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V. B. Hook & Company History
 
Bill Hook
Click Here to Read the Bill Hook Article
 

Jimmy Hook
 
Johnny Thomas
   
  Our History  

V. B. Hook & Company was started in the late 1920s by Martin Van Buren "Bill" Hook. Bill bought a pick-up truck to transport produce, mostly cabbage, from Charleston, South Carolina to Columbia for selling house to house, and at the farmers market on Assembly Street in Columbia. Around 1934, John Mathias became a partner in the business and they purchased a larger truck. Around 1940 John sold his part of the business to Joseph Love Gates. Bill and Joe went to Florida to buy produce that was not locally available. As the business grew, they twice reinvested profits for higher visibility lots at the Assembly Street market.

   
     
Assembly Street Market Photos
 

 
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In 1952, the South Carolina State Farmers Market moved from Assembly Street to Bluff Road, and V. B. Hook & Company moved to the new location. With his family and Joe Gates to help run the business at the South Carolina State Farmers Market, Bill Hook explored produce across the USA and parts of the world to sell at V.B. Hook & Company. He was a produce packer and broker in Plant City, Tampa, Brooker, and Pompano, Florida, and in Weirwood, Virginia. He also operated an apple packinghouse in Dana, North Carolina. He imported bananas and coconuts from Honduras and Guatemala, and he travelled to Honduras to start a banana plantation. These experiences expanded Bill’s expertise in the produce business and enhanced and solidified his vision of what he wanted our company to become, a provider of quality and unique produce for its customers.

Through the years, Bill’s three children have helped run the business. As a child and teenager, James Buren "Jimmy" Hook began working with his father part time at the Assembly Street market. After serving his country in the military and then studying business at the University of South Carolina, Jimmy began working with his father full time. Jimmy helped the company grow to what it is today with his honest personality and hard work ethic. Jimmy’s son, Marty Hook, continues the tradition as the current president of V.B. Hook & Company. Bill’s daughters, Addie Jo and Elnora, started helping the family business in the 1950s. Together, they established a very efficient bookkeeping office. Many of Bill Hook’s grandchildren and some great-grandchildren are now working together to keep the business growing. Joseph Gates’ son, Mickey Gates, started working in the business in 1958. The produce business was incorporated in 1963, and became V.B. Hook & Co., Inc. Mickey’s son, Todd Gates, is the head of the current sales team.

     
Bluff Road Market Photos
 

 
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In 2010, the South Carolina State Farmers Market moved from Bluff Road to 3483 Charleston Highway in West Columbia, and V.B. Hook & Company moved with it, into its new state of the art facility. After 58 years at the Bluff Road market, and over 80 years selling fruits and vegetables, it was time for V.B. Hook & Company to expand again. The new State Farmers Market, which includes 174 acres, is 3 times larger than the Bluff Road market. It is setting a new standard for a great American tradition.

V.B. Hook & Co., Inc. has a sister company, V.B. Hook Vacuum Cooling Company, Inc. The vacuum cooling company started in the 1950s when Bill Hook was inspired by a vacuum cooler he saw on a trip to the western United States. He asked his two half brothers, Colie and Erskine Whiteside and his son-in-law, Johnny P. Thomas to help him build a vacuum cooler similar to the one he saw, with an improved design. They built a mobile vacuum cooler to quickly cool the field heat from the produce and add weeks to the shelf life without added chemicals. The few vacuum coolers at the time were mostly stationary so there was a delay moving the produce to the static cooling stations. Bill and Johnny’s innovative mobile unit could go right to the growing field and remove the heat immediately after harvest. V.B. Hook Vacuum Cooling Company was incorporated in 1957. Johnny’s sons, Timmy and Rocky, continue to build and maintain our vacuum coolers. It has been over fifty years since the design and construction of our first mobile vacuum cooling unit and today they are still in high demand.

V.B. Hook & Co., Inc has provided over 80 years of continuous service to the produce industry. We are now in our third generation as a family business, with some family members from the fourth generation now joining in.

We currently have a fleet of tractor-trailer trucks that are used to pick up and deliver produce. We have over 500 southeastern USA customers, including many large restaurant and grocery suppliers. We take pride in our history and continue today fulfilling Bill Hook’s original vision and expanding the vision as time marches on. Our customers want the best produce possible, and we love finding it and making it available to them.

   
     
  Vacuum Cooling History (click to enlarge)

Johnny P. Thomas in Vacuum Tube in 1956
 
     
               
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