Pineapple express: How one man changed Brooklyn produce forever

Pineapple express: How one man changed Brooklyn produce forever
Tropical gold: Daniel Spitz holds three of his finest pineapples, the fruit he put on the map in New York City.
Photo by Steve Solomonson

Not every person in Brooklyn thanks Daniel Spitz when biting into a delicious pineapple. But every one of them should.


Because the 84-year-old Brooklyn native did more to bring the fresh fruit from the shores of far-off Hawaii to the Borough of Kings than James Dole himself.

Sure, the Dole Corporation shipped the fruit to the mainland — and even Long Island — in antiseptic, hard-to-open cans, but it was the Brooklyn kid, “Danny Pines,” who made it possible for families across the borough to get their hands (and mouths) on the delectable, if hard-to-peel, fruit.

For it was Danny who, in the dawn of the jet age, went the extra mile to bring exotic fresh fruits to his customers who dreamed they could dig into them with a knife instead of a can opener — and be left with a harmless peel that could be recycled in the backyard garden instead of piece of metal that would poison the land at the smelly mound forever rising, it seemed, at the landfill in Spring Creek.

Sure, in many ways, it was the people of Brooklyn’s insatiable appetite for fruits other than apples and oranges and plumbs and tangerines that pushed Danny to take that flight to California in search of a pineapple supplier that could zip the fruits over while they were still fresh. But it was Danny’s street smarts that made it happen.

Legend holds that back in the late ’50s, when a cup of coffee was a nickel at the corner luncheonette and the guy that poured your soda was affectionately called a “jerk,” Danny booked himself passage on one of those flying fortresses and headed for the Golden State — where his beloved Dodgers had recently taken up residence in the pineapple-rich environs of Los Angeles.

To a fruit man like Danny, L.A. was heaven. Fresh produce was everywhere — the likes of which simply couldn’t be found at his market on Coney Island Avenue in Midwood.

But that was about to change. His shop was called the Orchard, and by god an orchard is what he would provide to Brooklyn.

In the family: Daniel Spitz, legendary Midwood fruit man, stands with his two sons, (from left) Joel and Mitchell. Mitchell currently runs The Orchard, the fruit store on Coney Island Avenue his pop opened in 1957.
Photo by Steve Solomonson

Spending just one day on the Left Coast, Danny got together with some Japanese businessmen who were setting up shop in Hawaii and were desperate to tap into the East Coast market where fresh pineapples were bound to sell like hot cakes.

His handshake deal opened the floodgates, and soon 50 boxes of pineapples were being shipped to Danny, who’d anxiously await their arrival at Idlewild, where he would pick up his precious cargo for which he paid 24 cents a pop.

Brooklyn finally had its bounty and Danny’s business boomed. People came from far and wide to enjoy the fruits of his labor, and big stars like Dodger first baseman Gil Hodges, who lived nearby, would only shop at the Orchard for their fresh fruit.

And Danny parlayed his produce success into a small real estate empire, investing in the borough that earned him his living even as others fled the borough for greener pastures in the suburbs.

No, it wasn’t the first time that an enterprising young man found — and took advantage of — an under-served market, and it certainly won’t be the last.

But Danny’s contribution to Brooklyn’s culinary scene won’t soon be forgotten — even if he isn’t specifically thanked every time we slice open a pineapple and sink our teeth into its juicy interior.

That’s because Borough President Markowitz has commemorated Danny’s 55 years behind the counter at the Orchard with a proclamation — a small token, indeed, but a memorable one to a man who finally received the collective “thank you” from Brooklyn that he so deserved.

To borrow a phrase from another famous Brooklynite, how sweet it is.

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at erosenberg@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/emrosenberg.

Gil Hodges was a regular customer of Daniel Spitz — the man who put pineapple on the map in New York.

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