When Joseph Unanue began to formally work at Goya Foods in 1952, the family business was a regional enterprise.
His parents, Prudencio and Carolina Unanue, Spaniards who emigrated to Puerto Rico and later to the continental United States, founded the company in 1936 to import Spanish foods. Joseph grew up packing olive and sardine cans.
By the time he left the company in 2004 after 30 years as president, Goya Foods had become a multinational corporation that billed $750 million a year and the largest distributor of Hispanic-origin foods in the U.S., according to company records. The company opened a distribution center in Doral in 2011.
Relatives of Unanue, who died on June 12 at age 88 at his residence in Alpine, N.J., called him a visionary.
"He built up the company into what its now," said a grandson, Nicholas McVicar. "He saw that Hispanics were turning into a growing market in the country."
Andy Unanue said that his father understood the differences among the Hispanic communities and their cuisines. "He distributed in the United States quality foods from our countries of origin so that people could feel at home," he said.
"He understood the Hispanic mentality. Most Hispanics cook at least one meal a day at home," said Frederick Polakoff, a company lawyer who knew Unanue for 51 years.
Unanue and his wife, Carmen Ana, created the C&J Unanue Foundation, which supported the popular El Barrio Museum in Harlem, N.Y., and the Newark Catholic Archdiocese.
"He was a patriot; he fought for our country," said Andy, pointing out that his father fought in World War II and was decorated for valor with the Bronze Star.