In 40 years running Talluto's Authentic Italian Food Inc. - stores on Ninth Street in South Philly, and in Norristown and Ridley Park, and a Folcroft plant that makes Italian meals for ShopRite and Acme and other markets - Joe Talluto's family has survived a lot of banks.
"First Pennsylvania, PNB, Continental, PNC, Progress, Citizens," Talluto recites. Most vanished in mergers. At Citizens, his initial loan officer "was good, but he disappeared."
So Talluto moved to little DNB First (the former Downingtown National Bank) last year. His contact was Al Melfi, who used to solicit Talluto's business when he ran the former Commerce Bank's Philadelphia division.
DNB First is small enough, Talluto says, that he can talk to the people in charge. "It's a good marriage: We communicate," he told me. "I like talking to the people who make the decisions."
I had been curious about the bank since I heard that Vince Liuzzi, who used to be the Philadelphia-area chief of Wells Fargo Bank, the dominant lender in the region and one of America's too-big-to-fail giants, had moved to DNB First, which boasts a modest $600 million in deposits and $400 million in loans. Wells Fargo has branch offices that are larger than that.
DNB First collects big-bank alumni. Besides Liuzzi and Melfi, there's chief financial officer Gerald Sopp, who was controller at Wilmington Trust Co.
These guys are all survivors: Sopp left Wilmington Trust in 2007, before loans to developers who failed wrecked the place. Liuzzi had a securities-broker career before he turned to banking. Melfi was one of many Commerce officials whose efforts to win municipal business drew unwelcome publicity in a 2005 federal investigation of area politicians. Melfi was not accused of any wrongdoing.
What could be the small-town attraction for all these big shots? Of the top 10 banks based in Chester County before the 2008 banking crisis, FDIC data show two were sold and five lost market share. But DNB First grew: It now holds nearly 5 percent of the $11 billion deposited at all Chester County bank branches, up from 4 percent of the $9 billion on deposit seven years ago. Loans rose, from $300 million to more than $400 million.
The bank has been profitable every year since 1992. DNB First avoided the too-generous developer loans that crippled or wrecked rivals when the real estate bubble popped, says William Latoff, a lifelong DNB First depositor and accountant turned car dealer, real estate and small-bank investor who is now the bank's chairman, chief executive, and largest shareholder.
We spoke at DNB's fortresslike stone office in central Downingtown, under a portrait of Quaker farmer Charles Downing, who started the bank when Abraham Lincoln was president.
"Chester County is a unique place. We're fortunate," Latoff said. "It's the fastest-growing, most-affluent, healthiest county in the state."
DNB First hopes to keep boosting its share of that action.