Since 1978, M & L Foods, Inc. has been providing the greater metropolitan St. Louis area with the highest quality in food and service. Ask any of the over 400 local restaurants, bars, schools, and hotels that we proudly call customers. If you’ve eaten at fish fries in St. Louis in the spring, chances are you’ve been to one that M & L has served. The tradition behind the company, however, goes back much further than 1978, starting with the turn of the 20th century and two different companies from very different origins.
In the days before widespread grocery stores, people often depended on vendors to get their produce and seafood, and the Tocco family was at the forefront of this market. In 1904, Anthony (Nino) Tocco started up the precursor to M & L when he started up Tocco Seafood. They would wake up before the sun rose and would rest on their wagon while their horse pulled them to their starting point, and then spent the rest of the day walking the streets, selling seafood.
Around the same time, a Russian immigrant named Abraham Pass, who had come to America when he was just 20 years old, was beginning his own company, Independent Foods, based on Market Street. This would lay the groundworks for the empire he and his family would build.
Nino helmed the company for more than 50 years until his son, Peter, took over in the 1960’s. Peter and his brothers renamed the company Tocco Brothers Seafood and continued the tradition.
Meanwhile, the Pass family had expanded their businesses as well. The company was passed down to Abraham’s four sons, Carl, Isadore, Sam, and Joe, and the family helmed not only Independent Foods, but Meletio Seafood, as well. These two companies would be joined together, reincarnated as Sea Pass Seafood.
The decade of the 1970’s was perhaps the most influential in shaping the present company since the beginning. Several different events led to the expansion and re-naming of the company.
First, Peter’s oldest son, Anthony (Tony), joined his father in working at Tocco Brothers. Tony had previously run H-Salt Fish and Chips and was a buyer for Meletio’s, but joined Tocco Brothers and in 1972 was the driving force behind transforming the company from a seafood company into a full-line food distributor. That same year, the Pass family and Tocco family finally joined their companies together and officially formed M & L Foods (more on the name later).
Further expansion was in store for the company later in the decade. In 1976, Peter’s two youngest sons, Frank and Leonard (Lenny) joined the family company after finishing school and began helping run the company. The company changed names once again, officially becoming M & L Foods, Incorporated in 1978, and has remained the same ever since.
As for the name, interestingly enough, there are a couple versions as to what the M & L stands for. One version of the story is that the letters stand for Marie, the wife of a former business associate, and Lorraine, Peter’s wife. However, the more popular and colloquially accepted version is that it simply stands for Me and Louie, named so after Peter and one of his brothers.
Moving into the 21st century and beyond, the company has become one of the largest family-owned full-line food distributor in the metropolitan area. The passing of Tony on November 3, 2009, was a tremendous loss to this company, one which will resonate for a long time.
Fortunately, there are several members of the family ready to step up and take charge. Tony’s wife, Carla, who has been working at the company for several years, has stepped in. In addition, the fourth generation of Toccos, in the form of Lenny’s sons, Peter, Nino, and Frank, is emerging in their prominence in the company. The Pass family remains highly active and involved, with Barry Pass (Joe’s son) an owner and partner since 1997.
Beyond the personnel, the company itself is going through an exponential period of growth. Recently, the property and building that M & L resides in was purchased by the Missouri Department of Transportation in anticipation of the new bridge construction. M & L is preparing to move into a brand new facility with the latest in technological innovations complying with the newest food safety laws and regulations. We will also be one of the first companies in the industry to have a green-certified building in an effort to be more eco-friendly.
In addition, M & L is preparing several new innovations to better serve our customers. With the recent integration of a new computerized system for invoices and inventory maintenance, M & L will be offering to our customers the ability to place orders online, allowing you to see your invoice as you order. Plans for a retail store and in-house meat/fish cutting facility are also in the works. The retail store will be open to the public, allowing you to come in and see what you wish to purchase. Finally, we will be introducing our own catering department, allowing us to better serve you.
On behalf of the current lineup of owners, Frank, Lenny, Peter, and Carla Tocco and Barry Pass, we thank you for your patronage and hope you will continue to stick with us in this time as we work to better serve you, as we have done and will continue to do so for generations to come.
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- Frozen foods
- We offer a wide variety of frozen foods and appetizers to meet all your needs. From nationally renown names to the biggest local labels, we can find a product and a price to fit you perfectly.
- Canned goods
- M & L has a terrific selection of canned food products. Whether you need vegetables for your fish fry or extra condiments for your restaurant, we carry the best labels and highest quality.
- We have decades of experience working with restaurants to ensure your customers remain satisfied. Peruse our product book and see what we have to offer. Our products and services go well beyond food; as a full-line foodservice company, we can get you amenities, cleaning products, anything you need! Don’t see what you need? Let us know; we’ll get it for you.
- Our company’s been one of the largest providers of seafood in St. Louis for over 100 years. We import our seafood daily from the coasts so you get the freshest seafood possible without having to catch it yourself.