A Market Milestone

by | Jun 13, 2024 | Business, Food & Drink, Online Exclusives

Topsail Island’s beloved Andrews Produce, founded in 1975, offers something for everyone, from homemade strawberry-habanero ice cream to farm-grown fruits and vegetables.

When I speak to Vanessa and Jeff Andrews, co-owners of Andrews Produce, it’s the Friday evening of Memorial Day weekend, one of their busiest times of the year, and they’ve just closed their stand for the day. While that feels like an auspicious beginning, Vanessa is giddy to share its significance.

“This is a special day for us because this is our 49th anniversary,” she says. “We started on May 24, 1975.” She’s referring to Andrews Produce — not the couple’s wedding anniversary — although they are partners in business and life. (For those curious, their special date is 2010.)

Topsail Andrews Produce

Jeff got his start in the business at just 9 years old, when the family pivoted to produce instead of the tobacco they had previously cultivated on their farms in Duplin County.

“Ever since I can remember, my grandparents always raised a garden,” Jeff says. “It was just in my dad’s blood and my grandparents’ blood.”

Jeff recalls being a young boy, helping his family sell produce out of a box truck on Highway 53 in Onslow County, offering things like watermelon, cantaloupe, tomatoes and cucumbers to passersby. The empire quickly expanded to include produce markets, including the one on Topsail Island, stocked by farms ranging between 67 to 260 miles away.

Topsail Island NC Andrews Produce

Even though Vanessa did not grow up on a farm, instead entering the business due to her relationship with Jeff, her fingerprints are all over Andrews Produce.

Not only will you likely see her at the stand, located at the corner of 2nd Avenue and Island Drive, but also you’ll find the canned goods and frozen treats she has an affinity for creating. For her, inspiration comes from various sources — family recipes, an ingredient du jour or even a bad storm. According to Vanessa, an unfortunate bout of rain once damaged some cantaloupes and although the rinds were unappealing, the fruit inside was perfectly ripe.

“I thought, ‘What can I do with all these cantaloupes?’” The answer was cantaloupe sorbet, which became a hit. Next, she created peach ice cream and turned tomatoes with superficial blemishes into homemade canned tomatoes.

The Andrews Produce Topsail NC

“Nothing goes to waste,” Vanessa says. “Everything is saved. Anything that we can’t use, we feed the chickens in the neighborhood.”

In turn, they get farm-fresh eggs that serve as the custard base — made from scratch in a cast-iron skillet — for their classic ice creams including vanilla, chocolate, Oreo and Danger Berry. For the uninitiated, its name comes from its main ingredient, a strawberry-habanero pepper hot sauce from local company Sea Monster Sauces.

“It makes a pretty strange, unique and delicious ice cream that you’re never going to find anywhere else on the planet,” Vanessa says.

In addition to the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, Andrews Produce also stocks garden-fresh herbs, ready for use in a recipe, and assortments of homemade jellies, jams, salsas, hot sauces, marinades and honey.

If you are unsure what to try first (hint: anything), Vanessa and Jeff are only too happy to recommend their favorite items. For Vanessa, it’s the pickled beets. Jeff highlights their take on chow chow, a Southern classic made with a mixture of hand-chopped cabbage, green tomatoes, bell peppers, Vidalia onions, brown sugar, vinegar and spices.

No matter what you stop by for, know that whoever is at the stand is happy to see you.

Andrews Produce Stand

“We’re really in touch with our community and our customers,” Vanessa says. “We love each other, we hug each other, and we’re glad to see each other. We know everybody by their first name if they’re regulars. And if they’re not, within a week of them visiting, we’ve become really good friends. Our staff is trained to welcome our customers with open arms as if they were best friends.”

Andrews Produce stays open from approximately mid-April through Labor Day weekend.

But if you happen to miss it or want a taste of their treats at home, Vanessa has authored two cookbooks with hundreds of recipes: Making it Fresh on Topsail Island and What’s Cookin’ on Topsail Island? She has a third cookbook in the works for next year, in time for Andrews Produce’s 50th anniversary. How are they celebrating? Well, you’ll have to wait and see — just know it’ll be delicious.

Want to go?
Andrews Produce
8904 2nd Avenue N., Topsail Beach
(910) 200-9455

Photography by Unique Media and Design

About the author

Kathryn Greene

Kathryn Greene

As a lifelong Southerner (with the exception of five years living in New York City), I spent many summers enjoying North Carolina’s beautiful beaches and coastline. Since receiving my bachelor’s degree from the Grady College of Journalism at the University of Georgia, I have been a freelance lifestyle and travel writer. My work has been published by national and regional print and online publications including TripSavvy, Culture Trip, Southern Bride and Edible Manhattan. When I am not writing articles, I am either at work on my upcoming thriller novel, studying wine to become a Level 1 sommelier, or my favorite activity of all — spending time at the beach with my feet in the sand and a drink in my hand.