CRYSTAL ICE & COAL BUILDING RENOVATION
Following the purchase of the P.P. Gregory parking lot, Jennette Fruit & Produce Company acquired the historic Crystal Ice & Coal property in 1969. Efforts were then under way to renovate the former ice plant building, which had been abandoned on the waterfront for several years and was in much disrepair. After completion of the project the following year, they moved into the building at 506 North Water Street. With the additional space, the company was able to expand its inventory in order to sell “institutional products” (as products that were sold to foodservice accounts were called at the time).
About the time the renovation was completed, the company was approached by a local Kraft Foods official about becoming a distributor of their grocery and refrigerated products. Later, Wilkins Coffee Company, a Washington D.C. roaster, realigned its territories and negotiated with the family concern to market their line of beverage and grocery items. Finally, Taylor & Sledd, a Richmond-based private label brokerage house, appointed them as a redistributors of their Tidewater canned goods. As the retail produce business continued to decline, the foodservice business prospered. With the addition of these product lines, Jennette Fruit & Produce Company could offer area restaurants a broader selection of inventory to purchase from them.
Produce remained a major part
of company sales. Here, an old
product checklist allowed customers to easily fill out their orders before the days
of data entry.
TRAGEDY STRIKES! THE 1975 FIRE AT JENNETTE FRUIT & PRODUCE COMPANY
When the Crystal Ice & Coal Company building was originally renovated by the company, an adjoining section of the building (a collection of cold storage rooms which had been rented out to various businesses in the area, including the local Sealtest Milk distributor) was not updated. By 1975, the partners agreed that the company would expand into frozen foods, and they concluded that the adjacent cold storage rooms would be an ideal location for a freezer.
During this expansion project, according to the Daily Advance (Elizabeth City’s local newspaper), a fire broke out on the evening of October 7th, 1975, at 2:23am in the construction area and quickly spread to the Crystal Ice & Coal Company building, causing considerable damage and loss of inventory. The company was able to continue to operate under the most severe circumstances until repairs were made, thanks to Mac’s Produce in Raleigh, the Elizabeth City News Company, G.E. Small & Sons of Weeksville, and other area businesses. After the cleanup, the company moved forward with the freezer expansion.
A year and two months after the fire, on December 31, 1976, Bill McCain sold his 50% share of the company to his partner, Bertrand and his sons, Cully and Carter. Carter had been working in the company for a number of years as a salesman, calling on accounts in Dare County. Carter, named after the older brother and former partner of his father, took over Bertrand’s Dare County customers so his father could assume the purchasing responsibilities of the firm. His brother, Cully, was assigned the responsibility of managing Bill McCain’s accounts. The new owners introduced some of the most far-reaching changes in the history of the business. A few months following the sale, the company marketed frozen foods to its accounts. The new owners then contacted the Taylor & Sledd Company in Richmond, VA, about becoming a member of their foodservice buying group, Pocahontas Foods. Jennette Fruit & Produce Company had been purchasing through their retail division since 1968. After being evaluated by the Pocahontas officials, the company was accepted in its foodservice organization as a distributor of its Tidewater Products. A few years later, in 1978, the company was appointed as a Pocahontas USA distributor, making Jennette Brothers, Inc. one of the oldest members of this organization, now known as Progressive Group Alliance. During this time, the company was upgrading its delivery fleet by replacing the wooden bodies with refrigerated/frozen units.
This picture shows the freezer expansion area and origin of the fire. When this photograph was taken, the debris had been cleaned and the floor was already poured.
Around 1960, brothers Cully and Carter pose for a photo on Elizabeth City's first steam pumper, "Inez" beside the old fire station on Elizabeth Street. It is now located in the Museum of the Albermarle.
By 1978, the company began its first plant expansion since the purchase from the McCain family. Here, a worker is finishing a floor for a new product cooler. Note the Tidewater Canned Foods sign.
Flames gutted the Pell Paper Box Co. located near the Jennette Fruit and Produce Company and the Globe Fish Company buildings.
1977 FIRE THREATENS JENNETTE FRUIT & PRODUCE COMPANY
On the evening of January 17, 1977, the Pell Paper Box Company main warehouse and offices (located on Burgess and Water Streets near Jennette Fruit & Produce) caught fire. The Daily Advance reported that firemen raced to the scene to put out the fire in 15° F temperatures, icing and re-icing the adjacent buildings to save both Jennette Fruit & Produce Company and their next door neighbor, the Globe Fish Company. The buildings were saved, but the Pell Paper Box Company buildings were completely destroyed and were later demolished. Because the entrance of the company was blocked by ice and debris, the Globe Fish Company (which was sandwiched between the Pell buildings and Jennette Fruit & Produce Company) remained closed for several days after the fire.
1978 ACQUISITION OF THE GLOBE FISH COMPANY PROPERTY
One year following the 1977 Pell fire, Royden and Buck Daniels, owners of the Globe Fish Company, decided to retire and close their family business. The building, located north of Jennette Fruit & Produce Company, was offered for sale by Royden and his wife, Camilla, who was the granddaughter of W.J. Woodley, Sr. (who established the W.J. Woodley Grocery Company). This structure, along with the Crystal Ice & Coal Company facility and the Woodley Grocery Company, was an anchor in a historic mercantile district that had witnessed extensive commercial activity in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Soon after acquiring the Globe Fish Company property, Jennette Fruit & Produce Company began renovations and within a few months had expanded its operations to include this facility.
1993 W.J. WOODLEY GROCERY COMPANY PROPERTY ACQUISITION
The W.J. Woodley warehouses, located on Burgess and Water Street, were placed on the real estate market by the owners of the Pell Paper Box Company in 1993. An offer to purchase this property, along with three other warehouses located across the street, was accepted and the deal was closed the same year. W.J. Woodley Grocery Company was a major regional grocery wholesaler from the 1890s to the 1950s. Because the majority of the company’s products were transported by boat, East Burgess Street (then paved with cobblestones that are still visible) was known as “Woodley’s Wharf.” It was at this location that the city’s most serious maritime tragedy, the explosion of the Annie, occurred. Three of the original Woodley buildings were destroyed in the 1977 fire shown earlier in the website.
Following the purchase of the Woodley property, Jennette Fruit & Produce further expanded its facility by constructing an additional 20,000 square feet of cooler and freezer space. The company also left a traditional part of its business behind when it dismantled its aging banana ripening rooms. Since the 1930s, the company had specialized in selling the fruit, but lack of demand from foodservice accounts resulted in a change of direction.
In 1996, Jennette Fruit & Produce Company reincorporated using its original name, JENNETTE BROTHERS, for the purpose of reflecting on the company’s historic past as well as acknowledging the current ownership structure. In 2003, Bertrand passed away, leaving his two sons, Cully and Carter, as the remaining owners of the business.
The photograph shows the main Woodley warehouse at the foot of East Burgess Street.
Site work begins for the construction of the third freezer addition on the Crystal Ice &
Coal and Woodley Grocery /
Pell Paper tracts.
A few years before his death, Bertrand Jennette, a community activist, had lived to see the company’s transformation from a wholesaler of fruits and produce at 217 South Water Street (where he worked as a teenager and later the owner) to a broad line foodservice distributor. Of all of his company’s accomplishments, the one he was proudest of was the restoration of the property. By the end of the 1990s, Jennette Brothers began a beautification project with the reconstruction of the old docks behind the Crystal Ice & Coal, Globe Fish and Woodley buildings. The old P.P. Gregory parking lot was paved and extensive landscaping to the entire complex was completed. All of the buildings’ exteriors were refurbished and then painted.
The following photographs show a historical overview of the warehouse complex area:
This photo shows Poindexter Creek, which is located beside the Jennette Brothers parking lot. Notice the Water Street Bridge that crosses the creek. On the right you can see the Coastal Freight Company Building.
This southeast view of North poindexter Street shows Burgess Street and the North Poindexter and North Water Street warehouses.
Another view of North Water Street.
A photo of the Jennette Brothers Meat Processing Room at 509 North Water Street. The exterior was restored to conform to the historical period of construction.
Twenty-seven years after moving to the new location at 506 North Water Street , the company had become a broadline foodservice specialist; distributing canned, frozen, produce, beverage, refrigerated products, janitorial and equipment to area accounts. The firm had transitioned from a supplier of fruits and produce for “Mom and Pop” groceries to one whose business model was to service independent restaurant operations.
A decision was made in 2003 to expand into meat processing and in the following year, the company opened a state-of-the-art USDA Meat Cutting Facility in a renovated cotton warehouse that was purchased in the Pell transaction. Jennette Brothers markets its Processing Room as one of its “Eight Reasons To Consider Doing Business With Us.”
Reflecting on the first 100 years of the company’s existence (1907-2007), the firm was founded as a farm implement supply company that sold seed and buggies. From 1932 to the early 1970s, Jennette Fruit & Seed and later Jennette Fruit & Produce Company serviced local groceries with produce delivered in orange wooden-bodied trucks with green canvas covers. Today, Jennette Brothers distributes foodservice products in tractor trailers to our independent restaurant customers. We take seriously the responsibility of managing the product needs of our accounts. Every customer’s menu is unique, so our mission is to treat each operator’s needs differently, which is another reason to consider doing business with us.
Because of Jennette Brothers’ commitment to distribute products mistake-free, we have created a service model called “Personal Touch,” which is another one of the eight reasons to do business with our company. Our focus to manufacture and distribute only products that bring the greatest value to our customers is another reason offered to prospects to buy from us. Jennette Brothers’ Allied Program brings our customers and our company together in a united effort to see independent accounts prosper under the most challenging circumstances. This program is another reason to do business with us.
The company’s history of innovation, perseverance, and commitment provides our management team, our associates and the owners with the determination and courage to offer our independent restaurants an option and a reason for doing business with our firm. Prospective customers should ask a representative of our organization for more information on the eight “Reasons To Consider Doing Business With Us.”
(Our company would like to acknowledge the following in the assistance of this history compilation: Cecil Richardson, Fred Fearing, Museum of the Albemarle, the Joyner Library at East Carolina University, and my father, who always seemed to have a camera with him to record events.)
President Jennette Brothers, Inc.