By Harry Keaney
Mayoman Sean James, chief executive officer of Yonkers-based Irish Food Distributors, has been selected by the Irish Business Organization of New York as its 1999 business person of the year.
The award is presented to an individual who "exemplifies the spirit of Irish entrepreneurship in America," according to the IBO.
Three years ago, James founded Specialty Foods of Ireland Inc., a corporate food hamper and gift basket company offering Irish products such as smoked salmon, chocolates, teas and preserves.
In 1977, he acquired Walton’s Music Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of the Dublin-based Walton’s, a household name in Ireland, with a reputation as a leading music instrument maker and music publisher since 1922.
James’s latest endeavor is the Temple Bar and Druid Restaurant in Stamford, Conn.
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In addition, the IBO has selected Fr. ‘ngus Finucane, honorary president of Concern Worldwide (U.S.) Inc., as the recipient of its Celtic Spirit Award.
The Arthur J. Clements Awards, named after the IBO’s founder, will be presented to the following: Patrick Comasky, president of New York-based IBS Building Service Contractors Inc.; John Corkery, owner of Twin Lakes Ski Park Inc. of Fairlawn, N.J.; Maura Kelly, an Emmy Award winning producer at Channel 13 WNET, and Kevin Tierney, a marketing executive at Sumitomo Life Insurance Agency America Inc.
The Arthur Clements Awards are given to IBO members who have demonstrated not only their business acumen but also their ongoing interest in the welfare and future of the organization by their participation and support.
The presentation ceremony will take place during the IBO’s annual gala ball on Oct. 22 in the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Manhattan.
The top honoree
Sean James, 35, graduated with a bachelor of science degree in agriculture from University College, Dublin and, after obtaining a Donnelly Visa, immigrated to the U.S. in 1988. He joined the Hood Dairy Company in Boston. The following year, he was hired by the Irish food company Dairygold as export marketing sales manager and set about establishing its offices in the U.S. After three years, he left to embark on his own business career.
In 1992, James founded Irish Food Distributors and it remains his core business. Beginning as the distributor of Galtee & Shannon traditional breakfast meats, he identified a broader need for other Irish foods and developed the company into a full ethnic food supplier. Today, Irish Food Distributors is the largest importer and distributor of Irish consumer foods in the U.S. With a product range of more than 1,200 items, IFD supplies supermarkets, delicatessens, specialty food shops, restaurants, bars, hotels and gift stores — all services by IFD’s fleet of trucks and long-distance carriers.
Apart from its Yonkers headquarters, IFD has personnel in Boston, Chicago and San Francisco.
On taking over Walton’s, James moved the company’s base from Massachusetts to New York and changed the name to Walton’s USA Inc. But more than a name change was in the works. He transformed Walton into a trading company with the aim of offering a full selection of quality Irish music and gifts to the ethnic and mainstream markets. Today, Walton’s USA Inc. is the exclusive U.S. distributor of Walton’s music instruments, books and instructional videos, heritage family name videos, the Castle Arch Collection of Celtic art, the Irish Historical Picture Company and the Irish Citizenship Handbook.
Last year, James teamed up with partners Michael McEveney and Gordon Whelan to form the Druid Pub Company. Their first theme pub, the Temple Bar, opened last March on Bedford Street in Stamford. On the second floor, the Druid Restaurant specializes in European cuisine.
A native of Corroy, Ballina, Co. Mayo, James is the eldest son in a family of four boys and three girls. His three brothers, Finbarr, Michael and Kenneth, followed him to the U.S. and work at Irish Food Distributors.
Sean and his wife, Paula, have three children, Ciara, Siobhán and Ronan.
The nominee for the Celtic Spirit Award, Limerick native Fr. ‘ngus Finucane has given a lifetime of service to those in the world afflicted by war, famine, disease and deprivation.
In Finucane’s honor, the IBO will give a $10,000 charitable donation to Concern Worldwide, (U.S.) Inc.
Concern has operations in 19 countries throughout Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.
The gala ball, on Oct. 22, will begin with a cocktail reception at 8 p.m. followed by dinner and dancing from 9 to 1 a.m. Entertainment will be provided by East Coast.
Tickets cost $160 per person.
Details, (212) 750-8181.