By John Lawrence
In the late 1970s, drivers on Walsingham Drive in Largo would stop and chat with a young man selling tomatoes, onions, cucumber, and other fresh vegetables on the side of the road. The man, John Tagaras, newly arrived in the United States, was young, ambitious and in love with his wife Eva.
“My dad started down on Walsingham Road, out of the trunk of a little car he had,” said Milto Tagaras, John’s son. Milto and his wife, Natasha, now run John’s Fresh Produce Market, the popular vegetable stand at the intersection of Belcher and Nursery roads in Clearwater. Actually, “vegetable stand” doesn’t quite describe it: It is a full-blown international market inside a building, not an open-air stand.
John’s Produce, at 1496 South Belcher Rd. in Clearwater, has inhabited a few locations at that intersection since 1986, including the sites of a former Burger King, Bank of the Ozarks, and “an old, brick Texaco,” Milto said.
Entering the store, one is hit with a variety of aromas, earthy, sweet, and beautiful.
On a recent Saturday, it was full of customers perusing shelves of cherries, strawberries, walnuts, apples, Brussels sprout, asparagus, celery, lettuce, beets, peppers, beans, mushrooms, and other fresh produce. There is fresh-baked Tsoureki sweet bread and fresh loaves of other kinds of bread, as well as sauces, home-baked cookies, and soda pop from around the world – to name just a few items.
There’s much more than produce here, Milto said.
“We get fresh vegetables daily, and it comes from all over the world,” he said.
Milto still drives to Hillsborough County for fresh produce every morning, decades after he accompanied his father on the early a.m. trek.
“I drive down by myself; I used to go at 2 a.m. with my dad. The market would open up with a line to get in,” Milto said. “As a little kid, I used to sleep the whole time down there.”
Pinellas County – specifically Clearwater, Tarpon Springs, Safety Harbor and elsewhere – has one of the largest populations of Greek Americans in the United States. They provide a rich culture of public service, music, and tradition in Clearwater going back many generations.
Milto is proud to serve that population, in addition to those who prefer traditional vegetables, too.
“We are Greek, so we carry Greek cheeses, breads, smoked meats, and other items from all over Eastern Europe and the rest of the world.”
And, talk about great Greek cooking ingredients: “We have fresh garlic, we have a whole line of Greek foods, too, like Greek noodles, shelled wheat that they use for church; Greek coffee, olives, Kalamata olives, green cracked olives, Greek olive oil, and Greek-style Turkish delights, and several kinds of vinegar.”
Milto works the store, doing everything from running the register and clearing out boxes from shelves to describing ingredients to shoppers.
“My parents came over from Greece and lived in Canada for nine years; they moved here in 1978. And they still come in and work the market from time to time,” he said. “My kids, George and Maria – their grandkids – pitch in, too.”
On this Saturday, Natasha is busy helping customers find what they’re looking for. She also helps with the ordering of hundreds of items the store carries.
“I have always loved this place,” Natasha says. “It means family to me.”
John’s Fresh Produce Market
1496 S Belcher Rd, Clearwater, FL 33764
John Lawrence is a free-lance writer who has covered Florida events for decades. He enjoys covering the people and places of Clearwater. He can be contacted at email@example.com.