Up next: Manhattan Fruit Exchange (New York, NY)
Manhattan Fruit Exchange carries a variety of exotic fruits and vegetables that you wouldn't find in any produce section of a regular food store. From Budda's Hand to Horn Melon, and even Cherries when they aren't in season.
My father Delio Latilla, now 64 years old and his brother Vito Latilla, 71, started this business in 1980 when they were in their 20's, in a small warehouse in Hells Kitchen. They started out just the two of them taking orders and delivering fruit and vegetables to just a handful of restaurants and it just took off by word of mouth. The business continued to grow rapidly and in 1997 Manhattan Fruit Exchange moved to Chelsea Market as one of the first tenants in the building. They operated their wholesale out of Chelsea Market until 2015 when the lease renewal came up, the landlord was offering an outrageous increase in rent and it was in their best interest economically to move elsewhere. After the move to Queens in 2015 the business took a hit no longer being in Manhattan. A lot of chefs would come pick up and we were able to make multiple runs of deliveries to anywhere in the city and once we moved that was no longer the case. The move out of Manhattan, paired with the dissolution of their partnership with their 3rd brother who their parents guilted them to take on as a partner in the 90's after he saw the success they were experiencing, caused the business to take another hit due to major legal fees. 2016-2018 was a struggle financially with all these changes but they were resilient and got back on their feet. 2019 was a great year and 2020 was on track to be an even better year - and then came COVID. While they have branched out to restaurants in Northern New Jersey and Long Island, 90% of their business is supplying restaurants, hotels, bars, clubs and gyms in NYC. The pandemic has caused a 75% drop in sales with all the restrictions the restaurants have had to deal with. Although they can barely pay their own bills they have kept as many employees as they possibly could and have been patient and understanding and supportive of the restaurant owners even though they have hundreds of thousands of dollars owed to them from before the pandemic. What makes Manhattan Fruit Exchange unique is that it was started by 2 brothers on 1 truck delivering to maybe 5 restaurants to a company of 40 employees and 21 trucks delivering to 300+ restaurants just by word of mouth, no sales team, no marketing, just two old school guys with a dream. Their sons and daughters run day to day operations and are on board to take over as the next generation so not only is this a small business but it is a family business as well. With the business revolving around the restaurant industry and the restaurant industry being what it is, we don't see how much longer we can hold on. The aid we have received from the government went to payroll and didn't even really make a dent in our other expenses. It would be beyond devastating to see this 40+ year old family business have to close after all these years and especially as my father and his brother have dedicated their lives to it. While we know the restaurant industry is suffering beyond belief, when they suffer this business suffers just as much with them.