By Lauren Lipton

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – When you think of Philadelphia and what started here on the food scene, you might think of cheesesteaks or soft pretzels.

But there is something else that Philadelphia introduced to the country: the banana.

It was 1876 at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia that the fruit was introduced, and Philadelphia’s banana connection continues to today.

“My grandfather, who was a Lithuanian immigrant, came over to this country at the turn of the century around 1900,” says Mark Levin, CEO of M. Levin & Company Inc. “Saw bananas coming off a ship and basically he started to huckster bananas from a pushcart.”

 

One of the original horse drawn wagons used by Michael Levin. (Credit: http://www.mlevinco.com)

One of the original horse drawn wagons used by Michael Levin. (Credit: http://www.mlevinco.com)

 

His grandfather, Michael, turned that banana pushcart into an empire.

“In those days, nobody knew what bananas were,” Mark tells KYW Newsradio. “I like to say my grandfather built his business on a handshake. He would get bananas and then give them to other people to sell who had no money and say, ‘listen, you go out to sell them. You make any money, you come back and pay me, you take more bananas, you come back and pay me,’ and he built a business that way — just on a handshake.”

It’s become one of the biggest banana suppliers in the country, and is still run by third and fourth-generations of the Levin family. And they still sell bananas from the food distribution warehouse in South Philadelphia.

 

One of M. Levin's six state-of-the-art ripening rooms. (Credit: www.mlevinco.com)

One of M. Levin’s six state-of-the-art ripening rooms. (Credit: http://www.mlevinco.com)

 

“We sell approximately 35,000 boxes of bananas a week,” Mark says.

That’s a lot of bananas right there.

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And for this week, that’s “Positively Philadelphia!”

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