Before there was Balducci’s, before there was the Chelsea Market, and even before there was Whole Foods – there was The Orchard and its owner Daniel Spitz, pioneer of the gourmet fruit and vegetable movement in New York City.
Established in 1957, The Orchard and its owners were the first to fly pineapples from Hawaii to New York City. They were even the ones to provide pineapples for the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter.
Daniel Spitz, the owner of The Orchard at 1367 Coney Island Avenue in Midwood, got some recognition on Thursday for his years of work and entrepreneurial spirit. He opened the store with only $500 in his hand, which he had earned previously from working on the streets as a local delivery man. Now at 84 years old and after 55 years in the fruit business, he was honored for his achievement and his rise from rags to riches.
Borough President Marty Markowitz and Councilman David Greenfield gave proclamations celebrating The Orchard’s anniversary.
In front of all the world to see, Markowitz proclaimed it “Daniel Spitz Celebration Day” in Brooklyn. He praised the merchandise sold at The Orchard, and said that their fruit was always high quality.
“When somebody brings you something from The Orchard, it means that they care about you,” Markowitz said.
Markowitz emphasized Spitz’s dedication to the local community. He pointed out that many have come to Brooklyn in its good days and quickly left when those days were gone, yet Spitz remained, for he had faith in Brooklyn.
As Brooklyn changed over the past 55 years, “the one constant has been The Orchard, and the one constant has been Daniel Spitz,” Markowitz said.
Greenfield’s proclamation, presented by his chief of staff Jane Carey, praised Spitz, his accomplishments, and his “outstanding service and contributions to Brooklyn and New York City.”
Spitz’s son Joel passed along the backstory of the neighborhood staple with a telling of its history that’s far better than what we can do, so here it is in full:
My Dad was born to immigrant Hungarian and Romanian Jews in 1928 just as the Depression was about to descend upon America. He was placed in the Brooklyn Hebrew Orphanage with his brother at 6 years of age when his parents could not afford to keep him. Over time, my Dad’s father abandoned the family never to be heard from again while his mother eventually stopped visiting the boys at the Home. After many failed foster home experiences, the boys were placed in a loving foster home (with an orthodox Jewish father and a devout Roman Catholic mother!) in their mid-teens and went off to the army in 1946 after graduating Lafayette High School. Upon his return, my Dad worked the streets of Midwood with various delivery jobs including a fresh egg route. He learned about produce while working at Smilen Brothers, a large chain of fruit stores in Brooklyn. He finally saved up the 500 dollars to open the Orchard in 1957. While there were four other fruit stores in the immediate area of Midwood, The Orchard outlasted them all and started to thrive by offering the highest quality fruit and vegetables my Dad could find at the Brooklyn Terminal Market in Canarsie. Eventually, the store reached iconic status over the subsequent 55 years, serving the best produce to the local Italians and Jews of Brooklyn as well as the likes of Jimmy Carter at his inauguration party in Washington D.C. and Gil Hodges on the day the Mets won the 1969 World Series.
Along the way, my Dad was able to save enough money from selling pineapples and oranges to start investing in real estate on Avenue J and Coney Island Avenue. Today, he proudly owns and manages ten buildings in the area. He also was able to send his son to Princeton University and Columbia University Medical School. His other son was able to step right into the family business and under his stewardship has enabled The Orchard to continue to grow and prosper. Oh, and by the way, he just celebrated his 60 years of marriage (a truly amazing feat in its own right!)
Congratulation to the Spitz’s, and to The Orchard!
Video and additional reporting by Ned Berke.
CORRECTION (8/7/2012 @ 10:30 a.m.): The original version of this article misspelled the name of Jane Carey, Greenfield’s chief of staff, as Jane Kerry. The mistake has been corrected. We apologize to Carey and to our readers for any confusion this may have caused.