The Fruit Basket
In search of the springs
Markos Dalakiaris manages the fruit stand owned by his brother.
The first thing to know about Gus Dalakiaris is that his work day starts at 9 p.m. That’s when he climbs into his semi for the 100-mile round trip to the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market. He won’t be back until 4:30 the next morning.
It’s not an easy life, but hard work comes naturally to Dalakiaris, an immigrant Greek with the accent to prove it. Which is one reason his produce stands may be the only place you’ll find retsina in the Sonoma Valley. (For those who don’t know – it’s a resinated Greek wine that will last for—approximately—ever, and while it tastes astringent at first sip, if you drink enough it can become a persistent habit. It’s also good for brushing teeth.)
Dalakiaris has been doing this since 1984 when he opened the Fruit Basket with a partner, since retired. He now operates two produce stands, the Fruit Basket 1 (on Arnold Drive near the Schellville airport) and the Springs-based Fruit Basket 2 (on Highway 12 near West Thomson Avenue).
If you want to trade in fresh produce and build a loyal clientele, this is how you do it. Dalakiaris is now 63, and he does all the buying and trucking for the business, as well as hand-selecting all fruits and vegetables.
“I do this twice a week in winter and three times a week in summer,” he says. “I look at everything, so I can get the highest quality possible. I also try to keep the prices reasonable. You cannot fool customers.”
Those customers get daily displays overflowing with yellow spaghetti squash, oranges and tangerines, red and green peppers; onions, mangoes, papayas, bananas, broccoli, chard, spinach, lettuce, asparagus from Peru and apples from all over—at least 12 varieties.
The store also carries chocolates, candies, cookies and crackers, olive oil and pastas, wine, beer, sodas, juice and milk. “We also stock some local produce and Sonoma Valley wines,” he says. “It’s best to have local products on your shelves.”
Dalakiaris arrived in Sonoma in 1968 and worked 16 years for the Vella Cheese Company, to which he still feels indebted. “I owe a lot to the Vella family,” he says. “Tom Vella gave me the opportunity to begin anew.”
Now he’s offering opportunity to others; his staff includes 20 employees, several of them family. His brother Markos, a well-known Springs personality, has managed the Springs store since the beginning, while son Dimitrios and daughter-in-law Vessie help in the Schellville location. And after all this time, Dalakiaris still likes what he does. “It helps,” he says, “ if you enjoy fruits and vegetables.” Both stands are open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
From the Spring 2008 issue of SONOMA