Waking Up with the Fruit

Antonio Gómez takes a break during his early morning round of purchases at Mercasevilla / MORGAN ROJO

For more than 25 years, Antonio has been running his family business , now into its third generation. He gets up early every day to take care of his fruit shop and of the fruit he offers to his customers in the Feria Market, in the heart of the Seville. A day in the life of Antonio is a busy one.

It’s half past four in the morning, and Antonio Gómez Cota rises to prepare for work, as he has done for the past 27 years. At five o’clock, he is already driving his truck in the direction of Seville East while listening to local news on the radio. He fidgets with the radio to adjust the station, moving from the news to music and not quite deciding what he wants to hear. At this time of day, the streets are mostly empty, and the sky is still dark. The only light comes from the cars on the highway, a mix of white and red blurring together. Finally, a large sign that says “MERCASEVILLA” indicates that he has reached the main wholesale food market in the city.

It’s already six o’clock, and Antonio parks his truck between two others with the bed open in front of the warehouse doors of the market, empty, and ready to be loaded with the products of the day. However, before going inside Mercasevilla, Antonio crosses the parking lot and enters a café. He grabs a stool and orders only a black coffee. When served, he lets out a long sigh and wakes slowly with each sip. The place is surprisingly full first thing in the morning, but for them this is usual. It is at its busiest around half past two in the morning, with the arrival of the first round of vendors, but during the afternoon, it becomes silent. Antonio leaves a couple of coins on the counter and says goodbye to the waiter, crossing the parking lot again to start his day at Mercasevilla. It’s half past six.

Antonio arrives at Mercasevilla / MORGAN ROJO

Through one of the big doors of the warehouse, he greets everyone he sees with a smile and approaches the manager of the first store to give him a list of everything he is looking for. At each station, there is a man in a Plexiglass office, where he can pay or place orders. Antonio leaves them with his first list and continues into the market. Mercasevilla, or Central Supply Markets in Seville, is a joint-stock company – public and private – that supplies all types of food products not only to Seville but also to an area of ​​influence that reaches the bordering provinces of Huelva, Cádiz, and Badajoz, in addition to the Portuguese Algarve region. Open Monday through Sunday, 24 hours a day, since its inauguration in May 1971. It consists of three two-story warehouses full of fresh produce, not including the fish wharehouse. Only five kilometers from the center of Seville, the market functions as a giant hive of 40 hectares, with people moving up and down, picking up the products that will later be sold in stores and supermarkets. Walking through the rainbow of fruits and vegetables, Antonio, who speaks quickly with a strong Sevillian accent, doesn’t have to ask where anything is.

Antonio finds some kiwis and inspects many of them, choosing some from each package to determine if they are good enough. He repeats this with three other boxes until he finds one that he approves of. He loads it into his dolly and points at it to the manager of this section of the market. He repeats this with apples, mushrooms, grapes, potatoes, and a few other products. The only thing Antonio can’t find today is a good bunch of bananas. He stops before each seller to see theirs, but he remains unimpressed. It is not until an hour later and two warehouses beyond that he finds some bananas he does like and asks for five boxes of them. He stops frequently to greet the other owners of greengrocers and catch up before looking for today’s products. When he takes a break, he rolls a cigarette and takes it out from time to time, inhaling a couple times then keeping what is left in his pocket when he needs to put it out, never bringing it close to the products. Once he fills his dolly, he puts the products he has bought in the back of his truck and returns to the heart of Mercasevilla to repeat the operation again.

It’s already half past eight when Antonio, with half of his truck full, gets behind the wheel to return to the Isidro Fruit Shop on Feria Street, in the heart of the San Julián neighborhood. During the 25-minute return trip, he calls his employees to let them know he is on his way to the shop, so they will be ready when he arrives. The narrow and winding streets in the center of Seville are difficult to navigate, however, Antonio arrives at the market in a short time, even in his large van. La Frutería is located right next to the great Mudejar church of Ómnium Sanctorum, built in the 14th century on the remains of an 11th-century mosque. The orange canopy of the awning sways on the side of the store, covering the rainbow created by the boxes of colorful fresh produce stacked in rows below‭. ‬

View of one of the sections at Mercasevilla / MORGAN ROJO

115 years have passed since Isidro Gómez Gordillo, grandfather of the current owner, founded the fruit shop in 1904. With wooden planks that he leaned against the outer wall of the adjoining church, Isidro worked with his bare hands to create a business that has survived to this day. In the beginning, long before there was Mercasevilla and refrigerated transport and storage, they only sold seasonal fruits that came from the orchards near the city. A century later, they offer even exotic products imported by plane from New Zealand, as is the case with some varieties of kiwi. When Isidro’s son, Prudencio Gómez Rodríguez, was 8 years old, he started helping his father, and when Isidro retired, he inherited the business along with relationships with the shop’s neighbors.

The Isidro fruit shop is at the beginning of the first section of the market, in which a variety of products are sold, ranging from fruits and vegetables, to meat, flowers, nuts, cakes or bread. Connected to it and separated by an inner street, is a second section where they sell fish and, for two or three years, as a result of the growing gentrification of the neighborhood, there are also a few bars that offer paella and wine, among many other things. The smell of this area is overwhelming, thanks to the fish exposed on ice beds.

In addition to Antonio, Madalin Constantin Frangulea, 33, born in Romania, who everyone calls Manu, and Sevillian, Elena Moreno Aguilar, 40, also work in the shop. Antonio is 45 years old, with caramel-colored skin and wrinkles around his eyes caused by smiling. Antonio is married to Reyes, who is 44, and together they have a fifteen-year-old son and a daughter, 14. He owns a field and an orchard in the nearby town of Bormujos, where he raises chickens, whose eggs he sells at the fruit shop, and field chickens, which he sells on request. He also brings seasonal fruits and vegetables from the farm: in autumn and winter, oranges, cabbages, cauliflowers, chives, and Lombard; in spring and summer, plums, brevas, figs, peppers, eggplants, zucchini, and tomatoes.

There is a lot to know when working with fresh produce. Antonio emphasizes that, “the most important thing is to know what you are selling to the customer. Golden Apple? Well, there are ten thousand varieties, and there are some that are better than others. You have to know how to differentiate one article from another.”

Since he did not want to study, and his father had the shop, Antonio felt compelled to take care of the business as well. “When I am at work, I feel really good, proud of what I do, because I like it. What I like most is to set up the stand, set up the business, present the fruit. Shopping, negotiating, selling, dismantling … This is a typical day,” says Antonio.

Frutería Isidro, next to the Mudejar style church of Omnium Sanctorum / MORGAN ROJO

He ends the day tired, because he dedicates so many hours to the business. He closes the store around half past three or four in the afternoon, working twelve hours a day. After work, he devotes time to his two children, so he has very little left for himself. His dream unrelated to the business: to be healthy, to raise his children in good circumstances, and “to be as I am, because I am well.” He doesn’t take anything for granted in his life and is conscious of how hard he and his family have had to work to be where they are today.

Antonio is very proud of the work he does and loves it too; he feels happy when he is at work. He is proud to have grown up in the fruit shop; that’s why he knows the business so well. He feels comfortable there. However, if he had the opportunity, he would not have chosen to work in the family business. “From what I have seen at home, my brothers and my brothers-in-law, who are civil servants, I would study for some entrance exams. I like this job; it is very beautiful, but it takes a lot out of you. The money I earn does not make up for the hours I spend and the early morning wake-up call,” explains Antonio, whose children would not want to continue with the business, just based on the time their father gets up to go to work. Antonio considers that a good day is a day without problems, not with clients or with any of his employees.

His favorite fruits? Peach and melon! ‬‮•