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Granddaughter of market’s ‘Banana King’ wins tile

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Eastern Market doesn’t just hold a soft spot in Metro Detroiters’ hearts. For many of us, it’s a part of who we are.

That was abundantly clear when I put out a call a few weeks ago, asking readers to tell me why Eastern Market is special to them. The best answer would win Pewabic Pottery’s new Eastern Market tile, the latest addition to its “Postcards from Detroit” giftware series. It was introduced earlier this month.

More than 50 readers sent me emails. Many have fond memories of going to Eastern Market as a child. Others had relatives who used to work in the market. Some were new to the region and Eastern Market was one of the first places they visited on their Detroit “to do” list.

In many cases, it was – and is – a place that bonds generations and families.

But of all the entries, JoAnne Denison had me at “Banana King.”

Denison’s grandfather, John Bolone, was known as the “Banana King” of Detroit, she writes in an email. He is pictured, the man without a hat, in his banana house at the market.

“My grandfather came to the United States from Sicily, Italy, and was able to work hard and start his business at Eastern Market selling bananas,” writes Denison.

Denison’s mother grew up watching her father work the grueling hours at the market and “vowed to never marry a man that worked at the market.” She married John Pellerito, a house painter at the time, but after World War II, Pellerito also went to work at Eastern Market.

Working with Denison’s maternal uncle, Carmen Bolone, “they were the first to create ‘processed’ vegetables,” writes Denison. “The process was a way to extend the life of fresh vegetables, including potatoes. They sold to many local restaurants and schools.”

Today, their company, now called Pellerito Foods and run by Denison’s brother, is still thriving. Her dad died in 2009 at 89 and her mother died in October at the age of 98.

“Eastern Market has been and still is a great part of my life and my family’s life,” writes Denison. “It will always hold a special place in my heart because it is reminds me of my dad who was a wonderful man, husband, and father.”

mfeighan@detroitnews.com