Chris Parisi, the legendary Sydney greengrocer who sold his glamorous fruit barn in Rose Bay two years ago, could manage only 18 months of retirement before he was back in business.
Over the years, Parisi’s temple to fresh produce spawned more than a few flattering imitations. But, after more than 30 years’ work, he stepped back from the fruit and vegetable business he built with his brothers, Dominic and John. They all agreed they were weary of early morning starts and long days.
Parisi took off and travelled for a year, then came home. ‘‘And, frankly, I was bored,’’ he says.
His boredom was obvious to his son, Julian, who said to him: ‘‘Have you had enough of doing nothing yet?’’ He urged him to get back into the game.
Parisi conceded he was ready to give up retirement and went to his close friends Steven and Paul Moraitis from the Moraitis Group, the biggest wholesaler at the Sydney Markets. He knew they owned a retail greengrocer at the Sydney Fish Market that wasn’t performing and suggested he take on Waterside Fruit Connection’s management.
‘‘So, I straightened up the store and doubled the turnover in six months,’’ Parisi says.
He stripped the huge space and built stepped displays, cutting out perforated plastic sheets for a week by hand.
The racked shelving is now graced with glowing limes, bright oranges, ruddy tomatoes, shocking-pink dragon fruit, feathery green dill and dusky brown swiss mushrooms.
By then, Julian, an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, was ready to jump off the financial market carousel and form a partnership with his father.
‘‘I could see that in this economic climate, working in finance was not healthy,’’ Julian says.
‘‘With my training, I wanted to build something for the future. Everybody has to eat, to put food in their mouths. My father had been a leader in fresh produce and we live and breathe food.’’
Parisi began living and breathing fruit and vegetables above his father’s shop in South Strathfield.
Parisi bought his first shop in 1979 and sold it 18 months later for triple the price he paid.
He bought the Antico family’s Rose Bay shop in New South Head Road in 1981 and moved to Dover Road in Rose Bay in 1986. He built a food hall there and sold it in 2010.
Julian was not only urging his father to get back into business, he wanted Parisi to be his partner in a venture. The plan for a mobile kiosk that offers the 10 best fruits in season, whole and in a salad, appealed to Parisi and he gave notice. The Moraitis brothers countered with an offer. ‘‘Paul and Steve said, ‘Why don’t we sell you both 50per cent of Waterside and grow it with your new business plan?’’’ Parisi says.
The offer was enticing and father and son accepted.
The bonus is the extensive network of growers and several exclusive products, such as the ‘‘taste bomb’’ tomato and ‘‘kumato’’, that the Moraitis brothers have developed. ‘‘It doesn’t mean that we only buy from them,’’ Parisi says. ‘‘We buy what we believe is the best of that season. It’s only about 20 per cent of what we carry.’’
The variety they carry is good enough to make any restaurant chef happy. There are micro herbs and golden baby beets, heirloom carrots and tomato medleys, skewer-thin chives and crinkly Tuscan cabbage, pink dragon fruit and aromatic curry leaves, edible flowers and ghost chillies that rate a whopping 1,041,000 on the Scoville scale.
Chefs buy from Parisi, too. He runs a wholesale business from Waterside, servicing 60 restaurants in Sydney and Melbourne with his brother, John, who has also come out of retirement, and his nephew, Anthony.
Parisi has big plans.
He still has stars in his eyes from his travels, spending hours in two of the world’s most exciting food retailers, Peck in Milan and Hediard in Paris.