Arrivederci to popular store

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 12:58 30/04/2014
Awapoto Hut
ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ
CLOSING: Bettina Romano will be shutting the doors of Romano’s Park Store Fruit & Veges next month so she can concentrate on growing tomatoes.

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A landmark Nelson store is closing next month so its owner can dedicate more time to ensuring the future of an heirloom tomato.

Bettina Romano is closing Romanos Park Store Fruit and Veges in Trafalgar St on May 31 and will concentrate on growing the family's famed capri tomatoes in the glasshouses at home on Cable Bay Rd.

The store has been leased to Nelson florist Sarah Hutt, of Willow Floral Design, who has strong ideas for developing the business in the traditional wooden store.

The change in direction for Romano was driven in part by the sudden death of her husband Nick Romano in January last year, which left her with a large property to run, the store to manage and two teenage children, Anthony, 14, and Clarissa, 16.

Romano's 75 year-old father-in-law Tony Romano works fulltime in the glasshouses at Cable Bay, and she was conscious of his workload.

"My passion really is growing and keeping this tomato variety going. There's no-one else here who grows them," she said.

The capri tomatoes, which are also the basis of the family's famed "Nonna Romano's homestyle tomato sauce", are grown in glasshouses moved to Cable Bay about 15 years ago from Grove St in The Wood.

Nick Romano told the Nelson Mail in 2009 that the smartest ingredient in the basic alchemy required to make tomato sauce is tradition.

Nelson tomatoes, sugar, white vinegar, salt, spices and garlic were what his grandmother, Emma Romano, used to make her homestyle sauce after she arrived in Nelson in 1938, the Italian bride of Cataldo Romano. An early Italian migrant, he started growing tomatoes in the Wood in 1925. Emma Romano died in 2003 but had handed down the recipe to daughters and daughters-in-law, who abided by it and have helped uphold the family tradition.

Bettina Romano said she is planning to revive production of the sauce, which will be made by Nelson chef Michael McMeeken. He was currently cooking sample batches while she explored further sales outlets.

"It makes sense for me to close the shop at this time. It's so hard running a retail store and working behind the scenes on our 10-acre block of land," Romano said.

She plans to return to selling produce at the Farmers Market on Wednesday. She also has plans to expand the roadside vege store at home.

"Demand is big for the capri tomatoes. It's a great cooking and eating tomato.

"I run the vege van at weekends but in summer it operates seven days a week. I'll keep that going and maybe drive that a lot more."

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The Romano tomatoes are also supplied to Nelson restaurants such as The Boatshed Cafe, Hopgoods and the Cable Bay Cafe.

"People actually thank me for growing these tomatoes. I think Nelsonians are more discerning with their tomatoes because of the history of growing them here."

The Romanos bought the building that once housed the Park Store in 2007, and opened the store in 2008. It is renowned for its curios and historic treasures collected by the couple over many years.

Willow Floral Design will open in the space on August 1, after negotiating the lease through Summit Real Estate commercial agent Bevan Dixon.

The florist business has been operating from premises in Nelson for the past nine years, but the opportunity presented by the Trafalgar St store was too good to pass up, owner Sarah Hutt said.

The business first operated from premises in Halifax St, then moved to Tahunanui two years ago. Business has grown and the premises there proved too small.

- Nelson

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