The Fruitman Is Keeping the Upper West Side Vitamin-Rich Through the Crisis, and Working on His English

The Fruit Guy, who posed briefly with his mask off (before putting it back on!).

By Renée Roden

On a humid August weekday, the fruit stand outside the Ansonia Post Office Station on Columbus Avenue at the intersection of West 68th Street hosted a steady stream of customers. Shoppers browsed the bountiful boxes of berries, toured the towers of tomatoes, and weighed the watermelons. The peppers and papaya? Perfect.

Their guide through the stacks was Can Çakmar, known in the neighborhood as John or “the Fruit Guy.” Whatever you call him, he is a superhero who has kept feeding Upper West Siders through the pandemic. Even wearing his mask — which he says he does all day — people can see his smile.

An elderly customer approached the stand. “Hello, sir, how are you?” he beamed, offering him a plastic bag, and chatting while he helped him select fresh berries.

John immigrated to New York City one and a half years ago from his hometown of İzmir, Turkey. (Can is a Turkish name that is pronounced very similarly to the English name John, so the alias was a natural transition. And the anglicized name makes it easier for his customers, he said.)

In early 2019, John made the journey to New York City to join his older brother’s friend in his fruit stand business. “He’s like family to me,” John said. Although this work is a departure from his professional background in the past, John says he enjoys it because he has gotten to meet friendly Upper West Siders. And, while working at the stand and talking with customers each day, he has had ample opportunity to practice his English.

“My English has improved a lot, because each day, I can talk with people here,” John said. His favorite aspect of living in the United States is “the freedom.”

The neighborhood said “We need you,” so John stayed open. 

During his teenage and college years, John was a serious boxer. He continued to box competitively when he studied physical education and sports science at a university. After graduating, John began to work in Turkey as a personal trainer. He said friends encouraged him to apply for a personal trainer license in the United States and work at Equinox, as he gestured towards the closed Equinox gym down the block from the stand.

“But I like this job,” he smiled.

Despite many businesses shuttering, John’s current job has remained fairly steady throughout the pandemic. He said that there were five weeks when he stayed at home in the East Village, but sent another worker to operate the stand. He said members of the neighborhood were clamoring for them to stay open throughout the pandemic. “They said, ‘We need you.’ We didn’t want to work, but we decided to stay open,” John added.

When he started working at the fruit stand again, John wore a face mask, gloves, and a face shield. Generally, he said, customers have been cooperative, only approaching if they are wearing masks and keeping socially distant. Occasionally, he said, he has had to remind customers to stay six feet apart.

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Doesn’t matter if it’s raining, snowy, or crazy hot out – we are here for you. Because I am fruit guy 😎 We always have fresh and good produce, so stop by! Stay safe and healthy everyone… photo by @sfreemanphoto

A post shared by fruitguynewyork (@fruitguy_new_york) on

One of John’s greatest contributions to the stand has been the colorful Instagram page, FruitGuyNewYork which features beautiful shots of the stand’s fruit and smiling customers. One of the recent pictures shows John with a Superman-styled shirt. But the traditional “S” has been replaced with an “F.”

John shared the picture with the West Side Rag. He said a friend made him the shirt. On Wednesday, he was wearing a shirt emblazoned with a Captain America emblem, echoing his own local superhero branding, “Fruit Guy.”

John hoped to go home to visit his family in İzmir this year, but the pandemic has prevented him from traveling. When asked what he misses most about Turkey, John didn’t miss a beat: “My mom’s food.”

Although he laughed when told that some of his neighbors have called him a local “celebrity,” John’s humility cannot hide his quiet, heroic dedication. Call him our friendly neighborhood Fruit Guy: one of the heroes that the crisis has taught us not to take for granted.

FOOD, NEWS | 18 comments | permalink
    1. CrankyPants says:

      Sexy guy! I obviously need to start traveling for my produce.

    2. Victor says:

      Best Place in the neighborhood to buy fruits and vegetables. Great service and he is the nicest guy,

    3. Diane says:

      John’s constant presence in the neighborhood has been an enormous comfort to those of us who are frightened and – I’ll confess – somewhat disoriented.

      His produce is always excellent and bargain-priced and, of course, he happens to be one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet.

    4. Murat akin says:

      İ proud of you my brother. Good luck

    5. JSN says:

      This story is what makes WSR such a wonderful neighborhood resource. It gives us the story behind the businesses that surround us and which we might take for granted. Can’s fruits and veggies are high quality and fairly priced. I’ve always gotten good value. He is a genuinely kind and honest vendor. No matter how bad the weather, Can always has a smile for his customers!

    6. CA says:

      An oasis in an otherwise deserted ‘hood. Thanks for this upbeat story.

    7. Eric says:

      Bravo! THIS is the kind of positive spirit our country needs. It’s what my great-grandparents had 120 years ago when they arrived.

      Let’s hope Can remains in the US and helps to “make America great again”. He’s already made a great contribution.

    8. Sarah Durkee says:

      This terrific profile of a much-loved local guy who was not born here but has made it his home made me SO HAPPY. In this anxious time of so much hardship and division, it would be a beautiful thing to see even more pieces like this. Thanks, WSR! Love ya, Can “Fruit Guy” Cakmar! Thanks for making all our lives here healthier and better!

    9. Melissa G says:

      He’s the absolute best. Very thankful to have him apart of the neighborhood.

    10. Grandpa says:

      John, I’ve been to Izmir and Istanbul, both beautiful cities. Welcome to NYC, will stop by soon to say hello.

    11. Bonnie Kassel says:

      Wonderful to see someone wrote about this special vendor. Because of John we rarely needed to go in a store during the height of the pandemic–his produce contributed to the most delicious soups! Cute, pleasant, smart,John is a real addition to our neighborhood!!!!

    12. J. L. Rivers says:

      This fruit stand is one of the best stocked stands in the UWS. I always allow down to admire the stacks of fruits, most times buying what I don’t need.

    13. Elizabeth Sachs says:

      I live on the corner of the 66th and WEA. It’s a fruit stand desert! Perhaps John would consider opening a second stand here?

    14. Citygal says:

      Love Fruit Man!!! Thanks for coming to our amazing country and city and contributing instead of looking for handouts. We love and welcome hard working immigrants like you!!

    15. John is such a nice, kind man who always puts a smile on my face. Through rain or shine he always has a positive attitude even when customers can be demanding or in a rush. Thank you, John!! Shelley

    16. Chrism says:

      So nice to read this. We have a beautiful man from Bangladesh on 138 and Broadway but the stand doesn’t belong to him and produce sometimes iffy with grueling hours,from 8AM to 8PM.

    17. Marcia says:

      Worth the extra blocks to deal with an upbeat “mensch ”

    18. fruit lover says:

      Does “Fruit Guy” (John) know about this wonderful article? Has he seen it? Should I print it out and bring it to him?
      He’s terrific and has the best fruit available.