The former Jerome Brown barbecue sauce plant, a venture that ended up with prison terms for two former City Council members, has a new purpose – fruit and gift baskets.
A Gift Inside intends to open an e-commerce gift-basket packing and shipping fulfillment center at the Northwest Jacksonville warehouse in time for Mother’s Day.
Alex Meier, director of manufacturing for California-based A Gift Inside, said April 14 the company will hire about 10 employees and could ramp up to triple that during peak seasons.
“One of the reasons we targeted this area is the range is fantastic,” Meier said of the delivery reach of perishable products throughout Florida and far west and north of Jacksonville.
It can reach the next day into Florida, Georgia and Alabama, and two days north to Michigan and New York and west to the Colorado border.
A Gift Inside ships baskets and boxes of fruit, candy, nuts, cheeses, meats and snacks. It ships as orders are received for delivery within two days.
The company is based in Lodi, California, and ships throughout the 50 U.S. states.
The Jacksonville building, at 5638 Commonwealth Ave., will be the company’s fifth plant and focus on delivery throughout the Southeast.
The first four plants are in California, Texas, Pennsylvania and New York.
It also sells through Amazon.com under the Golden State Fruit brand name.
A Gift Inside uses United Parcel Service, FedEx and other shippers.
It also packs for other fulfillment companies, whose identities Meier said he wasn’t able to disclose.
Meier has production oversight for A Gift Inside along the U.S. East Coast. Angel Adelizzi moved from Pennsylvania to Jacksonville as general manager.
A Gift Inside is designing the interior to make space for expansion.
“We have a lot of opportunities and are seeking to grow the Jacksonville location,” Meier said.
Property owner Tagg Ventures LLC of Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, bought the 34,237-square-foot Commonwealth building in December to lease to A Gift Inside.
Tagg Ventures LLC paid $1.55 million for the property. First National Bank of Pennsylvania financed the deal with a $1.16 million mortgage.
Manager George Loudon Jr. filed the Tagg Ventures LLC name with the state Dec. 15.
Tagg bought the property from 5638 Commonwealth Avenue LLC, whose manager, David M. Hicks Jr., intended to open a hummus manufacturing plant there. Hicks, who changed those plans, could not be reached for comment about the sale.
Hicks, a Jacksonville investor, acquired the property in June 2017.
The almost 3.8-acre site is at Commonwealth Avenue and Ellis Road North. The structure was built in 1985 and had several uses before being set up for the barbecue sauce venture.
Through 5638 Commonwealth LLC, Hicks bought the building at auction. He paid $1.3 million for the property and the barbecue sauce equipment.
Hicks took title to it as SBA-approved lender BizCapital BidCo I LLC foreclosed on CoWealth LLC and Basic Products LLC, the entities that operated Jerome Brown Products.
CoWealth LLC bought the building in 2012 for the plant for the Jerome Brown brand of barbecue sauce.
Former Jacksonville District 8 City Council member Katrina Brown, the daughter of Jerome Brown, co-owned the barbecue sauce business.
A federal grand jury indicted Brown and former District 10 Council member Reginald Brown, no relation, in May 2018 on charges that included conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud related to t he use of a Small Business Administration loan that helped finance the barbecue sauce manufacturing operation.
A jury found them guilty on multiple counts. U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard sentenced Katrina Brown to 33 months in federal prison and Reginald Brown to 18 months.
Plans for A Gift Inside show production, shipping and receiving, storage and future production space.
Crabtree Construction Co. is shown as the contractor, and RAM Architecture is the architect.
Loudon said April 13 the gift-basket company had looked for sites on Florida’s East Coast and settled on Jacksonville, primarily because of its distribution proximity to the lower Eastern U.S.
Loudon said broker Shaun Mayberry helped to identify the site. Mayberry is vice president and asset acquisitions manager with Prime Realty.
“When we came down, we looked at a number of properties in the Jacksonville area. This checked all of the boxes,” Loudon said.
Loudon said the Commonwealth location was near Jacksonville International Airport, which Meier said aids distribution as well as travel among sites.
Meier said the location also provides flexibility for e-commerce orders when other plants might be facing weather challenges.
A Gift Inside is hiring for production workers at $12-$13 an hour.
“We are looking for motivated staff to join our team to help fulfill gift basket orders at our new production facility in Jacksonville,” says a posting on the company’s career link.
It says full- and part-time roles are available to pick, produce, package and label gourmet food products into gift packs and baskets.
Meier said the gifts are hand-assembled, sorted and palletized for the carriers.
One room, known as the red room for the color of its floor, will be used for chocolate-dipped strawberries and caramel chocolate-dipped apples.
Shifts are 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday, with additional hours and days at the peak times of Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
A Gift Inside says on agiftinside.com that it has been growing and packing fruit for more than 50 years and created Golden State Fruit in 2009 “to bring the best of our handpicked fruit of our orchards direct to doorsteps,” including pears.
In 2013, it opened Farmstead Gourmet in Pennsylvania to expand its line of cheeses, candies, and sweet and savory accompaniments.
It bought an artisan chocolate company and developed CY Chocolates. It also sells its LoveBerries chocolate-dipped strawberries.
In 2015, it combined the brands to create “A Gift Inside.”
The company also sells Branch to Box, a subscription for fruit boxes delivered to offices.
“We are here for the long haul,” Meier said.