The storefront of Rio International Refrigeration is one of dozens of businesses on Glen Cove Ave. near downtown Glen Cove, and lacking massive signs or advertisements, it could be easy to miss. However, the company’s history has proven it to be much more than your average family-owned business. 2019 marks its 40th year of operation, an accomplishment which only a tiny fraction of small businesses in the United States can tout.
Rio International specializes in the installation and maintenance of commercial refrigeration, heating and air conditioning units to businesses throughout New York. While most of its clients are on the North Shore, it has also serviced businesses elsewhere on Long Island and in the five boroughs.
Rio’s owner, Steve Rios, has spent most of his life in the business, as his father, Julio Rios, founded the company in 1979. “I’m servicing places where [the original owners’] kids are starting to run the business,” he said. “So, I’ve seen second and third generations being around the businesses.”
Julio arrived in the U.S. in 1965 after migrating from Peru when he was 18-years-old. He began driving trucks for a living shortly thereafter, and eventually went to a trade school to study refrigeration. After working for multiple refrigeration companies in the 1970s he decided to open his own company, Rio International Refrigeration in 1979. He initially began working out of his home in Roslyn before opening up a space in 1984. Then his company made its final move to Glen Cove in 2008, where it has remained ever since.
Julio explained that his work ethic was a huge part of why the business was so immediately successful. “I always worked,” he said. “I didn’t care if I started a 7 in the morning and worked until 9 at night. I was always working.”
His work paid dividends quickly, allowing for him to pay off the debts he had accrued from opening his business, leaving him with only taxes to pay.
His son, Steve, began working with the business as a teenager, taking his own calls by the time he was 18. Immediately after graduating from SUNY Farmingdale in 1992 with a degree in air conditioning engineering, he began working full time at Rio in a managerial capacity. Upon his father’s retirement, he eventually became the company’s main owner in the mid-2000s.
Involved for several decades, Steve said that he has seen many changes in the ways in which Rio’s services have evolved. The biggest changes have been advancements in technology he said.
“Computers have changed the whole dynamic of doing business,” he said, “from ordering parts to equipment failing with codes. Traditionally things were more mechanical.”
“So now, I would say a technician has a bigger challenge,“ Steve continued. “He has to be computer savvy, with controls and sensors, and then become a mechanic to repair [a unit] mechanically.”
Despite the vast changes which time has thrust upon the company, Rio International has continued to thrive and maintain the same clients throughout the years. According to Steve, the company’s average client has been with it for between 20 and 25 years, and they are almost always hired from a referral or word of mouth. Rio works with local businesses, country clubs and government institutions.
One of those local businesses is the South Ridge Delicatessen in Glen Cove. Its owner, John Sebastiano, said that Rio has provided refrigeration for his deli for nearly 20 years. He said he appreciates the honest customer service he’s always received. That, along with the company’s willingness to encourage customers to make their own decisions is what drives Sebastiano to continue to work with Rio.
“They’re good people,” Sebastiano said. “They tell you what it is, they tell you what you have to do, and the rest is up to you.”
Rio has serviced the Glen Cove City School District for 24 years, providing services for all six of the district’s kitchens. Kim Coopersmith, director of the district’s Child Nutrition Program, said that the company’s willingness to take care of problems immediately is what sets it apart from other refrigeration companies.
“If at one point one of our units goes down, we need service immediately,” she said. “There’s really no time to spare when it comes to food you’re serving to children.”
She remains impressed that Steve will come in immediately and explain why certain things went wrong and what needs to be done.
Steve said that his business’s success and its ability to maintain customers for so long can be attributed to the work ethic his father passed on to him. “You back what you do, even if it’s costing you time and money,” he said. “You’re still fulfilling what you said you’re going to do, and that’s what’s kind of the greatest thing my dad taught me.”
On how he feels about Steve taking over the business, Julio simply said, “I really love it.”
Along with accolades from its customers, Rio International has recently been named 2019’s best refrigeration business on Long Island by the Bethpage Federal Credit Union. The fact that the award came right on the company’s 40th anniversary was just a coincidence, Steve said, but one that has been very well deserved for a long time.