Jeno Paulucci, Duluth businessman, dies

Nov. 26, 2011 at 2:57 PM
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DULUTH, Minn., Nov. 26 (UPI) -- Volatile but extremely successful Duluth, Minn., businessman Jeno Paulucci died Thanksgiving Day at age 93, his family said.

The Duluth News Tribune said Paulucci was born Luigino Francesco Paolucci on July 7, 1918 in Aurora, Minn., to Italian immigrants.

His father was an iron miner who was injured and could not work during Paulucci's childhood, leading Paulucci to start work at age 12.

He picked up coal along the railroad tracks to help heat the family home, which included an illegal drinking establishment, the News Tribune said.

At 12, he worked at the Daylight Economy Market in Hibbing, Minn. He then sold groceries for C.A. Pearson Wholesale.

He graduated from high school in 1935, spent some time as a traveling salesman, then began his own line of canned Chinese food called Chun King.

He sold that business in 1966 to R.J. Reynolds Foods Inc. for $63 million. He sold the next business he built from scratch, a pizza roll and snack business called Jeno's Inc., to Pillsbury for $135 million. He then built up a real estate business in Florida, which he eventually sold for $50 million in 1992.

At that point, a non-compete clause in his contract had expired, so he went back into the food business and built up Luigino's Inc., which makes frozen snacks for microwave cooking. By 2004, that business was estimated to be worth $300 million.

Along the way, Paulucci established a reputation for being kind, generous and temperamental. He helped or initiated several community projects but "had a reputation as a very tough man," former Duluth Mayor Gary Doty said.

He took many adversaries to court, including, once, one of his daughters, fired employees on the spot and bought newspaper ads blasting people and policies he did not like, the newspaper said.

"I've never gone through life worrying about what people think of me," he said.

Friends saw two sides.

"If there were people in need, I could call Jeno, and he never turned it down," Doty said.

Paulucci died only four days after the death of his wife, Lois, with whom he was married for 64 years.

"Once my mother passed, my father was determined to be with her. That was his wish, to be with Lois," said a daughter, Cindy Paulucci Selton.

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