Right across a gravel drive from my father’s hardware and garden store on Plank Road between Byron and Evangeline streets sat Tony’s Fruit Stand. This was very convenient for a kid like me. I used to walk over there and plop my dime down on their counter and ask for “10 cents worth of grapes.” They weighed them out for me, put them in a plastic bag, and off I went on my way back to my dad’s store. Some times I would get hot, boiled peanuts which they put in a foil-lined white paper bag to keep them hot for me. The big, soft, salty ones were the best!
Tony’s Fruit Stand always had fresh fruits and vegetables, but they also had a “cold drink” machine right near the front. It had fruit flavored “cokes” in it that I preferred over the Coca-Colas in my dad’s drink machine. So I’d go there often to get a Fanta strawberry, orange, or grape drink. Their machine was the type that had a tall, slender glass door on the right side that held the bottles in individual compartments, each locked in place with a gate around the neck of the bottle. When the coins were dropped in the slot, the gate would release so that the bottle could be pulled out. I can still hear that clinking sound.
Mr. Tony Pizzolato had a cold-storage room where he kept some of his watermelons to market them as “ice-cold.” And they were! My dad and he had a friendly competition to see who could come closest to guessing the weight of a watermelon just by holding it in their arms. I’m not sure if my dad ever got one for free if he guessed the correct weight, but he did win bragging rights!
In the fall of the year Tony’s Fruit Stand would get in a large load of pumpkins which would be stacked in a large pile out in front. One October day in 1970, Art Kleiner, the photographer for the State Times and Morning Advocate newspaper in Baton Rouge, was driving around town looking for a human interest photo for the Halloween edition’s front page. He dropped by the fruit stand when he saw the big pile of pumpkins out front. He inquired at the counter if they knew of a school-aged girl who could pose in her Halloween costume while sitting in the pumpkins. They immediately recommended that he go next door and ask my parents about me. I was eight years-old at the time. My mom brought me back home quickly and we threw together a homemade witch outfit, grabbed our household broom, bought a witch’s hat at the Pak-a-Sak down the street and headed back to the fruit stand — all in about 20 minutes! It was great fun!
Not long after this, Tony’s began selling seafood — fresh and boiled. When that branch of the business took off, he and his sons moved the seafood market into an old gas station up Plank Road to expand this side of the business. Today his children own and operate Tony’s Seafood Market and Deli, one of the largest seafood markets in the state of Louisiana. They also produce “Louisiana Fish Fry” brand products. What started as humble beginnings has turned into a very successful operation.
The original stand is not on Plank Road anymore, but I’ll always remember the original Tony’s Fruit Stand with fond memories.