Like the average kid, Joseph Semprevivo loved ice cream.
Unlike the average kid, he knew he had to live without it.
While he was a 9-year-old growing up in Deming, Semprevivo learned he had diabetes – a diagnosis that required him to tame his sweet tooth or face potentially catastrophic consequences.
With the support of his family, he weaned himself off sodas, candy and even orange juice.
And yet his cravings raged. It didn’t help that a young Semprevivo’s tasks at his parents’ restaurant included making gourmet ice cream. After months preparing a dessert he could never enjoy, Semprevivo decided to experiment. He crafted a sugar-free version. Darn if it wasn’t tasty – so tasty, in fact, the family recognized there might be a market for it. They began selling their sugar-free ice cream in grocery stores throughout southern New Mexico.
“I would make all the sales presentations (to grocery stores); it was like ‘Who could turn down a little kid?'” recalls Semprevivo, who was about 12 at the time.
But a few freezer fiascoes convinced the family that ice cream was too problematic and cookies might be a better alternative. Semprevivo’s parents promptly made their son a sugar-free oatmeal cookie.
“I cried,” he recalls. “It was the first cookie I had had (in six years). … I said, ‘You know what? Let’s share this with other diabetics.'”
Joseph’s Lite Cookies were born. Though he was just in high school, Semprevivo played an instrumental role in building the brand.
He’s been devoted to the family business ever since, eventually assuming the title of president and CEO.
The company makes 12 million cookies daily at its Deming plant, and sells through retailers such as Whole Foods, Dollar Tree and Big Lots.
Semprevivo – who now lives in Florida – and his father wrote a book about their experiences, called “Madness, Miracles and Millions.”
Q: Describe yourself as a teenager.
A: As a teenager, I was really kind of similar to the way I am now, very hyper-focused. As a teenager, I was a diabetic and my lifestyle was obviously different than that of other teenagers, so what I did is I just kind of incorporated all my friends in my life dealing with my sugar-free cookies. When I would do demos on the weekends, and on Saturdays and Sundays, my friends … who grew up with me (and I) would actually do demos together (in various communities) and then we would actually just hang out wherever we were at.
Q: You were born in New Jersey. How did your family wind up in Deming?
A: My dad had a crushing accident. He was working at a printing press and his arm got sucked into the press and flattened it. … After he recovered from his injury, the winters were so severe in New Jersey, he couldn’t handle it, so he decided just to pick up and move to New Mexico. That’s when I was 6 years old. That was in the 1970s.
Q: Did you have any family in New Mexico?
A: Nobody. My mom, my dad, my brother, my sister and myself and our dog were all thrown in a station wagon and we drove cross-country from New Jersey to New Mexico. We stopped in the little town of Deming – had no idea we were even going to Deming, I think our intention originally was to go to Arizona – and we stopped in Deming, and my dad said, “That’s it. This is where we’re going to move. I love it, quaint town, everybody was super friendly.” And that’s where we decided to live.
Q: Is today’s Joseph Lite Cookie similar to the first version your parents made?
A: It is. The recipe they made back then, there (were) some slight changes to the recipe from 1987 to now, but we have … five to seven ingredients. That’s all we have in our cookies; very clean label, very easy to read. You don’t need to be a chemist to know what’s in our product, which is really rare in today’s time.
Q: Did you ever have another job? Did you have a first job that wasn’t working in the family business?
A: No, it was always cookies. (But) I was very entrepreneurial. Like, in elementary school, I got in trouble for selling contraband. I was selling candy bars to kids. I took two lunch pails and one was full of Snickers and Milky Ways, and I was selling them, and I got in trouble in elementary school. I was buying the candy bars from my parents. Actually, at first, I was getting them for free. They’d say, “Where are you taking all these candy bars?” And I said, “To school. The kids love them!” (They asked), “Are you giving these candy bars away? We’re paying 25 cents for them.” I said, “No, I’m selling them for $1.” I’d sell them right before lunch. … And I got caught by the principal, so that was not a pleasant experience, calling my parents into school.
Q: You were an intern for Ronald Reagan in the 1990s. Do you have any political aspirations?
A: I love politics. I don’t like what it’s become, but I think both parties need to clean up their act. But wherever my path takes me, I’ll go. I love politics. I’m like a political junkie. I watch all the debates on both sides. On election night, I will stay up until all the results come in. … To me that’s my Super Bowl.
Q: You still seem pretty involved with your alma mater, New Mexico State.
A: I work with New Mexico State Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. I do mentorshiop programs, as well as scholarships for students that are exceptional but just are having a hard time financially or their parents are having a hard time financially.
Q: What was your biggest professional mistake?
A: I would say commitment to too many hours at work. … My big life goal was I always wanted to fall in love, get married and have kids. And I was working 120 hours a week for seven years post-college. And when I was in college, I was working. … You let life pass you by and you really need balance. And I’m still kind of guilty of being tilted to (what) people (call) an over-achiever, (but) I just don’t believe in that term. I don’t think you can achieve over what you’re expected to achieve to begin with. But I am very committed to work and very committed to family (wife and five children), but I have a tendency to gravitate to work more than I should.
Q: What are your pet peeves?
A: A, being late; B, being cluttery, disorganized; and C, not following through with whatever you’ve committed to.
Q: What’s on your bucket list?
A: It’s to be a New York Times No. 1 best-seller and have a movie made for my dad (adapted) from the book we wrote. … My dad’s always wanted our story to be told nationally, so I’d like to achieve that for my dad.
Q: How many of your cookies do you eat a day?
A: Oh, I’ll have two to three servings a day of four cookies each. I’ll have about 12 cookies.
Q: How would you describe yourself in three words?
A: Focused, affectionate and loyal.