Working for peanuts adds up to $15 million for Thomas Lee

February 17, 2015
D&C CEO Lee Dong-chan (Park Sang-hyuk/Korea Times)

D&C CEO Lee Dong-chan (Park Sang-hyuk/Korea Times)

By James Goo, Tae Hong

Ready to meet Los Angeles’ King of Peanuts?

D&C Distribution Co. Inc. CEO Thomas Lee, 66, is living the American Dream.

When he took over the nut distribution business in 1996 for $250,000, he had already been living stateside for decades following years of living in South America as a Korean immigrant.

D&C, based in downtown Los Angeles, now brings in about $15 million a year.

As Lee tells it, his life has been a rotation of businesses.

His initial move to Los Angeles was marked by the purchase of a small market, valued at $3,000., in 1969. Lee, his parents and his three older brothers brought up sales by fourfold within 18 months and expanded to a second store in San Pedro, but that one wasn’t as successful.

He moved on to a coffee shop, then a laundry agency, before finding success in nuts.

Originally established by a Greek immigrant named Gust Picoulas in 1907, D&C was renamed after Lee’s own name, Dong-chan, and that of his wife, Chae-ok. Lee credits much of his success to his ever-positive thinking wife, and openly says, “If anything, I think I really married well.”

The business now provides varieties of peanuts, cashews, almonds and dried fruits to about 175 companies around the United States.

He plans to retire when he hits 70, perhaps take up missionary work in other countries, maybe Korea.

“[For business], you need to have confidence in the product you’re selling, and passion is a necessity,” Lee said.