John Pizza, retired owner of Washington Vegetable Co. — the last of the original tenants at the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market — has died at 91.

Pizza, who was president of the San Francisco Produce Association for 30 years until 1997, died March 30 in San Francisco.

He began working at Washington Vegetable, a company his father founded, in 1945 after army service in North Africa and Italy, where he saw combat. Eventually Pizza became a partner in the wholesaler with his brothers Louis and Renato, and later, sole owner.

The San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market opened in 1963, the year after the Golden Gate Produce Terminal started up in South San Francisco. At the time the produce industry was leaving an area that became the city’s financial district.

San Francisco market leader dies“A lot of the customers went down to the south city because they built first and there were strong merchants,” said Jack Pizza, John Pizza’s son and the owner of the business since his father’s retirement. “A lot of people were saying (San Francisco Wholesale) would never survive. It turned out they did just fine, but that was a nerve wracking time.”

John Pizza played a key role in getting the new market on a profitable path, his son said.

“He was a leader of the market and financially it thrived under him,” Jack Pizza said.

A San Francisco 49ers fan, John Pizza bought his first season tickets in 1946.

Memorial donations were designated for Hospice by the Bay, Larkspur, Calif.; or the Saints Peter and Paul Church capital campaign, Becoming Towers of Strength, San Francisco.