Boston Tomato & Packaging LLC

Boston’s fresh produce company built on first-generation family legacy
Written by: 
Molly Shaw

Bob Nano is the proud first-generation business owner behind Boston Tomato & Packaging LLC (Boston Tomato). Nano’s story truly embodies the American Dream; from small produce push cart to what Boston Tomato is today –a major supplier of fresh tomatoes, fresh herbs, specialty produce and vegetables to produce distributors, food service companies, restaurants, independent grocers and retail grocery warehouses throughout New England.

Boston Tomato brings the best the U.S. and the globe has to offer –green and yellow peppers from Holland, grape tomatoes from Mexico, basil from Columbia and more- directly from farms to the consumer. “By using these diversified purchasing methods we ensure our customers will receive the freshest product available along with a maximum shelf life,” explains Nano. “Excellent quality is one of the three main goals of the company; the second is product safety.”

All of Boston Tomato’s partner farms follow directions and guidelines from the USDA and FDA for growing, processing and sanitation. A high quality, safe product goes hand in hand with service and convenience. “Boston Tomato offers year-round availability on our products, customized packaging to fit specific needs, custom labeling and competitive pricing,” details Nano.

Starting from scratch in Boston

Now based in Chelsea, Massachusetts, at the New England Produce Center, Nano has built Boston Tomato into a regional leader in the produce industry and he did it all practically from scratch. “I came to the U.S. from Sicily when I was just 12 years old and I didn’t speak English,” he recounts. “I started shining shoes at the Boston Commons and then I worked at a sub shop.”

Nano had some family members around, including his uncle and a few brothers who had been in the country for several years, but for the most part, he was on his own. “My brothers and me never went to school or had any formal education,” tells Nano.

Working off mainly street smarts, Nano picked up another job at a produce push cart. “I remember thinking, this is a gold mine and I loved it,” he says. “I wanted to start my own produce business, so I looked into it and rented a place out for a few weeks. Once that went well, I finally moved the business to Hay Market, where I remained for about 10 years.”

From Hay Market to Chelsea Market, Nano began building more industry know-how. “I was approached by Charlie Dolan at DiMare Fresh Produce,” recalls Nano. “He liked my personality and thought I would be a good sales person for DiMare, where I began selling tomatoes for about five years. In the meantime, I was building clientele on my own, always learning and saving money.”

Years and a couple more produce-related jobs later, Boston Tomato came up for sale by an older gentleman. “I didn’t want to go to work for someone else, I wanted to be an owner,” says Nano. “I bought half of Boston Tomato 15 years ago and five years ago I put another $2 million in and fulfilled my wildest dream by buying out the other owner.”

Nano says he never imagined he would be in the position he is now. “It’s really what the American Dream is about –never did I think I’d own a company that does $40 to $50 million a year with 65 employees and six bays at the New England Produce Center.”

Father to son -launching Boston Fresh

Nano wanted to pass his success onto his son, Charlie Nano, with one main goal: give Charlie the quality education he never had access to. “Growing up, he went to the best private schools and I really wanted him to go to college, so we packed him up, bought him furniture and a car and sent him on his way,” tells Nano. “After eight months he called and said, ‘Look, Dad –school just isn’t for me.’”

“I told him to come home,” continues Nano. Ever since, Charlie has been following in his father’s footsteps and the duo have recently launched an extension of Boston Tomato –a new company called Boston Fresh to service big corporate business and distribution centers.

“Based in Brockton, Boston Fresh has a new state-of-the-art facility that’s 20 times the size of our Chelsea operation,” reveals Nano. “Boston Fresh will supply major distribution centers which service huge clients such as Olive Garden and the Qdoba Mexican Grill chains.”

Back to the roots of the business

But no matter how much Boston Tomato or Boston Fresh continues to grow, Nano says remaining humble is central to the operations. “I’ve opened a charitable organization –Boston Tomato Cherry Foundation,” tells Nano. “We donate a lot to the Special Olympics and to breast cancer research organizations because you have to be humble in life. Every day I get up and say thank you for the new day, for being alive.”

“I may be an owner of a major company and part of what some call the “million-dollar” circle, but I see life differently as a first-generation owner having to make my own way,” compares Nano. “It’s common sense, treat someone the way you want to be treated and things will go well.”

It’s this old but true adage Nano has built Boston Tomato & Packaging LLC around, providing high quality, safe produce backed by service and customer convenience.

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