Thirty years ago, on the afternoon of Sept 5th 1987, I got married to Lauren on the rolling green lawns of the old Inn on Lake Waramaug in beautiful western Connecticut. Forty-five of our closest friends and family were with us, as well as the Inn’s old pony named Chester who was fitted with a large lace collar for the occasion! After a three-day long celebration over the Labor Day weekend, Lauren and I left for Martha’s Vineyard for a brief but delightful honeymoon. On September 15, the day after we returned to Manhattan, the doors of Manhattan Fruitier were opened!
It was a whirlwind summer with side-by-side preparations for our wedding and the new business. I couldn’t have been happier!
1987 – Manhattan Fruitier Opens Our Doors
I met Lee Grimsbo at a small dinner party in early 1987. Lee was a friend of my sister’s and was the Fruit and Produce Manager at Dean & Deluca, when it first opened on Prince and Broadway. Lee had made a few fruit baskets for customers that he designed using Flemish still life paintings as his inspiration, and he wondered if it could grow into a business. I thought it could and we became partners in G & G (Gold & Grimsbo) Manhattan Fruitier!
Jehv, Lee and cat Kato
Our first little shop was down on 6th Street near the Bowery. And in 1987, the Bowery wasn’t at all hip. Our first employee was Drew Pleak, a colleague of Lee’s from Dean & Deluca. (Thank you, Dean & Deluca, for hiring and training such talented people — we have employed quite a few other alumni/alumnae over the years as well). Drew is still with us and his design sense and creativity infuse all of our gifts.
After the first year, we took over the basement, and after the second year we rented additional space to handle our holiday business. In those early holidays, we worked around the clock making baskets and organizing deliveries. Lauren was in graduate school at the time, but helped out when she could, especially at the holiday time.
In December 1990, in between doing research on her dissertation, Lauren (also 8 months pregnant with our daughter) would tie netting over the baskets to keep the fruit secure and wrap a simple grosgrain ribbon around the basket and tie it with a bow. I remember we had to rig a little adaptation for her so that she could get her body close enough to the counter where the baskets were lined up ready to net.
We were a real curiosity. People would stop on the sidewalk, day and night, and watch us work through the glass in the door. “Oh, look at Santa’s elves at work!” they would exclaim.
After a couple of years, Lee left Manhattan Fruitier to pursue his love of all things related to gold leaf. He found a great gig at New York Central Art Supply that lasted almost 25 years. He has always championed the growth and continued success of Manhattan Fruitier and we remain friends.
Expanding Outside of New York City
Initially, we only hand delivered our gifts in and around the NYC area. At the urging of a travel agent who was promoting vacations to the Caribbean, we sent tropical fruit gifts in wooden crates across the country. The success of that project led us to develop our shippable hampers and expand our gift line. This was one of our first lessons in listening to the good suggestions of our customers.
Store Front on 29th Street at Park Avenue
After five years, in 1992, we moved Manhattan Fruitier uptown to Park Avenue and 29th Street. We had a beautiful old store front (which we didn’t mess with, though we needed to replace the broken glass). We spent 20 years in that location and watched the neighborhood change around us. By-the-hour hotels and “street walking” business women were slowly replaced by high end hotels, wine bars, yoga studios and condos.
In 2005, we opened a location in Los Angeles to serve our bi-coastal customers which included a few movies and TV shows (see some of our highlights below). As a result of the recession, we decided to close this location in 2009.
By 2012, it was time for us to move again. We had very much outgrown that space and were maintaining separate facilities in Queens and Brooklyn across the years. Our next stop would be Long Island City, where we could consolidate and where we currently operate the business.
Jehv & Massimo Signing Lease For Our First Space in Long Island City
The Manhattan Fruitier Family – Our Incredible Team
The vast majority of our current staff have been with us for 10-20 years which means they like what they do and the environment they work in, and that makes me feel really good. We’ve celebrated milestone birthdays together and watched our children grow up. Like all work places, employees meet and sometimes have romantic relationships, which can lead to marriage and children. By our best reckoning, there have been three marriages and seven children so far.
Over the years we have also lost some good people to their career dreams. For instance, Joe R. a ridiculously smart and funny guy, cut his satirical teeth at Manhattan Fruitier and later became the editor of the Onion satirical media outlet. A group of talented Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) graduates (Adam, Mahoney, and Jason) worked at Manhattan Fruitier in the early years and then went on to form Urban Folk Arts where they pushed each other creatively producing provocative art. Michael M. and Georgia H. both went on to get PhD’s in psychology. Matt J., our intrepid literature enthusiast, was just accepted to the Applied Quantitative Research program at NYU.
Lauren Arranging Centerpieces For a Party at The Explorers Club
We are also so fortunate to have talented people return year-after-year to help us with our holiday business: Tunde I., Haydn L., Jai S., Roushka V., Jillian D., Martha R., Kritzia P., Terry G., Riley S., and Jari J. for example.
And while we have suffered a few losses in the Manhattan Fruitier family over the years I am reminded to value each person, not only for their contribution to Manhattan Fruitier, but for their specialness in the larger world.
We’d love to tell you who our customers are, and who some of their recipients were, but we pride ourselves in being discreet.
Highlights from the last 30 years:
- Featured for the first time in the New York Times. (1987)
- Candace Bergen (my actress crush) calling to place an order. I happened to take that order. I just had to share that! (1988).
- Featured in the New Yorker Magazine: “Run, don’t walk, to the phone and call Manhattan Fruitier.” (1988)
- Our fruit basket appears in Mike Nichols’ movie “Working Girls” as a gift to Sigourney Weaver’s character when she is in the hospital with a broken leg. (1988)
- Martha Stewart & Drew On Set
- Martha Stewart doing a “field trip” to Manhattan Fruitier to record a segment for her TV show. (1997)
- Our fruit basket was presented as a retirement gift to Kevin Kline’s character in The Emperor’s Club. (2002)
- Our fruit basket makes a cameo in the Woody Allen film “Hollywood Ending”. (2002)
- Lauren got to take a call from Renee Fleming in 2003, one of her all-time favorite opera singers. She was as gracious on the phone as she appears on the stage.
- Our fruit basket appears in a final episode of “Sex and the City” in Carrie and Misha’s Paris motel room. (2004)
- On Boardwalk Empire the character Lathrop gets one of our fruit baskets with a note that says “Thanks, you’re a peach.” (2011)
- Liz Lemon snags a cookie from a Manhattan Fruitier fruit basket in an episode of 30 Rock. (2013)
- A gift hamper was in the Academy Award winning movie Birdman. Hint: The gun was hidden behind our hamper on the top shelf in Riggan’s (Michael Keaton’s) dressing room. (2014)
- In HBO’s Girls, Hannah delivered a fruit basket to Adam and Jessa as a way to make peace with them and herself after ex-boyfriend and best friend started dating. During a Moth-like open mic performance, Hannah says something like, “I even gave them a fruit basket, and a not-too cheap one at that.” (2016)
Being in business for 30 years, we’ve been buffeted by many forces outside of our control, and survived. There was 9/11 and all the anxiety and disruption around it. There was the subway strike on December 19, 2005 that paralyzed NYC during our busiest week of the year (our intrepid employees came to work by foot, bicycle and roller blade). And, we experienced the hopefully once-in-a-lifetime great recession of 2008 (never good for gift giving). In 2012, there was Hurricane Sandy, and its impact on NYC’s infrastructure. Overall, we’ve tried to be patient, taken a long term perspective, and proven ourselves to be resilient.