Harry Perch immigrated to the United States in his twenties from Turkey, leaving his wife and three children in his homeland for seven years until he could bring them to America. Upon arrival, Harry founded California Sun Dry Company on Fulton Street in downtown Fresno, California in the back of Illbeg’s Market. He later built a new plant under the same name on Cedar and Ventura Avenue, where 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, California.
George spent a great deal of time in Paso Robles located in 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. In addition to being the bookkeeper, George also repaired the machinery when necessary. George’s brother, Jivon, was the plant manager who maintained the on-site personnel, scheduling, inventory, supervision of the retail side of the business, and performed all of the written correspondence for the business.
The cooking of the wheat occurred from March to October due to the sun being hot enough to dry the cooked wheat on raised screens outside. The steaming hot wheat was scooped out of the cookers, made of deep open steel kettles recessed in brick and heated with natural gas, and transported by wheel barrow and placed on the 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 tremendously important effect on Sunnyland Bulghur Company wherein the company received a defense contract that required the utilization of cracked wheat used to feed America’s 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, Massachusetts, and Fisher Mills Company in Seattle, Washington. By the 1970’s, Sunnyland Bulghur Company was without any real competition on the Western Hemisphere and started exporting to Brazil, Venezuela and parts of Central America.
In 1977, George and Jivon Perch sold Sunnyland Bulghur Company to Carl and John Orlando, whom they chose due to the Orlando brothers’ similar business ethics and the same relentless pursuit to produce a top quality food product. Upon takeover, the Orlando family changed the name to Sunnyland Mills and has continued to pass down the same values to the current set of Orlando brother owners.