On May 27, the keys to Frank’s Fruit Market in Haberfield were officially handed to John Velluti and his wife Bree, who will continue to run the business as usual.
The Bonfantes’ daughter, Cristina Zandes, will continue to work in the shop.
Velluti wasn’t planning on buying a fruit and vegetable store, but a close friend suggested to the Five Dock couple that they buy the business when it went on the market in May.
Frank, 68, was retiring due to chronic injury caused by an accident five years ago when a forklift crushed his foot at Flemington Markets.
Frank has been getting up at 2:00 am for more than 40 years to go to Sydney’s wholesale fruit and vegetable markets, initially at Haymarket and then at Flemington.
He arrived in Australia at 13 from Lipari, one of the Aeolian Islands of Sicily.
On Lipari, Frank had grown accustomed to living off the land and sea in accordance with the contadino lifestyle of his parents, Gaetano and Francesca.
In the 1960s, many of the fruit shops in inner Sydney were Italian-owned, and Frank learned his craft young, as well as all the names of the produce in English.
He took over the small Haberfield business in 1974, at 22 years old.
Frank wooed his wife Mary one day when he arrived at her family home with a bunch of red carnations instead of a box of produce.
Mary went on to work tirelessly in the small business alongside Frank, and played a role in supporting the Haberfield community, including through the Italian Food Fiesta, Carnival of Cultures, upgrades and business improvements and the Haberfield Community Bank initiative.
Frank’s Fruit Market played a vital part in bringing to the tables of Sydneysiders traditional Italian produce like globe artichokes, rocket, cime di rapa, radicchio, fennel and countless tomato varieties.
“When news broke that Mary and Frank were retiring and closing their shop, my office was flooded with emails and calls from loyal local customers,” Summer Hill MP, Jo Haylen, said.
“There is so much love and respect for Mary and Frank in the Haberfield community.
“They represent the very best of our inner west and I offer our gratitude, deepest respect and best wishes to them and their family for the future.
“We will miss them.”
Frank’s father Gaetano, who passed away in 2012, also played a part in the evolution of the community shop.
In an interview with SMH, Frank remembered: “When he finished work he used to come to the shop and help until I locked up.”
“He was very much part of the shop.”
The Haberfield Business Community has organised a farewell dinner for Frank and Mary, which will be held this Friday, June 7, at Napoli in Bocca in Haberfield.