Like his father before him, Frank Genzale, Sr. begged his sons to study hard in school so they could get jobs away from Pike Place Market and avoid the physical rigors and long hours that he faced running the family business.
Yet despite his dad's pleas, Frank Genzale Jr. returned from Central Washington University to work full-time at Frank's Quality Produce, his father's shop in the Corner Market Building. In the process, Frank Jr. not only helped maintain family management of a cherished local business, he also kept alive the tradition of sons not listening to their fathers.
While that latter has proved to be the ruin of many a young man, in this case, a son's disobedience has actually worked to the benefit of an entire family. After handing the reins of the business to his son, Genzale Sr., now 60, pursued a new business venture that has allowed him to open specialty foods markets in the Renton Highlands, Burien, and Newcastle.
"I just don't think our dad wanted to see us work as hard as he did," says Frank Jr., whose younger brother Johnny works for an airfreight company in Arizona (two older sisters live in the Seattle area and are not involved in the business). "He worked 12 and 14-hour days. I think he wanted us to get jobs with regular hours.
"But even though he didn't want me to work here (at Pike Place Market), I think he enjoyed the fact that I wanted to come here, because he saw opportunities that became available when he didn't have to come down here every day."
Whether it's driving to the produce warehouses or stocking the displays before the Market opens, the workdays begin early and last long for Frank Jr., as they have for three generations of Genzales before him. And it seems as though he wouldn't have it any other way.
"I think I'm better being my own boss than working for someone else," he says. "This is what I know and I like it."
The Genzale's family presence at Pike Place Market dates back to 1928. Frank "Cheech" Genzale, who emigrated from Avellino, Italy, sold onions, carrots, peas, and other items that he and his wife Angelina, grew on their small plot of land in what became Burien. As their son Tony and their grandsons, Tony Jr. and Frank, grew up, they continued to sell their family's produce at the Market.
Genzale Sr. opened Frank's Quality Produce in 1979. During his teenage years, Frank Jr. earned his spending money on Saturdays at the Market by selling fruits and vegetables that he picked in the family fields after school on Thursday and Friday afternoons. Over the years, the urbanization of the Puget Sound region chased most of the local farmers away. The Genzales gave up the last of their own farmland in the 1990's to make room for runway expansions at Sea-Tac Airport.
Changes in the way Seattle residents eat and shop have presented a new set of challenges to the Genzales. Frank Jr. has responded by placing his imprint on the family business. After taking over, he teamed with one of his delivery drivers to develop a service that distributes farm-fresh produce to area restaurants to supplement sales from the stand at Pike Place Market. Meanwhile, his passion for the family business is palpable.
"Here, people will come to you and ask for advice on how to cook with something," he explains. "You'll give them a recipe, and they'll come back and thank you and think you're a chef. Things like that can only happen at the Market, and that's why this is such a great place to work. Once you start down here, it's hard to leave. There's no other job like it in the world."
Frank Jr. has not decided what advice he'll give to his own young son about working at the Market. "I guess I'm going to leave it up to him," he says. "I would warn him that it's not easy. It's a lot of hard work and long hours, but it is very gratifying. There's nothing like seeing something succeed and knowing that you're responsible for it."