By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
Globe Staff Writer
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
When you are eating at a Southeast Kansas landmark, such as Chicken Annie’s or Otto’s Cafe, chances are you are thinking mostly about how good the food is, and not so much where it came from.
That is why I found it so interesting to get an inside look at the area’s food business from Ron Marrone, whose grandparents, Michael and Anna Marrone, came here from the southern part of Italy in the early 1920s. Their story is one of how hard work and customer service helped a family find the American Dream.
It began when they arrived in this country with their three children, Albert, Ernie and Beatrice, to work in the area’s coal mines. But it was their vegetable garden in Arma, not coal mining, that helped the family take root in Southeast Kansas.
They commuted by trolley car to Pittsburg for business transactions, and within a few years they opened Marrone’s Grocery Store on Broadway between Fifth and Sixth streets. A few years later, Marrone’s Fruit Co. opened at First and Walnut streets.
During World War II, the women of the family ran the business. Albert eventually took over operations and, with his wife, Lena, had three sons: Albert, Ron and Dale. The boys joined the business in the 1960s, and when they returned home from college and the Vietnam War, they took over operations.
The younger Albert now serves as president, while his brothers, Ron and Dale, serve as vice presidents. Several of their children, the fourth generation, also are part of the Marrone work force that continues to deliver wholesale food and supplies to restaurants like Chicken Annie’s and Otto’s seven days a week all year long.
It has become a multimillion-dollar company that includes a 50,000-square-foot dry goods warehouse and 10,000 square feet of freezer storage on Pine Street. Product lines include fresh produce, meat and fish; frozen food; canned goods; paper goods; cleaning supplies; small wares; and food-service equipment.
All told, Marrone’s employs 30 people who serve 600 restaurants, grocery stores, convenience stores, caterers, hospitals, nursing homes and schools across the Tri-State Area.
“It’s important to our family because it generated from my grandpa, leaving Italy with nothing, coming here and taking a chance on a better life for his children,” Ron told me. “He took care of his customers’ needs, and that’s what we still make a priority today.”
Ron said the company also continually tries to pay back a debt of gratitude it feels to the community. The benefactors include a list of some 20 nonprofit organizations and charitable groups, ranging from the Children’s Advocacy Center to the YMCA.
If you haven’t been by the Franklin Miners Museum in a while, Marrone’s also played a key role in this month’s exhibit, part of a series of exhibits leading up to the Smithsonian exhibit coming next May.
“The Way We Worked in Southeast Kansas Food and Beverage” is a detailed display that will take you back to the early days of this area.
To put it together, Ron joined employees, friends and family members on a scavenger hunt across Southeast Kansas to find what was needed from antique stores and restaurants. The fruits of their labor — no pun intended — can be seen from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays at 701 S. Broadway in Franklin.
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