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Remembering Tony Lanasa, an old-fashioned produce slinger

By
Keith Loria

Tony Lanasa, who ran the company VF Lanasa Produce Inc. for 60 years, died Jan. 18. He was 82.

VF Lanasa Produce Inc. was one of the original produce businesses of Richmond, VA, when Vincent Frank Lanasa brought his father’s banana business to the city and expanded to tomatoes.

Tony Lanasa’s wife, Joyce, was by his side when he died, after struggling with cancer and other illnesses. The couple had three children—Michelle, Vince and Teresa.

“He was generous, had a solid work ethic and was a strong business leader,” said his nephew Jimmy Abbott. “He was an old-fashioned produce slinger. He didn’t care where you were from, what color you were or what gender you were. He was willing to give anyone a chance that needed a job.”

Mr. Lanasa’s son Vince noted his dad started working full time at the company after his grandfather was caught in a fire and had 80 percent of his body burned — but survived.

“My dad had to drop out of school (Randolph-Macon) where he was playing basketball to help out his father,” Vince said. “He sat in that office from the time he was 20 until the time he was 80.”

He eventually had to step away from the company about two years ago when he started to get sick.

“He had such a strong work ethic and what he did, he did to make it good for all of us,” Vince said. “We never wanted for anything because of what he did. Everything I’ve got is because of him.”

During his tenure, Mr. Lanasa made a lot of changes to the company, expanding to products such as potatoes, lettuce and cauliflower, and seeing VF Lanasa Produce grow. He also served on the Virginia Board of Agriculture for many years.
 
“Dad was tough on the outside but with a heart as big as the world,” Vince said. “He’d give you a lecture but then he’d give you the shirt off his back. He was tough, but if saw someone who needed help, he’d help.”

Mr. Lanasa continued to love the sport of basketball and had some former NBA players working for him to earn money while they were in college — including Charles Oakley and Terry Davis.

“He loved basketball and coached some church leagues back in the day when he had time, and he was real big on helping,” Vince said.

One person he helped was Julio Garcia, who came over from Mexico in 2000 and worked for Mr. Lanasa almost every day for 20 years.

“He gave me a free room, a good job and paid for my papers,” Garcia said. “He was such a good man. He helped me take care of my money, helped when I bought my first house and taught me so many things.”

Now, Garcia is putting all he learned from Mr. Lanasa into his new produce business, which he started in April, and he plans to be make his boss and friend proud.

Sadly, VF Lanasa Produce is no more, with the family deciding to end things about a year ago because of all the changes that have happened in the industry.

“The business changed so much,” Vince said. “The main thing Dad loved about the produce business was the people. Things are done a little different today, but it was real personal back then. He loved wheeling and dealing and talking to everyone. You knew everyone back then and he loved that the most.”

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