CHICAGO — Bob Zeni, also known as the “Chicago Tomato Man”, is at it again.
Zeni is a certified master gardener who has turned his year-round hobby of growing tomato plants into popular pop-ups during the month of May.
Zeni has been growing tomatoes for 25 years.
WGN News Now recently spoke with him as he prepares for his upcoming pop-up on Saturday April 30th.
All of the tomato plants must be pre-purchased through Zeni’s website, and we should note he is sold out for this Saturday’s pop-up but will have more available in a few weeks.
“About 10 years ago my wife suggested we sell the excess in the driveway, “said Zeni. “Then about 3 years ago for Father’s Day, my daughter gave me this little card, and that was all I got. I was thinking ‘okay, what did I do wrong?’ But I opened the card and it said Chicago Tomato Man.”
That card was the domain name to his new website, where he now posts his variety of tomatoes for sale, recipes, and much more.
What started as a small venture at his home, grew into a partnership with Gardeneers, a nonprofit that offers education on gardening to help combat food deserts in Chicago.
“In the past two days we had a real tsunami of orders,” said Zeni. “But we do have a second planting that we are going to release on May 9.”
When discussing his most popular item, Zeni said the atomic grape is the most popular and perhaps the most unique.
“It’s multicolored,” he said. “It’s blue, it’s red, it’s green. It has this kind of marbling glittery effect. It’s hard to describe and it’s very sweet to eat.”
Overall, Zeni said it’s his mission to have everyone try a freshly grown tomato.