Tony’s Family Produce is ‘Mighty Vine’
Rain or shine, the dedicated team of Tony White Enterprises & Family Farms in Chesterfield literally transformed tomatoes for St. Louis metro restaurants by delivering the just-right flavor of summer year-round. Consequently, regional diners whisper a hearty thanks with every tasty bite that is as juicy as it is beautiful, especially during winter months.
As a farm-to-table entrepreneur, Tony White grew up in California around his grandfather, who farmed fruit trees. Tony’s agricultural roots again took hold in Missouri when he met “Mr. Fortune,” who shared a small area of a fertile river bottom field in the Creve Coeur/Maryland Heights area so Tony could grow summer vegetables.
“Mr. Fortune, now in his 90s, has a slice of heaven there with his land. I appreciate all the wisdom he shares,” Tony, who held a full-time, unrelated job when he became friends with this mentor, says.
“I’m not a gym person, so creating something in 5 acres started out as my stress relief. The first year wasn’t great, but the second year was successful. Then, by the third year, we had more produce than we knew what to do with.”
When a professional chef suggested about four years ago that Tony could sell produce to area establishments, he couldn’t pass up that opportunity. His first sale was 300 pounds of heirloom tomatoes to Marcella’s Mia Sorella eatery, which were seen by another nearby restaurant crew at Napoli 2, who then started a bidding war over them.
“The buzz caught on. I listened to what customers needed, and we were off to the races,” he says. “Now we’re taking hundreds of pounds of fruits, vegetables and herbs to dozens of restaurants, country clubs and organizations in the St. Louis area.”
From Tony’s business location at 36 Four Seasons Shopping Center in Chesterfield, his team supplies produce to local chefs, private clubs and restaurants, such as Balaban’s, Annie Gunn’s, YaYa’s Euro Bistro, Vito’s In the Valley, EdgeWild Restaurant & Winery, The Wolf, McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood & Steaks, Twisted Tree Steakhouse, Snax Gastrobar, Oceano Bistro, Anthony’s Italian Eats, The Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Company, BrickTops Restaurant, Anthoninos Taverna and Russell’s Cafe & Bakery.
This year, Tony’s staffers also are exploring a corporate delivery service through which companies could receive wellness boxes of fruits and vegetables for employees.
While they grow or source arugula, asparagus, eggplants, kale, blackberries, squash, melons, cabbage, kohlrabi, okra, chard, cucumbers, lettuce, jalapenos, strawberries, onions, spinach, zucchini, radishes and collard greens, hydroponic tomatoes are their specialty. Tony confirms the tomatoes are grown in certified, organic soil. He augments retail deliveries with additional produce grown by 15 like-minded farming families in the Midwest.
“One of the factors our customers really like is they can hand-select produce before they buy it,” Tony says.
Are the new and trendy microgreens more than just garnish? What exactly are they anyway? Tony explains they’re basically baby plants—such as sweet peas, onions or radishes—harvested deliberately at a certain height or age.
“Microgreens are sort of the ‘beyond parsley’ food decoration. But, microgreens are loaded with five to 50 times more nutrients than a head of broccoli, and they provide a whole other layer of taste,” he says.
One of the factors Tony most enjoys is working with chefs who channel their best efforts into adding an extra pop to meals. He plans to introduce a new, purple snow pea this season. He says it’s a bonus to walk into places where the food looks beautiful and tastes magnificent.
“We work really hard to help chefs serve the best possible products,” he says.
From a business started on the tailgate of a Nissan truck, Tony says he’s happy to be part of the culture that’s keeping St. Louis up on beneficial veggies.
“It’s like delivering bounties of love.”