PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Augustus “Gus” Barber, a former meat cutter who built an innovative frozen-food business that provided jobs to thousands of immigrants in his native Portland, has died at the age of 87.

The founder of Barber Foods died Friday at Maine Medical Center after going into cardiac arrest, family members said.

The son of immigrants who fled Ottoman rule during the Armenian genocide, Barber grew his business from a kitchen-based operation to a company with a work force of 800. He began by offering cut-up chicken parts and later shifted to stuffed chicken entrees such as chicken cordon bleu and chicken Kiev.

More than 40 percent of the company’s employees are immigrants, many of whom take English courses on-site, the family said. More than 50 languages are spoken at Barber Foods, according to the company’s Web site, www.barberfoods.com.

“From an early age he said, ‘I want to be successful and I want to be there to help other people,”’ said Kathy Barber of Cape Elizabeth, the youngest of his four children.

Family members said the harsh invective he faced as a first-generation American shaped his world view and changed the way he ran his business.

His employees’ struggles, their war-torn homelands and their dreams for a better life in the United States were close to Barber’s heart, the family said.

“He just had great empathy for that, and great belief that the world can be a better place,” said daughter Julie Barber of Scarborough.

After serving in the Army during World War II and working as a welder in a South Portland shipyard, Barber worked for eight years as a meat cutter before setting out on his own in 1955.

He retired in 2002 as chairman of the company’s board of directors.

Survivors include his wife of 55 years, Marjorie, and four adult children, all of whom are involved in the family business.