SAMUEL J Lentini ran a fruit juice racket during his high school years.
Smuggling bottles of fresh orange juice in his school bag, he'd sell them to fellow students in what grew to become quite a business, pocketing up to $400 a week.
He even employed a few mates to help with distribution.
Even when the school canteen tried to have him shut down, he went underground, "paying off" a few of the teachers with free juice so they'd turn a blind eye.
This kind of entrepreneurial thinking is part of the make-up of the entire Lentini family, the owners and founders of Eastcoast Food and Beverages, Kulnura, NSW, which Mr Lentini now heads up as managing director.
He's maintained a "not by the book" attitude as well, even overseeing a label change to better reflect the drought conditions facing agriculture.
Mr Lentini's preparation for a managerial position began when his parents told him to get a handle of every level of the business.
"Before going into sales I worked in the factory," he said.
"This helped to get a feel for who we are as a family."
The third generation Australian family business includes Eastcoast Juices, Eastcoast Spring Water, Lentini Sparkling Mineral Water, Eastcoast Fruits and Eastcoast Contract Packing.
It's been a hectic six months since Mr Lentini took on the role, with the summer bushfires coming close to one of its orchards, followed by flooding in the subsequent wet weather where it lost electricity for an extended period.
Added to this has been an orange shortage, meaning growers were lured by higher prices for fresh fruit, upping the costs of securing product.
It boasts 45 different products ranging from juices (orange, grapefruit, lemon and lime) to smoothies, sparkling water and kombucha.
Eastcoast Juice is a member of Juice Australia (JA) and adheres to its strict Code of Practice regarding accurate labelling and terminology.
It is one of the last truly family-owned juice companies within Australia, built upon a deep history of citrus production and hard work.
A rich past
EASTCOAST Foods and Beverages took off in 1965 when Salvatore Lentini, Mr Lentini's grandfather, picked and packed fresh fruit from his Central Coast orchards to supply to the Sydney Markets.
Years later, when the Australian government removed tariffs on imported juice concentrate, it became less profitable to produce juice derived solely from fresh fruit.
That's when Salvatore's three sons, Sam (senior), Mick and Frank Lentini, saw an opportunity to create their own niche market by squeezing citrus fruit juice made entirely from 100% fresh fruit.
EASTCOAST Foods and Beverages' products are sold through Woolworths and Coles, but about 60 per cent of its product goes out to cafes, bars and food outlets.
With the implementation of forced closures due to Coronavirus, Eastcoast Foods and Beverages has seen those orders dwindle, putting extra pressure on distribution plans.
"Thankfully Coles and Woolies have taken extra stock so we haven't had to let anyone go just yet," he said.
natural springs that flowed through their Central Coast property provided another opportunity through bottled pure spring water.
While growing fruit themselves, the company also receives fruit from experienced contract growers.
The business was nearing the implementation of a major expansion prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Lentini said in tough situations, there was a distinct advantage in being part of a family-owned business.
"There are pros and cons to it, but when times are hard, we pull together as a family to make things work, with the support of my cousins, Dom and Sammy," he said.
The majority of the family lives on-site and the business engages third-party consultants when needed.
Mr Lentini said there was a tremendous amount of pride that went along with being a proper Australian family-owned business, and he intended to keep it that way.
"That's basically what we are doing. We've got to keep it all in Australia," he said.
The three Rs
AS the business has grown in both volume and success, it has been conscious to give back to the community and the environment.
One of the major initiatives has been the Return, Regrow, Re-juice concept.
This embraces a zero-waste philosophy with an aim to be "100 per cent recyclable and 100 per cent committed to the environment and the people in it".
The "Return" part means it uses recyclable bottles and caps which are ready to be returned and re-used in their next life. It also incorporates their citrus peel being sent to farmers for cattle feed.
Last year it donated more than 200,000 tonnes of peel to cattle producers.
"Regrow" means the washdown water is treated and used to replenish and feed the orchard trees.
"Re-juice" sees the company making the most of its citrus pulp, which is then used in yoghurts and citrus-flavoured desserts.
So closely connected is Eastcoast Foods and Beverages to the rural community, it recently changed the juice label from the usual flourishing tree logo to one that is fruitless and barren, in solidarity with farmers battling the drought.
A portion of the proceeds from every Eastcoast bottle sold with the new labels went directly to the farming community doing it tough.
Mr Lentini said it was more than a feelgood exercise. He said it was about highlighting to urban communities the struggles farmers face.
"They see it raining in Sydney and think the drought is over," Mr Lentini said.
"We wanted to strip that back and raise awareness of what is still going on."