STOCKTON — A lone eucalyptus tree, more than 100 years old, still stands on the edge of Waterloo Road where Frank and Ina Lucchetti sowed the seeds of their family business.
It remains large and firm, the only survivor of the 1946 chimney fire that burned down the family’s home and adjacent trees and of the 1991 frost that claimed its two remaining companions. The tree’s thriving existence resembles that of the simple fruit stand it helped provide shade for many years ago.
In early 1947, Frank and Ina Lucchetti rented a home in the eastern fringes of Stockton that was surrounded by nine acres of walnuts, peaches and plums. By summer, the first bounty of ripe nectar white freestone peaches at the property was ready to be picked. But the market wasn’t profitable.
Taking a friend’s suggestion, the young couple placed a table and signs on the side of the road to sell their fruit during the busy Fourth of July weekend. On the counter, Ina Lucchetti kept a bowl of just-picked peaches, plums or apricots for customers to sample.
And so it became known as The Fruit Bowl.
The once-small fruit stand now is a market and bakery at 8767 Waterloo Road in Stockton with an ample selection of products, including pasta, peaches, pies and paninis. It opened for its 70th season in April.
Ralph Lucchetti, one of three sons born to Ina and Frank Lucchetti, now runs The Fruit Bowl with help of his wife, Denene.
On a recent afternoon, as vehicles whizzed by the busy road, some slowed to turn into the market’s parking lot — just as others had done over the past seven decades.
Lucchetti wasn’t encouraged by his parents to pursue the family business. His father, in fact, thought he was nuts to want to get into farming. But, after five years of working elsewhere, he decided to return to his roots at his family’s ranch and market.
“It’s home,” Lucchetti said. “I wanted to continue on if I could, and it worked out pretty well.”
Denene Lucchetti said keeping The Fruit Bowl open is important to her husband because his parents started it, and of the three brothers, he’s the only one who went into farming.
Alongside their son and daughter-in-law, Ina and Frank Lucchetti helped keep The Fruit Bowl going for as long as they could and were able to see the completion of the market and the addition of the bakery.
Frank Lucchetti died in 2004 and Ina Lucchetti in 2011.
“They put a lot of hard work in, and my wife and I as well,” Ralph Lucchetti said.
Part of The Fruit Bowl’s success comes from Ralph Lucchetti staying as true as possible to the business’ origins of selling what’s grown at the ranch — he and an employee pick only enough fruits each morning to sell for the day to ensure freshness — and the practice has resulted in a loyal following over the years. The Fruit Bowl also stocks local produce and other items to provide people a one-stop shopping experience.
One woman, who was on her way out of the market after buying a box of cherries, asparagus, strawberries and more, said “this is the best” about The Fruit Bowl. She had been shopping there for more than 40 years, she quickly added as she hauled away her purchase.
“Regulars” will stop by the market two to three times a week. Some people making The Fruit Bowl their usual rest stop between their trips to the Bay Area and the mountains, and vice versa.
The result has been not only a dedicated clientele, but lifelong friends for the Lucchettis, which is part of the appeal of continuing the business, Ralph and Denene Lucchetti said.
The customers are great, and the Lucchettis have gotten to know some of them very well over the years, Denene Lucchetti said.
Ralph Lucchetti recalled one of those customers-turned-family friends was New York Yankee Frank Crosetti.
Sitting at a picnic table just steps from the house where he grew up, Ralph Lucchetti recalled Crosetti would stop by to sit under the shade of a tree and chat with his father. Crosetti once brought over his World Series ring to show a young Ralph.
And it’s not just the customers who are memorable — employees also have been at the root of The Fruit Bowl’s history.
Marie Barbagelata was 13 when she was hired by Ina and Frank Lucchetti to work at their ranch and stand.
The now 76-year-old said she learned such great skills — dealing with customers, counting back change — and work ethic from working at The Fruit Bowl, that she encouraged her daughters and granddaughters to work there. They did.
“It was an all-around good experience,” she said. “I feel like they’re family for me … Ina was one of my idols.”
Ralph Lucchetti said he’s not sure what’s in the future of The Fruit Bowl or whether one of his kids — he and Denene Lucchetti have three children — will continue in the family business or if it will make financial sense to stay open, he said.
Denene and Ralph Lucchetti aren’t ready to let it go, though.
Said Ralph Lucchetti: “We haven’t given up yet.”