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East Coast tomato founder passes

East Coast Brokers & Packers founder Batista Madonia passed away March 9.

Madonia is synonymous with the King’s Choice tomato label of East Coast’s, which was once one of the largest tomato companies in the United States, growing, packing and shipping more than $100 million worth of tomatoes a year.

“His life was tomatoes,” said his son, Stephen Madonia, who worked in the family company until it went out of business in 2013.

“He was always proud to give back to the industry, give back to the workers, give back to the people,” Stephen Madonia said.

Batista Madonia was born August 30, 1937. In 1958, along with his wife Evelyn, he founded East Coast Brokers & Packers, starting with 17 acres. The company grew into one of the largest tomato shippers in the country with more than 12,000 acres in Florida and the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

Stephen Madonia said the company handled all kinds of tomatoes, from gas greens to roma to cherry to grape, and other items such as watermelons and cucumbers. In addition to retail, he said the company supplied major restaurant chains such as McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King and Taco Bell.

He said the company received the Thumbprint award from Syngenta in 2009 for its treatment of workers, and East Coast showed its commitment to labor when it became the first major Florida tomato shipper to agree to a penny per pound extra for workers with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers the same year.

Stephen Madonia said his father built up and was so proud of the King’s Choice label that he wore it on his shirt every day.

He said the company’s end was heartbreaking for the family and especially his father.

East Coast went out of business in 2013 owing millions of dollars, and Stephen Madonia said the main problems were the 2008 salmonella outbreak which was originally tied to tomatoes but then associated with peppers; the 2010 freeze and 2011 freeze and hurricane.

He said the losses weren’t recoverable.

Stephen Madonia said he and his three siblings grew up working in the business. Also surviving their father are Rosemary Madonia and Batista Madonia III. Sister Laurie Madonia died in 2012.

Batista Madonia is also survived by his wife of 62 years, Evelyn.

“He loved my mom, and they did it all together,” Stephen Madonia said.

According to his obituary, the Madonia Family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations in Batista’s memory may be made to: The Saint Benedict Education Foundation, 300 Fraser

Purchase Road Latrobe, PA 15650-2690 USA (724)802-2607. Please write on the Memo: GUEST HOUSE

Stephen Madonia said there will be a memorial mass for his father sometime soon.


Greg Johnson is Director of Media Development for Blue Book Services