehicles were destroyed during the disaster a lot of pressure was put on distribution. We were able to rent trucks for the immediate delivery zones, but FedEx became a vital component in the logistics operation. It enabled us to ship to customers further afield, ensuring we were still able to offer our customers the products they need.
After many months we were able to move back to our original warehouse and resume business, stronger and better than ever. It is with great pride that Epicure Foods demonstrated its strong tenacity to overcome such extreme hardships and continue my father’s legacy.
People see gourmet cheese, meats, olive oils and many other quality products in grocery stores, each one having a story. The cheese monger will tell you all about the farm, the farmer and the cows where the cheese is produced, they can even tell you what the animals eat and in which field, but rarely will they tell you about the journey between farm and store. About freight liners battling harsh seas and on occasion sinking as a result, or the truck breakdowns or customs delays. Demonstrations in Europe that delay perishable product that needs to be eaten, or price wars and aggressive competition… and the occasional hurricane to spice up the mix. All this is necessary to ensure that fluffy white camembert sits tantalizingly in the gourmet cheese case for you to try.
My father was a pioneer of the import industry, in particular creatively overcoming significant obstacles in importing dairy products. Damir’s knowledge and passion grew as well. He was and still is a legacy of the dairy industry.
With every challenge we face, in every facet of our company, we always remember my father’s advice, “Never give up”.