Perch Family History of Ownership of Sunnyland Bulghur Company 1930-1977
Harry Perch immigrated to the United States from Turkey when he was in his twenties. He had to leave his wife and three children in his homeland for seven years until he could bring them to America. Harry founded his company that he named California Sun Dry Company on Fulton Street in downtown Fresno in the back of Illbeg’s Market. He later built a new plant under the same name on Cedar and Ventura Avenue. Later his two brothers-in-law, Simon and Manuel Barsam, joined him. Eventually, Harry and his sons, George and Jivon, started what would become Sunnyland Bulghur Company in 1935 in a metal building on a large commercial lot located at 1435 Gearhart Avenue in Fresno.
George spent a great deal of time in Paso Robles on the Central coast of California each summer finding and purchasing the high quality wheat that was needed to manufacture bulghur. George contracted with various farmers to grow the special type of wheat that he needed. George did the purchasing. He was also the bookkeeper and repaired the machinery when necessary. Jivon was the plant manager. He maintained on-site personnel, scheduling, inventory and supervised the retail side of the business. Jivon was in charge of all written correspondence for the business.
Old elevator with 100-lb. burlap bag on hand cart
The cooking of the wheat occurred from March to October; because the sun was hot enough to dry the cooked wheat on screens in the yard. The steaming hot wheat was scooped out of the cookers made of deep open steel kettles recessed in brick and heated with natural gas. It was then transported by wheel barrow and placed on the raised screens to dry. Twice a day it was raked by hand to allow even drying of the berries. This sun drying process took three days in the hot California sun. After the wheat was dry, it was stored in burlap sacks. This was the way it was done prior to installing a dehydrator which was later used for year-round production.
The dried wheat was then ground in special grinders and sifted into distinct sizes. Bulghur was sold in 100 pound burlap sacks with the same logo that is used today.
World War II had a tremendous and important effect on Sunnyland Bulghur Company. The company received a defense contract that required the utilization of cracked wheat used to feed our soldiers and to sand blast aluminum airplane parts. This required the plant to be in use twenty-four hours a day.
The early competitors to Sunnyland Bulghur Company were the Armeno Cereal Company, located near Boston and Fisher Mills Company in Seattle, Washington. By the 1970’s, Sunnyland Bulghur Company was without any real competition on the Western Hemisphere. The company started exporting to Brazil, Venezuela and to parts of Central America.
In 1977, George and Jivon sold Sunnyland Bulghur Company to Carl and John Orlando. They chose the Orlando brothers because they had similar business ethics and the same relentless pursuit to produce a top quality food product. The Orlando family changed the name to Sunnyland Mills and has continued in ownership ever since. In fact, today Mike and Steve Orlando are the third set of brothers to own and manage Sunnyland.
Harry Perch worked at Sunnyland Bulghur Company until his 80’s and died in 1974. George Perch died in 1994 and Jivon Perch died in 1997.
Mary Perch, Jivon’s widow still lives in Fresno near the plant that was located on Gearhart Ave.