MIAMI (CBS4) – As many in South Florida struggle with unemployment and businesses struggle just to survive, one Miami company with a ‘big heart’ is success not just for its owner but for those who work there.
But things weren’t always so good for George Yap, the founder of Leasa; a Liberty City company which grows and sells bean sprouts along with Tofu, noodles and vegetables. Yap started the company in 1977 on money he borrowed. He lost $30 thousand in the first four months. But over the years, his company grew and so did their business. Last year, they set a company record with nearly $9 million in sales.
Yap said Leasa was his second chance – he lost everything when he fled Jamaica in 1976. Today he’s known in the neighborhood as the man who gives second chances. A second chance was just what Hasiel Gonzalez was looking for after he served time in prison for drug trafficking and racketeering.
“It felt good, like no one else gave me that chance, so I feel grateful for Leasa,” said Gonzalez.
“I say to them when I give a job ‘I don’t care what you did before. When you walk through my door, clean sheet. Could be murderer, bank robber, you walk through door, clean sheet, you start your life here’,” said Yap.
Yap’s son Andrew, who is the company’s chief operating officer, said they could have put in automated machines to pack the Tofu but that would have put some of their people out of work.
“You have to have a heart. That’s what my dad taught me. When he came here and gave people second chances, that’s what we have done and why we have had long term success,” said Andrew Yap.
Ninety five percent of the company’s 70 employees are African-America. Many, like former welfare recipient Bernadine Ellison, have worked for Leasa for years.
“I like this place and I love George Yap,” said Ellison.
Leasa is one of the largest growers, manufacturers, processors and packers of healthy food products across the Southeastern United States. Leasa brand products are distributed to various retail locations throughout Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, The Caribbean and Alaska.