A Love Story 8

Married very young, 
Newport Beach residents Leslie and Dino Cancellieri boast 47 years of marriage.

“The day I met her, I told her I was going to marry her,” 
Dino Cancellieri recalls saying to Leslie Warden the day they met. It was a prophetic statement.

Their early years saw Leslie as the middle child of five children, whose parents, John and Celia Warden, were an auto mechanic and stay-at-home mom, respectively. Dino’s father, Larry Cancellieri, owned a wholesale produce company on the terminal market in Los Angeles, while Mary, his mother, was a homemaker. He was the older of two brothers.

Dino was raised in an Italian neighborhood in Lincoln Heights, California, later graduating from Covina High School in 1965. He then attended Mt. San Antonio College for a year and a half before transferring to Orange Coast College (OCC). It was during this time that Leslie and Dino met, while Leslie was attending West Covina High School. They were married the following year on April 27, 1968, and welcomed their first-born son, Dino, Jr., into the family. Leslie chose to stay home and care for their son while finishing her last year of school, and Dino, Sr. went to work for his father.

The Cancellieris moved in 1970 to Huntington Beach, where they bought their first home, which was walking distance from the ocean. It was during their stay there that Randy was born in 1974, with Adam following the next year.

In 1980, Dino, Sr., working as general manager of his father’s company, decided, with partner Mark Resnikoff, to open a produce brokerage company called R. & K. Distributing. They were destination brokers and because of that, he spent November through April of the year in Nogales, Arizona, and spring/summer in Fresno, California.

“Raising three young boys while Dino was away building the business was difficult,” Leslie remembers from those years.

By 1985, Dino, Sr., and his partner opened Orange Coast Produce, a produce brokerage company, in Huntington Beach.“We were produce brokers, doing pretty much what we were doing before, and since we had established relationships with the growers and shippers, we didn’t have to be gone,” he says.

Around 1977, Dino, Jr. began playing Jr. All American Football and Little League Baseball. Dino, Sr. started helping the coaches, and, before long, he was either head coach or assistant coach for all three boys’ teams.

“Sports was a huge part of our lives and a great way to instill discipline and responsibility in our son’s lives,” Dino, Sr. says.

Before Leslie and Dino married, Leslie had been approached by a modeling agency to do print work, which she did for two years, when she was 15 and 16 years old. One of her assignments was the cover of Modern Romance. Later, when she was married, she decided when the boys were all in school to take a job with the Newport Ensign selling display advertising, as well as authoring a fashion column. Following her experience in the newspaper business, she worked in sales at Abercrombie & Fitch at South Coast Plaza before she and two of her sisters opened a graphic arts and screen printing company in Costa Mesa called L. R. Tees, which they owned and operated for the next seven years.

“We printed the designs for Mossimo, Quiksilver and many of the top surf lines at that time,” Leslie says.

In 1989, Dino, Sr., his partner and two growers with Orange Coast Produce opened Veg-Fresh Farms in a packing shed in Covina. The business was a tomato and onion repacking and distribution business with 30 employees.

“We would take possession of the produce, color, sort, size and package it,” Dino Sr. says.

Eventually, all three sons and cousin Mark Widder became partners in Veg-Fresh Farms. By 1997, Veg Fresh had outgrown the packing shed and moved the business to a 100,000 square foot building in Anaheim, expanding its food service business to include mixed vegetables and becoming a certified organic distributor. In 2014, with 300+ employees, it was time to expand yet again and the company moved to Corona to its present location on 10 acres and 200,000 square feet. The move allowed the business to expand its tropical, berry, chili and vegetable business. Soon after, the company launched its Good Life Organic Line and was listed as a preferred vendor for numerous national food service restaurant accounts, along with major super market chain stores.

“As much as I enjoyed coaching my sons in all their sports and being involved in their growing years, I am amazed watching them every day taking Veg-Fresh to the next level,” Dino, Sr. says.

During the early 1990s, while Veg Fresh was expanding, Leslie decided to take some classes in general education at OCC, later transferring her credits to Chapman University, where she graduated in 1994 with a degree in communications and public relations.

It was after graduating from Chapman that Leslie commenced her philanthropic work with such nonprofits as Children’s Hospital of Orange County, where she co-chaired and performed in its CHOC Follies for 14 years – plus being a major underwriter. Her support continues as well for Women of Chapman, where she is past president and past chair of the nonprofit’s fundraiser, “Christmas at The Ritz.” Her giving also includes Oceana, the nonprofit committed to protecting the oceans, and she is a member of Angels for the Arts, a major women’s support group for Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

While at Chapman, Leslie and Dino, Sr. separated, at her request, for four years.

“I always thought I missed part of my life because I was married so young,” Leslie says. “I was looking for something I already had but didn’t realize it until it was gone. Dino and my family were the most important things in my life, and I missed being together.”

“I always believed we were destined to be together,” Dino, Sr. says.

Leslie can now assess the intervening years.

“I can honestly say the last 10 years have been the best years of my life. I think I’m much more at ease with who I am, and I have a new realization of what is important in my life–the love of my family and friends.

“I love Leslie,” Dino Sr. says. “I look forward to coming home to her and traveling with her. Through the years, we’ve figured out how to appreciate and love each other now more than ever.”

Today, you can see from the family photo that there are lots of grandchildren. Dino, Jr. is married to Jennifer, with children Braydon, 15, and Olivia, 8. Randy and Stephanie have Frankie, 2, and one on the way, with Charlie, 12, and Jamie, 9, from a former marriage. Adam and Kim have two children, Matteo, 9, and Stella, 6.

Grandparents Leslie and Dino, Sr. aka “Yaya” and “Papu,” don’t miss a birthday, school performance or special occasion with their grandchildren. They are a #1 priority.

When all is said and done, it looks like Dino, Sr. was dead on when he met this beautiful 16-year-old at his cousin’s wedding, where Leslie was a friend of the bride.

“I was in love 
with her from 
the day I met her,” 
he says, smiling.