Citrus family still following grandfather's lead

A citrus juice family is following the lead set by the grandparents.

Even after all these years, Ben Tillett still can’t resist a nice cup of orange juice.

“Practically every day,” the 86-year old said. “I take it with my medications.”

The Citrus Place, which has been in Tillett’s family for decades, has been described as a hidden gem. The tiny juice shop sits on the corner of Interstate 275 and US-19 in Terra Ceia and greets customers from all over Florida. The fresh, unpasteurized juices they squeeze are grown all across the Sunshine State.

“It’s very nice to be able to come out to my own trees and carry it back to the shop,” said Ben’s son Sid, who has taken over many of the day-to-day operations of the business.

In 1886, Ben’s grandfather came to Terra Ceia. At the time it was a small farming community. The current Sunshine Skyway Bridge wouldn’t be built for another 101 years.

Ben and his wife, Vera, have been married for six decades. They are the ruby red royalty. The couple started life as schoolteachers but gravitated to grapefruit. They will celebrate 61 years of marriage in February.

“We have customers third and fourth generations still coming here,” said Ben. “We’re still very much involved in it.”

Vera taught for over three decades in Manatee County. The couple met while students at Florida State University. In the mid-1970s Ben started up a U-pick operation on the property but that only lasted a few years. They are currently the only shop in Manatee County that sells unpasteurized juice.

“You have to have somebody who is the glue and I think that’s Ben,” said Vera. “I just help where I’m needed.”

Grandson Carlton, 24, started loading the juicer when he was 10. He started showing up to help his grandparents between the age of 4 and 5.

Sid travels to gather the fruit. Sometimes he drives as far as Odessa to the north and Venice to the south.

“The joy of owning your own business is getting to work half days any 12 hours you want,” he said with a smile.

It must be working.

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