When Al Roth opened New River Groves in Davie in 1964, he was a few months past his 54th birthday and about to turn the 10 acres into the family business for the next five decades.
On Sunday, Roth turned 103, and the patriarch of the fruit-shipping family celebrated by greeting family and friends at his landmark roadside, open-air farmer’s market-style business at 5660 Griffin Rd. , which is now run by his son, Bob.
Al Roth was enjoying, well, the fruits of his labor — a well-known business with the family name that is credited with helping entice tourism to the area. The family and the store are synonymous with the baskets of oranges they were famous for shipping across the country to colder climates.
When his son took over, he added the Roth name to the store name.
“I was pleased because Bob honored my name,” the centenarian said. “When you have that much honor in your name, there is nothing better than that.”
While times have changed since the Grove opened, the charm of the store for locals and tourists remains the same.
Crowds of well-wishers kept filing in to wish Al Roth a happy birthday. After all, when Roth was born, William Howard Taft — the 27th president — was in office and it would still be two years before the sinking of the Titanic.
“I never got to wish someone a happy 103rd birthday before,” said Kellie Marcus, who comes to the store nearly every Saturday.
“All kinds of people come by this store. The family is very well known in the community, it’s a wonderful place.”
Live music greeted people near the juice stand. Slices of cake were set out for people to enjoy. A row of chairs circled Al while a line of people waited their turn to wish Al Roth a happy birthday.
And there was plenty of reminiscing. When New River Groves first opened, the entire family lived in a small apartment above the store, and all retail store operations as well as fruit picking, packing and shipping operations ran out of the original location in Davie. The focus in the first few years was strictly on fruit deliveries and Florida Gift Fruit Shipping.
Today, it’s still a family business. The store is run by nearly every member of the Roth family. Bob is the owner, but his wife’s family, his son and his six grandchildren all play a part in running the operation, from making their famous Key lime pies and fudge, to working the counter.
“Our store is something out of the past,” Bob Roth said. “We like to have a nostalgic atmosphere. We are very family oriented.”
The Grove has also made its mark on popular culture in South Florida. The store was featured in two feature films, Cape Fear and The Substitute.
“We’re just a family business,” Bob Roth said. “It’s tough competing with the Sam’s or Costco’s of the world. ”
He wants to do what his father did. He wants to follow in his father’s footsteps.
“I hope to pass this place on to my family some day,” he said.