With the emphasis today on eating natural foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables, the at 3623 Lithia-Pinecrest Rd., Valrico, is attracting enthusiasts from nearby Bloomingdale and as far away as FishHawk Ranch.
Bloomingdale East residents Ron and Tiffini Masessa decided to open the new produce stand March 1 after watching the property sit vacant for months.
"There was a produce market here before that failed," said Ron Masessa. "But it was such a great location and this area needed a produce market. So we decided to give it a try."
Longtime proponents of healthy foods, the Masessas wanted their stand to be clean, quaint and specialize in produce grown by local farmers.
"The grocery store can be expensive, and doesn't always carry locally grown produce," said Ron Masessa. "We thought this would be a great way to supply the area with inexpensive produce while supporting out local farmers."
While the Happy Tomato does carry some fruits and vegetables from out of state, the bulk of its produce is home grown, said Masessa.
"We carry whatever's available in season," he said. Right now that includes seedless watermelons, available for $4, Florida cantaloup for $1.50, tomatoes, cucumbers and Georgia peaches.
"I hand pick the vegetables," said Masessa. "For instance, I only pick the tomatoes that are ripe. Everyone comments on the quality of our produce. I physically select every product."
Originally from New England, the Masessas' only background in the produce industry was as consumers. "My background is in IT and Tiffini's in the accounting field."
However, they love the cook with fresh ingredients. Masessa not only sells the produce but takes the time to explain ways to prepare such vegetables as spaghetti squash and sharing recipes.
In addition to carrying fresh produce, the Happy Tomato sells local honey, Whatever Pops all-natural popsicles, made in South Tampa, fresh pasta made in Clearwater, local fresh, boiled peanuts and orchids.
In a few weeks, the Masessas also will offered recycled metal art by a Temple Terrace artist.
"We'll expand more and more as customers give me more feedback about what they'd like to have," said Masessa.
Besides selling the fresh produce, the couple are committed to educating the public about using it. They've so far hosted a beekeeping demonstration on site and an Indian cooking class.
"We're going to try to do something informative every month," said Tiffini Masessa.
The Happy Tomato is Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. They accept all major credit cards.
For more information, visit the website or call 813-653-1683.