Not everyone likes growing old, but for Jeff Ritz, watching his family's baby turn 50 is a treat. Since that baby is the family business, which gets more successful with each tick of the clock, it's going to be one heck of a birthday party.
The Fontana Foundry is celebrating its golden anniversary, this year - a milestone that many companies cannot attain in hard economic climates and one that foundry founders themselves at one time thought they could not achieve.
Since 1946, the Ritz family has made aluminum castings for everything from plumbing fixtures to boat parts.
The business has turned into more than Ritz's father, Dawson, and grandfather, Frank, expected when they opened up a small shop on Cherry Avenue.
“Times were tough during World War II and they almost starved to death," said Jeff Ritz, 39. He is not exaggerating, according to his 84-year-old mother, Esther, who helped her husband operate the company and still is a receptionist there, sometimes working 10-hour days.
"We were living off $25 a week," she said. "There was a lot of hard work and determination."
While the Fontana Chamber of Commerce and the city of Fontana did not have statistics on the longevity of businesses in the community, Fontana's Community Development Director Frank Schuma said a company that can survive for 50 years has attained a fantastic achievement.
Since Fontana Foundry rests in the unincorporated area next to the city, the city does not receive business license or sales tax, revenues. However, Schuma said, the company's success speaks well for the general area as well as Fontana.
The diligence of Frank and Dawson Ritz saw the company through 14 years of rocky times before they could breathe a collective sigh of relief.
The foundry began to hit its stride in the late 1950s when Dawson helped Grand Terrace businessman, Jim Wilden, design the Wilden Pump.
"The pump was so diversified it just grew," Jeff Ritz said. "It will pump anything from peanut butter to toxic waste."
The company, now solely operated by Ritz and his wife Susan since his father's death in 1991, has grown from one building to 15,000 square feet of working space on nearly three acres. It employs 16 and the Ritzes have enough property to expand to 50,000 square feet.
"It depends on how big a beast we want " said Susan Ritz. Never one to forget how his father started, Jeff Ritz, who started hanging around the foundry at age 5, keeps old black-and-white photographs of the business around the office.
In one, Dawson and Frank Ritz smile proudly, in their hats and worn overalls, under the aluminum Fontana Foundry sign Dawson Ritz poured himself. The sign is now in the Fontana historical museum.
Ritz said the company has remained in the area because it has been economically feasible to do so.
Feasibility and operating debt-free are two business ideals his father lived by. Now, those have turned into two challenges Ritz faces as he begins automating the company.
“Dad was known for his quality and honesty. We want to keep it that way,” Ritz said, “We still do some deals on a handshake.”
Foundry is enjoying 50th year in Fontana
Fontana Herald Times
It's been a half-century of hard work and grit, but the Fontana Foundry has kept going strong.
As a result the Fontana Foundry is proud to have passed its 50-year anniversary, making it one of the longest-running businesses in the city.
“It's great that we've been able to make it this far,” said Jeff Ritz who operates the company along with his wife, Susan. "We enjoy being here. The business really keeps us going; there's a lot happening all the time."
The family-owned Foundry has been producing aluminum castings since 1946 at 8306 Cherry Avenue. It has grown from a small one-building operation to three acres on 15,000 square feet of working space. Jeff Ritz is happy to be maintaining the company which was started by his father Dawson, and grandfather, Frank.
Jeff’s mother, Esther also assisted greatly in the development of the business, and she still serves as a receptionist. The company now employs 19 people.