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Produce by Russ Davis

Photo by Rachelle Klemme Russ Davis employee Jim Iken works with potatoes in the warehouse.1 / 2
Photo by Rachelle Klemme Gary Neu is the president of Russ Davis Wholesale.2 / 2

Russ Davis Wholesale has gone a long way since the company's namesake started in Minneapolis in 1955 with one truck.

Today, Russ Davis -- which opened its Wadena warehouse in 1968 and has been headquartered here ever since -- delivers food product in eastern Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

President Gary Neu said that Russ Davis has more than 1,200 items in its inventory at all times and carries both conventional and organic fruits and vegetables. The focus is on produce, although they also offer manufactured goods like dressings, dips, croutons and juice.

"The naked juice has gotten to be a really popular item," he said.

Neu said Russ Davis has done business with the same farmers for years and works with large orders.

"We do a lot of Minnesota-grown product when it becomes in season," he said.

Seasonal Minnesota produce includes sweet corn, green beans, potatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, green cabbage, red cabbage and squash. The growing season runs from about the beginning of July to the end of October.

"We support the local growers in Minnesota as much as we possibly can," Neu said. With warehouses in North Dakota and Wisconsin, they support the farmers local to those areas too, he said.

Bananas and other produce items from outside the United States arrive at ocean ports on huge vessels. Neu said in the case of bananas, for example, it is about a three or four day trip from the tropics to the port. After bananas are unloaded at the port, they are picked up in semi loads and brought to the warehouses.

In the warehouse, bananas are ripened with ethylene gas so they are yellow and ready to eat once they hit the retail grocery stores.

Neu said that when trucks pick up product from elsewhere in the country, they make use of both trips. For example, Schwan's product from Minnesota might be taken to a California distribution center, and on the way back, the truck will take California-grown produce to Minnesota.

"A typical trip from loading product in California on a Monday would arrive in Wadena on a Thursday," Neu said.

Russ Davis does business with local trucking companies including Tony's Transfer of Wadena, Polman's of Wadena and Daggett Truck Line of Frazee.

Wholesale groceries are delivered in bulk to grocery stores, which in turn sell them to the general public. Russ Davis carries out orders by phone within a 24-hour time frame.

"They take an order today, and we deliver it to them tomorrow morning," Neu said.

Russ Davis supplies grocery store chains including SuperOne, Coborns and Kowalski's. They also work directly with Mason Brothers, another Wadena company, to supply their stores with produce.

The company has locations in Jamestown, N.D., as of 2002; Inver Grove Heights, Minn., as of 2006; and a sales office in LaCrosse as of 2007.

"And we have one in Merrill, Wis. that just got hit by a tornado on April 10," Neu said.

The Merrill location was added in 2010. The tornado destroyed part of the building, but repairs were quickly underway. Neu said they were fortunate that the building was not completely destroyed, and the company was taking care of its Wisconsin customers in Inver Grove Heights temporarily.

"Hopefully we'll be back up and running by May 1," Neu said.

A new venture opened in November of last year -- Crazy Fresh, a cut fruit and vegetable processing facility in Eagan. Neu said the products are made to be table-ready on a daily basis.

"Orders are placed today, and they get the orders the next day," he said.

In addition to the warehouses themselves, Russ Davis owns a trucking company in Wood Lake and a diesel repair shop in Wadena. The trucking company is utilized to haul their own product, and the repair shop fixes tractors and trailers. "It's all part of the big picture," Neu said. "We do our own repairing, plus we do local business also."

Russ Davis employs about 125 people in the Wadena area and about 350 overall.