By Adam S. Eterovich


Would you believe that two Croatian American brothers were importing all of the bananas from the country of Nicaragua or that the first planted orange groves in Mexican and American California were Croatian colonists from Mexico in 1834. It was a Croatian American that introduced the American public to potato chips and created a food processing empire.



King of Potato Chips

Marko Narancich, who, as a young man, came to the United States from the depressed homeland of Croatia in the district of Lika, changed his name to make it more "Americanized". The name he chose, Marcus Nalley, has become famous in the food products business throughout the Northwest. The business he founded, though now part of a multi-national company, still bears his name. In 1903, when he was thirteen years old, Nalley followed his older brothers to the United States. "'I arrived in New York with fifteen cents in my pocket. I couldn't speak a word of English,' he once reminisced. Nalley traveled to Montana where his brothers worked in the copper mines. In Butte, he worked as a cook. He began frying potatoes and bagging and selling them for five cents. His companions laughed at him, but he said, "You wait and see, these potatoes are going to make me a lot of money," and they did. From Butte, he moved to Anaconda and worked as a meat packer. It was his first exposure to the world of business. "I learned to cut meat, but best of all, I learned how to figure. From cutting meat to preparing food was a natural step. In Chicago, he worked in a hotel as a dishwasher, bus boy, fry cook, pantryman, and chef. In 1913, he was made chef on the first "Olympian" on the Milwaukee Road, running between Chicago and Tacoma. He felt at home in the Pacific Northwest, so he left the railroad to follow his profession here. At the old Bonneville Hotel in Tacoma, as a master chef, he became a specialist in making a new potato delicacy: Saratoga Chips. Nalley borrowed money and bought hand-operated equipment for peeling, slicing, and frying the potato slices. In his apartment kitchen, he made and packaged them. He delivered them to grocery stores and door to door. As the demand increased, the business grew. He was a pioneer in the now multi-million dollar potato chip industry. The Boss', as we called him, worked the hardest and the longest hours. He would get up at four o'clock in the morning, start the factory running, load a delivery truck and spend the long day selling and delivering his products. He worried the most, too, as bills seemed to mount faster than revenues." Problems with keeping quality in the packaged food abounded, but Nalley' rose to the challenge, and thus his business grew. In 1941, the first plant was opened in "Nalley Valley". It had expanded to several plants and office headquarters, and eventually was sold to a national firm. Nalley's products became one of the largest food businesses in the state. "Uncle Mark", as he was best known to his many friends, was a warm and generous man. He loved life and he loved people. He was an avid conservationist and was state chairman for Ducks Unlimited, a fund raising organization devoted to the restoration of wildfowl breeding grounds in Canada. He served for many years as a state game commissioner. Marcus Nalley, who died in 1962, was a respected citizen who helped his fellow man. The Tacoma Chamber of Commerce, in 1931, named him "First Citizen of Tacoma". The Pierce County Board of Commissioners, just a few months before his death, presented him with its "Outstanding Naturalized Citizen Award". The state of Washington has benefitted from the talent, ambition, and perseverance of this Croatian immigrant.


King of Bananas

Jack and Matt Pandol: A long time Reagan backer whose company imports all of Nicaragua’s bananas said the trade embargo with that country will “shove the Nicaraguans more into the arms of Russians.” Jack Pandol, who with this brother, Matt, runs an import-export firm based in Delano, California said its contract with Nicaragua represents almost 25 per cent of the firms $100 million a year business. Bananas are Nicarauga’s biggest export to the United States, amounting to $23,5 million last year, according to the State Department figures.  All of Nicaragua’s exported to bananas are shipped to Pandol Brothers Inc. “It’s hard for me to criticize my government and this may sound like sour grapes, but politics sometimes dosn’t make any sense,” Pandol said. “I’ve gone down (to Nicaragua) and never found any ill-feeling toward me.  The people there are hungry and they’re suffering. Pandol said his firm does not pay for the bananas in dollars but with fertilizer.  “It’s a barter arrangement,” he said. He said President Reagan’s plan to bar trade with Managua will mean layoffs for about 1000 workers who unload and truck 150 million pounds of Nucaraguan bananas a year. A blunt, outspoken man, Pandol is a longtime Republican financial supporter.  When Reagan was governor of California, he appointed Pandol to the state Board of Food and Agriculture.  Pandol is now one of the Governor Deukmejian’s appointees to the state Export Finance Board. The Pandol’s people came from the island of Hvar, Dalmatia, Croatia.


King of Oranges

Mattias Sabich. The first Croatian pioneer in California was Mattias Sabich, coming from Mexico to Los Angeles in 1834. He had a son, Matias, in 1841 and a son, Francisco, in 1842 in Los Angeles. Matias was a trader and merchant. He was listed on the 1860 Census of Population, but  at a later date his son, Francisco, an orchardist, had employed John Cuculich as a nurseryman. Both of these names are found in Dalmatia, Croatia. Sabich planted the first orange groves in Los Angeles and California. All foreigners who became colonists in the Californias who observe the constitution and laws of the Republic will be Mexican citizens as soon as they build their own houses and begin to cultivate their lands. One of the first outgrowths of the new movement toward colonization was the Gomez Farijas Colony.  In February 1834 signs began to appear in Mexico City inviting men, women and families to join a colonial adventure to settle California. Among the three hundred or so colonists who left Mexico on August 1, 1834 was a trader named Matias Sabich or Sabici (1798-1852). Sabich married Josefa Franco Lazard, a member of one of the leading families in Mexican and early American California.  Her brother Don Antonio Franco Coronel, was one of the first mayors of Los Angeles and Ygnacio Coronel founded the city’s first school.  Matias fathered two sons, Mattias and Francisco and he became a well-known and apparently wealthy member of the community. Sabich’s wife died in Los Angeles and is buried at San Gabriel mission.