The Bronx hub sets the bar high for New York City produce; Off the Market companies also help deliver to the area’s 20.3 million people.
You can try to describe the Hunts Point Cooperative Market – its constant activity, sprawling acreage and massive reach – to someone who has never been there. You could tell them that in a 24-hour period, thousands of vans, trucks and 18-wheelers come and go to the distribution center in the Bronx. It has been described as New York’s food supply hub, produce market Disneyland.
Stretched out onto 113 acres, it is the largest food terminal market of its kind in the world – that doesn’t sell flowers. It is estimated the Hunts Point Market employs more than 10,000 people directly and indirectly, supplying 23,000 restaurateurs and providing 60 percent of the produce that feeds the area’s 23 million people.
Ask Gabriela D’Arrigo, marketing director for D’Arrigo Bros. Co of New York at Hunts Point, and she’ll tell you “it’s Costco on steroids. We move an enormous amount of product.” She makes the Costco analogy because of the savings that come from buying in bulk at the terminal market.
Hunts Point opened in 1967 with more than 130 produce companies. Ten of those original wholesalers who were on The Washington Street Market moved to The Hunts Point Market: Nathel & Nathel (then Wishnatzki & Nathel), S. Katzman Produce, E. Armata, D’Arrigo, Joseph Fierman & Son, Rubin Bros., Kleinman & Hochberg (now LBD), Robt. T. Cochran, A.J. Trucco and M&R Tomato. These firms have expanded and grown in the past 52 years. Today, after tremendous consolidation, there are 32 firms in total.
According to Joel Fierman, president of Fierman Produce Exchange and the Co-op’s co-president, “The market has consolidated and grown all at the same time. Most of the houses are full line, but there are still several specialty houses.”
When Nathel & Nathel opened at Hunts Point, the company was called Wishnatzki & Nathel. The name change came in 1997, when brothers Ira and Sheldon, the company’s third generation, took over. It was their grandfather who started his business with a pushcart in 1922 in Brooklyn. Today, with tremendous consolidation, Nathel & Nathel is among the largest companies at Hunts Point with an average of 100 trucks delivering produce every day.
Cary Rubin represents his family’s third generation in the produce business. Before his grandfather opened in Hunts Point, the company sold fruits and vegetables for 25 years in the city of New York. The advantage for retailers using the market today is that there are 30-plus firms competing for the same customer, which gives competitive advantage to those using the market.
“Many of our customers are smaller wholesalers that buy from us and then distribute to small retailers,” says Cary Rubin, whose company sells packaged Dole salads, along with hundreds of other produce items. “Some midsize retailers, along with larger retailers, who buy direct, also buy ‘shorts’ from us.” Little did these wholesalers — who all still have vibrant operations in Hunts Point — know how much the market would impact the economy of New York and its surrounding area over time. Fifty-two years after Hunts Point opened its doors, it remains part of New York City history.
In 2017, when the Hunts Point Market celebrated its 50th anniversary, New York Mayor and 2019 Democratic presidential candidate, Bill De Blasio, paid a visit in May. “We are going to continue to invest, to make sure this market can continue to be the best it can be, and to make sure it is protected. You know, I heard an amazing thing on the tour. This market has stayed open even in the worse storms,” de Blasio said. “A couple of years ago, we had the biggest snowstorm in the history of New York City. This market stayed open. People had to be fed. People who work here felt it was their commitment to keep going, no matter what. That’s incredibly important for this city. We need to make investments to make sure the market runs and is protected from Mother Nature.”
De Blasio hailed the market as a “crucial link in the city’s economy,” and an “economic engine for The Bronx. I just want to get the magnitude clear here — 8,000 jobs here at the Hunts Point Market. That’s an extraordinary impact on not just the economy of The Bronx but all of New York City,” he said.
CHANGE IS MILLENNIAL-DRIVEN
While 2017 encouraged the city to take a look back over the many ways the city has opened its arms to Hunts Point Market and vice versa, the market has pivoted to a forward-looking agenda.
In 2019, the next generation is hoping to spread their Millennial ideas for change. Gabriela D’Arrigo, who represents the third generation of her family’s business, says Hunts Point has gotten a bad rep over the years because of the South Bronx neighborhood.
In some ways, Hunts Point hangs onto that notoriety, says D’Arrigo. “I think some people try to keep that reputation alive to make themselves seem tougher. Once you get past that tough exterior, these guys are all teddy bears. They all care about each other, and no one can talk smack about the guys on the row except the guys on the row. There is a big sense of camaraderie, and we have each other’s back. That’s the kind of message we need to communicate to the public and the industry.”
De Blasio has acknowledged Hunts Point’s importance to the city and vowed to invest $150 million in improvements. Meanwhile, it’s the Millennials who go to work at Hunts Point every day who are trying to change its overall image.
The Hunts Point Cooperative has hired a marketing agency, while a handful of Millennials employed at the market have formed a rebranding committee — at the time of this feature it is almost completed — armed with the mission of painting a modern and positive picture.
“The current owners of the market and those who have been on the market for a while see the proposed changes as really progressive, even too far forward,” says D’Arrigo, who hopes the rebrand will be ready to put in place by the fall. “We’re excited about the rebrand. We see it as long overdue. So, we’re dubbing it as progressive; meanwhile it’s probably something that should’ve happened 10 years ago. Everything is in play, and we are slowly rolling it out,” she says.
One thing they want the public to know: At the end of each day, Hunts Point vendors donate produce to City Harvest and Feeding Westchester (County), helping to reach members of the community who might not otherwise have access to fresh produce, says D’Arrigo.
“We’re very much looking forward to launching the rebrand that represents the vibrancy and expertise of the market,” says Sasha LoPresti, director of business development for A.J. Trucco, Inc., and chair of the public relations committee. “Hopefully, we will have something to show in the next few months.”
The rebrand will include an updated logo and website, along with a new messaging, marketing and advertising — “a message that better aligns with our identity as a market,” says LoPresti.
Among Hunts Point’s Millennial movers and shakers is Stefanie Katzman, the fourth generation at S. Katzman Produce. She welcomes the perspectives of both Boomer and the Millennial. “At our company, I think we have an excellent mix of seasoned, experienced veterans and energetic Millennials and many who possess characteristics of both.”
One of the goals at Coosemans New York is to get more people into the market and do more marketing and social media, says office manager, Charlie Badalamenti. “We have not really done that in the past at Coosemans, so we are creating a mailing list to send out advertisements. We’re a smaller house at Hunts Point, so we grow by word of mouth and recommendations. Since getting on Instagram a year ago, Coosemans now has a ton of followers, and our customers can see a product’s quality right away.”
Badalamenti is on the public relations committee working on the market’s rebranding. “There is a lot of competition right outside of the market, so we want to keep the big businesses, while bringing in small businesses. The market is targeting nonprofits and churches – anyone they can sell wholesale to.”
Nathel & Nathel claimed to offer everything, but when Joe Eisinger began working there in 2016, he found a void. “We’re supposed to be offering everything, but we weren’t offering organics,” so he convinced management to include organic produce in order to attract customers like himself, in the younger generation.
With new branding, marketing efforts and additional products, Hunts Point Market leaders hope to bring in new foot traffic to offset delivery services, which most houses now offer.
“If we are delivering, we lose the spontaneity of customers buying additional product that perhaps they were not looking for, but may be willing to purchase as an in-store special,” says Fierman.
LARGEST IN THE WORLD
“Nothing compares to Hunts Point,” says Steve Kaplan, whose company, Florida Produce Brokers, Inc. in Stuart, FL, provides mostly corn and leafy greens to the New York area. “It is in class by itself. Nothing is larger and nothing compares to the scope of what goes on there all the time. It’s the largest wholesale market in the world.”
Ronnie Cohen, vice president of sales for Vision Import Group, an importer/shipper/packer of mangos, citrus and pineapples in Hackensack, NJ, agrees. “Terminals such as Hunts Point are really still the place to go when there is over-production or peak season. You still need outlets for that. Terminal markets offer that place and provide the retailers who shop there with a good value and opportunity buy. This allows everybody to gain value. This is where smaller stores have an advantage. The ethnic stores have the ability to adjust retail pricing at a moment’s notice and push the product,” he says.
Katzman has a wide spectrum of customers, from small street vendors to national chains. “I believe our ability to carry a variety of items that can accommodate customers of any size or special requirements is our strength,” says Amin Panjwani, who buys, sells and manages Katzman’s potato and onion department. “New York truly is a melting pot, and the diversity of the population demands we cater to their taste and needs. It is just good business.”
No matter how unusual or scarce a requested item may be, Panjwani says “every customer expects us to fulfill that need. This market carries a wide variety of products. In fact, I will be bold enough to say we carry the most variety of produce compared to any other market in the world. Still, we are adding new items every year. For example, we carry eight to 10 different varieties of eggplants at any time of the year — conventional, Dominican, Graffiti, Indian, Italian, Sicilian, Pearl white, Holland, Japanese, Chinese and probably a few that I have missed — and the same goes for many other items.”
STIRRING THE MELTING POT
The demand for specialty produce is ever-growing, not just lately, says Panjwani, who caters to both the retailer and chefs. “The Asian and Indian populations in New York are major produce consumers. Not only do they purchase the mainstream staples such as tomatoes, onions and cucumbers, they are also major consumers of the vegetables from their regions, such as okra, Indian eggplant and bok choy. Since these items are consistently carried in the market they are also being purchased by other customers,” he says.
A local retailer named Joseph, who chose not to reveal his last name, has a mom and pop store in South Bronx. Joseph is Asian, so he has tried in the past to bring in some Asian specialties, but his mostly African American and Latin clientele was not interested. Since the shop is in a low-income area, he shops around to find bargain prices at Hunts Point.
In addition to its proximity to his business, Hunts Point also appeals to Joseph since he has developed relationships with the sellers. “From the porters to the foreman to the salesmen, everyone is friendly.” He does 75 percent of his produce shopping at Hunts Point, and of that number, D’Arrigo Bros. fills half of his orders.
“You have to satisfy everyone,” says Thomas Tramutola, whose father started A&J Produce Corp. in 1977 with two partners. Today, the company is one of the larger produce wholesale firms in Hunts Point. “Our customers are Chasidic Jews and Dominicans, and everyone in between. The number of items we offer increases every year. We get about 10-15 new items every three years.” Tramutola works with his brother, nephew and son, Thomas Tramutola Jr.
Customers from Central and South America and the Caribbean want tropicals, such as mangos, plantains and bananas, says Charlie DiMaggio, president of FresCo at Hunts Point. “Naturally, as this population grows, so does its demand.”
With and eye always looking toward the future, Fierman of Fierman Produce Exchange predicts, “I do believe the market will always remain a viable asset to the New York tri-state area. That will never go away because of our ever-changing demographics and ethnic diversity. I’m pretty sure we have a lot of evolving still to do — hopefully, in a shiny new facility where we can work more efficiently and economically, so we can better serve the customers in the area.”
NIGHT AT THE MARKET
Companies on the market try to attract retail buyers with their produce displays. One of the more artistic daily displays comes from the creative mind of FresCo’s evening foreman, Allan English. “His eye for the unusual art form constantly amazes us at FresCo. While it’s difficult to say if it attracts new buyers, we can say with great certainty our daily customers and visitors enjoy seeing what Allan has come up with,” says Charlie D’Maggio, president of Fresco. On one sunny day in May, English had formed a sun with red bell peppers for the center and hot peppers for the rays of sunlight, along with the word “day” using red and yellow mangos.
At night, the market is hopping. John Tramutola III says A&J does 90 percent of its business from 8 pm to 6 am. “There is a lot of produce coming in and a lot going out,” he says. “It’s not much of a life — work, sleep, come back to work and do it again. It does make it hard to have a normal life when you’re working nights.”
Joey Menon, night sales manager for Margiotta, has been working nights for 13 years. His standard evening shift goes from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. “It’s difficult but you get used to it,” he says. “It’s not that hard on me; it’s harder for my family members. They have the opposite schedule, when you’re driving home from work, everyone is driving to work. When you’re getting home, the family’s leaving the house. It’s not even a graveyard shift. It is the opposite from 9-5. I miss christenings and baseball practice — that’s the hardest part. Most guys enjoy it a lot, though. We enjoy the action, the camaraderie and the job itself. But it’s harder for us to do the things that are normal for everyone else.”
Marc Goldman, produce director for 16 Morton Williams stores in Manhattan, has up to six trucks loading at the Hunts Point market four to five days a week. “My produce managers place their orders with our produce buyers, then I speak to the buyers at night to go over the pricing. The bulk of our produce comes from the Hunts Point Market. I consult with the wholesalers regarding seasons and trends. If they have specials, they communicate that with me,” says Goldman, who began his 41-year produce career at Hunts Point. “If a wholesaler says we can get Driscoll’s strawberries for $12, we’ll take advantage of that.”
Since stores and restaurants get produce delivered during the day, the night before is the busiest time for buying and selling. “The madness begins at 10 p.m. (9 p.m. on Sundays) when they allow trucks to enter the market,” says Menon. “Then the rush for stuff begins — phones start going off, orders coming in, the platforms are full of people loading and selling. We are receiving produce from land, air and sea. Everyone is fighting for a parking space. Merchants are delivering within the market and buyers are coming in and out of stores. Nighttime is when you really see the market in full swing. There are a lot of people in one place. The busiest time begins closer to midnight.”
For some people, midnight can be the “bewitching hour,” a time associated with supernatural events, but for folks on the Market, there’s a sense of energy and much like the city, the Hunts Point Market comes alive and keeps wholesalers, customers and hundreds in the work force charged with adrenaline that keeps them coming back for more.
USING TRAINS OR TRUCKS, WHOLESALERS MANAGE LOGISTICS
In the produce trade, transportation issues can arrive at a moment’s notice and attention must be given immediately.
“In our business there are so many factors affecting transportation and it has such a big effect on us,” says Stefanie Katzman, executive manager, S. Katzman Produce. “We try to mitigate it as much as we can by sourcing from multiple locations and trying to maintain an on-hand inventory, but there is only so much that can be done. Logistics is one of the most challenging parts of our industry because so much is out of our control, and everything that affects timing just trickles right down the line. There can be product delays at loading, hold-ups at previous stops, traffic, equipment issues, and about a hundred other things that affect the transporting of products from farm to table.”
At the same time, Katzman says the logistical issues make it more important to work with a wholesaler. “We are such a key part of the produce supply chain. When product comes from all over the world, having a wholesaler close-by in New York – in case you run short – is an invaluable resource.
One transportation issue that has been alleviated is the crowding on the loading docks. Hunts Point recently added a new “saw-tooth platform” behind Row D to make it easier and safer to unload product off the railcars, away from the congested produce docks.
When product comes in from the rail, instead of being stacked on pallets, it has to be stacked by hand or machine. “This means we have to physically remove every box by hand. It’s time consuming and hard work,” says Joey Menon, night sales manager for J. Margiotta Co. “This new space makes that process easier. It has worked out very well. It used to be that the railcars were unloaded behind the merchant’s warehouse. The new platform gives merchants more room and we don’t have railcars in the way. It makes it easier to unload the railcars too, since they are separated from everything else.”
RAIL OR ROAD?
Why would a wholesaler choose to hire a truck – which means dealing with the driving limits of the electronic logging device (ELD) – instead of a train? The ELD records the number of hours the driver has been driving, ensuring that the driver gets enough rest and is safer on the roads. Still, pulling off for a few hours to rest means unproductive time for perishable items.
“There is actually a lot of traffic on the railways,” says Evan Kazan, director of business development for Target Interstate. Located at Hunts Point Market, Target specializes in transporting produce. Since there are a lot of railcars on each train it takes longer to get them loaded and unloaded.
Instead of a one-day transfer, it can become two to three days. A trip that used to take six to seven days, now it is taking as long as nine days. At that point, especially when you’re dealing with produce, you’re better off going with trucks, says Kazan.
Since last year, capacity and freight rates have gone down. That means, produce wholesalers don’t have the same issues as in 2018. “Now the price difference is not as big of a difference. You are not looking at thousands of dollars, you’re looking at hundreds. For $500, I may decide it is worth it to get me my load to its destination three days earlier even if I am paying a little more. When the freight rates made the difference in price $2,000, wholesalers were faced with a potentially expensive dilemma.
MARKET TO MARKET
Toronto, Philadelphia and Boston wholesalers often work with Hunts Point wholesalers, such as S. Katzman and D’Arrigo, to bring certain produce items to their markets.
Katzman Produce has new items, such as dried pomegranate arils and Golden berries, but Stefanie Katzman, executive manager, is excited to be partnering with Toronto wholesaler Vince Bruno of Italian Produce Company to bring frozen coconuts from Vietnam. “Once thawed and sold in the fresh produce section, they have a soft membrane that can easily be poked with a straw so you can drink the coconut milk. After you drink it, you eat the meat of the coconut. It is a great new item for us as we approach these summer months and retailers and foodservice are looking for new, fun and seasonal items,” she says.
“We have found that it is popular with both children and adults, but I recommend letting the adults crack them open,” she says. “There are many other coconuts on the market, but the Hamona brand is unique in its shaving and shipping process. These young coconuts are super sweet, great for hydration and packed with electrolytes.”
When Vince Bruno at Italian Produce made the connection between Katzman Produce and Hamona, “we hit the ground running and haven’t looked back,” says Katzman. “We have big plans for this product in the future. We are excited to have the support of Hamona and for the trust they have in us to get the job done. We sell a wide variety of products, but it is our job to keep searching for that next new and delicious fruit or vegetable that the consumers don’t even know they want yet.”
D’Arrigo New York works with D’Arrigo Massachusetts to bring in items and labels if one branch does not carry it or “when we are in a pinch,” says Gabriela D’Arrigo, marketing director for D’Arrigo Bros. Co of New York at Hunts Point. “I’m sure other companies have the same type of market-to-market relationships. We buy from Canada, Philadelphia and Chicago. We all help one another out to service the customer.”
Being a jack-of-all-trades is not the way anymore, says D’Arrigo. “We all have specialties. Any of us can talk about any of our items, but if you want to know where my berries come from and what’s the brix content level, I wouldn’t know that. I can tell you the region they come from, but for the details I will send you downstairs to talk to my berry salesman who can answer that. As my uncle Matthew D’Arrigo says, it’s professional buyer vs. professional salesman here every day, so you do need to know what you’re talking about.”
D’Arrigo has developed relationships with small retailers like Wahhid “Smiley” Saleh, who has sold produce for 30 years from a cart on the Manhattan corner of 42nd Street and 3rd Avenue. Saleh visits the market almost daily, buying 70 percent of his berries from D’Arrigo and Katzman.
NEW YORK REGIONAL PROFILE
NY Area’s 20.3 Million People Set Produce Trends For America
Rich diversity requires a produce mix second to none.
By Linda Brockman
How do you feed 20.3 million people? It sounds like a mind-boggling feat, but it’s what the farmers, suppliers, produce wholesalers, distributors, retailers and shippers that work in the New York Metro area do every day. According to the 2017 American Community Survey (ACS) of the U.S. Census Bureau, 20,320,876 people live in the area defined as the New York, Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA metropolitan statistical area (MSA). In New York City alone, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated the number of people at 8,398,748 as of July 2018.
They come from all over the globe — according to the 2019 World Atlas, more than 800 dialects of various languages are spoken in New York City — bringing with them many ethnicities and cultures. An estimated 37 percent of New York’s population was born outside the United States, says the U.S. Census Bureau. As a result, produce wholesalers and distributors in the New York area are expected to provide every fruit and vegetable grown under the sun (or greenhouse). And they do.
“We used to carry only a couple hundred produce items,” says Michael Muzyk, president of Baldor Specialty Foods in the Bronx. “Now we stock so much diversity, whatever the style of food or country of origin.”
Josh Auerbach, who represents the fourth generation of Maurice A. Auerbach, Inc., agrees. He says the customers and distributors teach each other about what products are trending, and with the ever-changing population, the demand grows for more specialty items.
Ben Friedman, president of Riviera Produce in Englewood, NJ, says his frequently requested produce items for the foodservice sector are baby kale, baby Brussels sprouts, red Fresno peppers, Shishito peppers. “These are all items hitting top chefs’ menus that were uncommon until recently.”
Asian or Hispanic, Millennial to Baby Boomer — whatever niche product the public wants, there is a niche produce company or retailer catering to each. Whatever is going to happen in the world of produce is already happening in New York.
From Salinas, CA, broker/shipper Ray Pangle helps to get produce from one end of the country to the other. Through his company, Veg Service Inc., Pangle establishes pricing and arranges for transportation to get his row crop vegetables from California and Arizona to Rubin Bros., a produce wholesaler at Hunts Point in the Bronx. “We make it a seamless thing for them,” says Pangle, who sources product for Rubin Brothers daily. From there, it is disseminated to the Empire State and its surrounding areas.
One reason New York City is the No. 1 restaurant town in America, says Muzyk, “is its melting pot of visitors that end up staying and changing the ethnic portfolio of the city, which changes the city’s dining habits, which changes the supply chain.”
SPECIALTIES, TRENDS AND STANDBYS
In the city, food halls (The Pennsy NYC above Penn Station, Todd English Food Hall at The Plaza NYC and Italian market Eataly in the Flatiron District and Downtown); food courts (The NYC Plaza Food Hall on W. 59th St. in Manhattan); and markets (Essex Market on the Lower East Side and the Chelsea Market) — some new, some revitalized — are springing up everywhere. It’s the kind of setting where a food truck or small kitchen can try selling in a small space, with the opportunity to attract a lot of people in a short amount of time. These venues offer something for everyone — soul food, vegan, Asian fusion. Supplied by New York’s wholesalers, distributors, brokers and retailers, these are among the newer venues where people are fed.
Specialized produce varies depending on the neighborhood, says Marc Goldman, produce director for Morton Williams grocery chain’s 16 stores in Manhattan, Bronx and Jersey City. “We cater to every neighborhood. The produce managers are in their stores every day, and they know their customers better than me, so they tell the produce buyer what their customers want.” For example, the Bronx store’s Hispanic shoppers want tropicals, mostly plantains and yuca. In Jersey City, where the store has an Asian and Indian clientele, the produce buyer brings in more tofu and hot peppers.
Goldman, who has been with Morton Williams for 20 years and in the produce business for 41 years, gets the bulk of his produce from Hunts Point. He also buys from FreshPro Food Distributors in New Jersey and Four Seasons Produce in Pennsylvania.
The request Goldman receives most is for organics. “Organics are important to our customers, so we’re bringing in more and more,” says Goldman, whose challenge was to find the space in each store’s produce department. “Eventually, we had no choice, so we made a mini produce department that is just organics.”
That’s how Goldman found Four Seasons. Originally, he liked the company for organics because deliveries have been dependable and because the packaging comes with an organics label. “So I know the cashier is correctly ringing up an organic cucumber and not as a conventional cucumber.” The relationship has grown, and Goldman now orders more than just organics from the food distributor.
“In this business, you build relationships and you stick with them. If someone says we’ll deliver, and they deliver, that is more important than price,” Goldman says. “We have no warehouse, so we rely heavily on our vendors. We carry the same amount of produce items as a bigger retailer — we can do a lot more with a little space.” Morton Williams stores range in size from 4,400 square feet to the largest store at 30,000 square feet.
- Katzman produce merchandiser Mario DePalma at Hunts Point Market loves to find ways to attract customers and make the most of small spaces. That’s where he gets to use the tricks of the trade. He treats the produce department as a canvas for his art, where he “brings out the colors and the brightness that makes the produce stand out. The first thing I tell the retailer is: ‘I have a vision and change is a good thing if you want to increase sales’,” says DePalma. He has designed the displays at Citarella in Manhattan and in the Hamptons, as well as Stew Leonard’s in Yonkers.
“I set up differently in each department,” he says. “Allocation is very important but if the store doesn’t have the space then we have to cut down our facing. Whether it’s a big store or small store, we’ll make it work no matter what. It is important to cross-merchandise in every department because you could put bananas in the cereal aisle and make a sale, and you could put dessert shells by the strawberries and make a sale for the bakery department. Cross merchandising across the whole store is good for sales and good for gross profit.”
The number of stores DePalma visits every week varies, says Stefanie Katzman, executive manager at S. Katzman. “Mario’s skills in merchandising and networking in the industry have played a big part in our continued growth in the retail sales division.” In-store merchandising is updated for different reasons, from the changing seasons to a new item launch, or to accommodate an additional display case.
NEW YORK OFF THE MARKET
New York’s Kaleidoscope Presents Multifaceted Prospects For Distributors
Continuing demographic change exhorts area distributors to broader horizons to serve a more diverse region.
BY JODEAN ROBBINS
With more than 278 neighborhoods fully or partially contained within New York and hundreds of surrounding suburbs, the city’s evolving and diverse demographics offer ever-changing opportunity for the food business. “The marketplace is bustling and has become more competitive than ever,” says Ben Friedman, president of Riviera Produce of Englewood, NJ. “Trending concepts have become part of the market, such as Sweetgreen [20 locations in metro New York] or the Jose Andres Mercado Little Spain in Hudson Yards. People are coming from all over to participate in the melting pot that is New York.”
With a buying area comprising more than 20 million people within a 4,500-square-mile area, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the greater New York area attends just about every imaginable demographic group. “We serve an extremely diverse marketplace,” says Bruce Klein, director of marketing for Maurice A. Auerbach Inc. in Secaucus, NJ. “There are all kinds of people looking for different kinds of produce.”
The New York marketplace is a dynamic, eclectic place, agrees Ronnie Cohen, principal for Vision Import Group in Hackensack, NJ. “I sell all over the United States, but the environment in New York is just different,” he says.
The multifaceted nature of doing business in New York has always made for a competitive environment. “The New York marketplace is unique and competitive,” says Anthony Serafino, vice president of public relations at EXP Group in North Bergen, NJ. “You need to find ways to always stay innovative.”
Paul Auerbach of Maurice A. Auerbach explains the environment yields diverse retail options. “We cater to many varied retail formats. Consolidation continues among retailers and distributors, but there are new concepts taking their place. We also see more alternative formats such as pop-up stores or corner carts.”
Diversity is changing retail and foodservice, notes Floyd Avillo, president and chief operating officer at FreshPro in West Caldwell, NJ. “You can’t paint everybody in one broad brush,” he says. “The market is continuing to fracture into smaller niches — high, low, convenience, organic, ethnic — more so than ever before.”
According to Michael Muzyk, president at Baldor Specialty Foods in the Bronx, “The market was a gradual crawl, walk, run. Did the demand spark the supply? Or did we already have the product to fill the need? I think we worked hand-in-hand with clients and it came together simultaneously in a very healthy, organic way.”
For suppliers such as BDA/Dorot Farm in Melville, NY, doing business in New York helps keep the business on the pulse of the consumer. “The New York market is a valuable source of information,” says Ami Ben-Dror, chief executive and owner. “I located our headquarters in New York so that we can be close to the consumer and respond quickly to them.”
Produce distributors increasingly must meet the needs of the variety of buyers carving a niche in the market. “All produce distributors are called upon to fill the ever-evolving demographic needs of our New York City customers,” says Lucky Lee, vice president sales for Lucky’s Real Tomatoes in Brooklyn, NY. “And, in today’s challenging economic times, we need to accomplish this at the price point that works for all.”
Distributors support their customers as they look to serve a more varied and targeted clientele. “A lot of stores look at the demographic where each store is and cater to that demographic,” says Klein. “Even if it’s a chain with 100 stores, they’ll carry the basic items but then customize specific stores to meet the needs of that particular area.”
According to the World Population Review, more than 800 languages are spoken throughout New York City, making it the “most diverse city in the world when it comes to linguistic multiplicity.”
New York is a cultural and demographic collage, notes Serafino. “It will continue to diversify, and it’s not just white, black or Asian,” he says. “We’re seeing greater diversity within certain segments — for example, South Americans within the Latino community, or Vietnamese within the Asian. It’s not enough to broadly label anymore; you need to know specifically who you’re serving.”
Multicultural consumers bode well for produce. “Ethnic populations use a high percent of fresh produce,” says Paul Auerbach. “The growth and diversification of the ethnic demographic fair well for us because garlic and ginger are mainstays of many of these cuisines.”
EXP Group’s Serafino notes in the Latino communities the highest-selling items include ripe plantains, green plantains, bananas, yucca, malanga coco/taro, batatas (sweet potato) and papaya. “If I’m going into those communities, I need to make sure I have those items,” he says.
The Asian communities consume large volumes of garlic and ginger, as well as bananas and tropicals. “For instance, Korean-owned Food Bazaar puts a big focus on tropical produce,” says Serafino. “Their clientele is not just Korean. They are serving a varied demographic looking for this product emphasis.”
Josh Auerbach, who represents the fourth generation of Maurice A. Auerbach, Inc., says: “In the years since our company started, we’ve expanded to handle conventional and organic ginger root and shallots, and many other diverse specialty items. In this regard, our customers and indeed, their consumers, have often been able to expand our knowledge base of the truly diverse products that are out there.”
Although the company brings in bok choy, daikon, black radish, Belgian endive, and other specialty leafy and root vegetables, garlic (all types) has been its specialty for 80 years.
“That plant has long been significant in many cultures and ethnic cuisines,” says Auerbach, referring to garlic.
Vision Import’s product mix also fits well with the growing diversity of the market. “Our core items include limes, lemons, mango and pineapples,” says Cohen. “The consumption of limes continues to increase, and demand remains strong. Lemons have always been a great item, but consumption is also increasing. Mangos have exponential continued growth, with consumers looking for greater varietal diversity.”
Cohen advises retailers to seek out differences within the ethnic segment to be able to offer an expanded category. “For example, offer multiple varieties of yellow mango and red mango,” he says. “We also continue our trend of branding, such as our Picasso mango, and associating the brand with high quality and service.”
New York’s multicultural mix also includes Europeans. “We still have a strong Italian community,” says Serafino. “They sell boxed product straight from Italy and labeled as such.”
Joey Granata, director of produce sales for FreshPro, relates a growing Russian influx and Eastern European influence. “That business has really infiltrated and taken off, especially in the boroughs and some of the suburbs,” he says.
A Mediterranean wave also affects the retail and foodservice sectors, according to Friedman of Riviera. “With the influence of cultures from the Mediterranean areas, people have become accustomed to eating falafel and Mediterranean bowls,” he says.
Lucky’s Lee agrees the ethnic diversity influences the city’s food scene. “Middle Eastern food is trending more than it has in the past,” she says. “We’re exploring every ethnicity when it comes to cuisine.”
Certain ethnic groups have really influenced the market of dill, cilantro or other herbs, notes Granata. “Items such as radishes were something a company wouldn’t sell much before but now we’re selling a lot,” he says. “A lot of items such as celery are coming back into play because of the growth of these ethnic groups. If you look at local markets in Europe and the Middle East, those are the items they have.”
Cohen says the city’s multicultural demographic gives rise to alternative retail formats. “All over the city, you see people opening their bodega or produce carts,” he says. “Turkish vendors are doing produce stands all over the city, and even in New Jersey.”
CONVENIENCE AND CROSS-OVER
New York’s market influencers also impel convenience and quality. Because of a desire for convenience and reduced shrink, Vision’s Cohen reports packaging is evolving with more emphasis on Grab & Go. “There is always a sense of wanting something new and different,” he says. “More retailers are getting away from buying bulk and stacking high to mitigate their shrink. Instead, they’re doing more with packaging.”
FreshPro finds customers demand more fresh-cut. “They are asking for more fresh-cut items,” says Avillo. “They want value-added, ready-to-cook, ready-to-use. It’s all about convenience.”
Evolution in age and income demographics affects trends in cooking and consumption of more upscale items. “Garlic is always trending,” says Klein. “People always need it for recipes. We’ve seen an increase in baby bok choy. As restaurants serve baby bok choy, consumers become more familiar with it and learn how to use it better.”
Ben-Dror sees a link between freshness and quality in higher demand in certain segments of the marketplace. “A growing part of the market is looking for freshness, quality and farm-direct product,” he says. “Thus, buyers want to have a direct relationship with the farm with consistent supply, service and quality. This has become very important because of the inconsistent supply due to weather.”
BDA/Dorot Farm’s Fresh & Sweet brand carrot, which is exported from Israel to Europe, Asia, North America and Africa, exemplifies a product taking advantage of a market niche. “Our philosophy is to be involved from the seed to consumer,” says Ben-Dror. “Customers want to know what’s behind their product. We look at our business as a partnership with our customers. We all work together to get consumers what they want.”
The intersection of New York’s multicultural and hipster trends results in trending food exploration. “Food Halls proliferate the city,” says Friedman. “People are hopping around New York to check out different foods from different ethnicities. It’s exciting and expanding our minds in the food arena.”
The rapid expansion of the Hispanic culture has resulted in a major influence in the food industry, notes Friedman. “A lot of those items have crossed over and become more commonplace,” he says. “I never used to get requests for cilantro, and now we sell kilos of it.”
The evolving nature of New York’s consumers and integration between groups presents opportunity for produce suppliers. Serafino explains EXP used to sell ethnic-oriented items only to certain demographic segments. “However, with evolving trends and population groups, we now sell Asian or Latino products to many mainstream outlets,” he says.
Cohen agrees the increasing demand for many of Vision’s products is influenced by ethnic growth pushing mainstream consumers. “It’s a combination of more ethnicities purchasing those items,” he says. “Also, the health benefits of citrus are driving demand.”
MOVING OUT TO THE SUBURBS
Distributors report another significant demographic trend is the shift of some ethnic demographic groups to the suburbs. “It’s becoming very expensive to live in the city, so the umbrella of the New York City demographic is becoming bigger,” says Serafino. “We sell more things to upstate New York, Connecticut or New Jersey that we wouldn’t have sold there years ago.”
There is a movement of demographics to other areas, says Cohen. “The older ethnic groups, for example, Polish, have moved to other areas, and now the old neighborhoods are hosting new ethnic groups,” he says. “Neighborhoods in Queens that were Jewish evolved to Korean and now house an Indian population.”
This shift has placed greater emphasis on logistics. “If people are getting priced out of living in certain areas, they still want to eat what they’re used to,” says Serafino. “We must provide a service further out from our fulfillment center to benefit our customers and our company.”
Wholesalers now face the challenge as well as opportunity of how to serve these diverse and spreading demographic niches. “Serving all the different demographics has made us more diverse as a company,” says FreshPro’s Granata. “We need to be able to supply all these different items and areas.”
Serafino notes the importance of understanding how to better provide certain products to service a community. “How we can better service our clients so they can better service these communities … this means not only educating, but working with your clients and going back and forth,” he says. “As a provider, it’s your responsibility to make sure you properly fulfill the needs of your customer. If you’re not, you’re doing a disservice to your customer.”
EVOLVING TO SERVE
As retail and foodservice develop and cater to specific niches, they rely on their wholesalers to buttress them. “There is a wide spread of retailers now trying to serve their targeted demographic,” says Auerbach’s Klein. “On our end, it’s our job to figure out how we fulfill their specific needs.”
Serafino says it is up to the providers to work with customers to ensure they’re adapting to marketplace changes. “It’s more about being aware how different communities are changing, and if our customers are adapting to the changes in those communities,” he says. “A lot of times they are, but as an expert supplier, it’s our job to help customers be aware of changes and figure out what is needed.”
Increasingly, this means wholesalers fulfill a specialty or just-in-time role. “We specialize in specialties because they are items that aren’t purchased in tremendous quantities,” says Klein. “Retail needs someone to consolidate to make it easier for their procurement. You can buy three cases of something from Florida, but it’s not feasible to send a truck to Florida for three cases.”
Friedman explains Riviera operates as a flexible alternative for businesses. “We are becoming more and more a just-in-time delivery service,” he says. “If a chef realizes at 2 p.m. he forgot three cases of Mesclun for dinner, we try to get it to him in time. Increasingly, it’s these value-added service offerings setting us apart from broadline distributors.”
Friedman recalls that once a famous chef called in the early afternoon, saying he liked the sorrel delivered the day before and needed a favor. “He needed more by 3 p.m. that day for a special tasting,” he says. “We had our sales rep drive it over and drop it off. We showed him we do what almost nobody else can do. You have to go that extra mile for your customers.”
Evolving customer needs require greater emphasis on logistics. “Your reach as a company has to be diverse, and it’s why we’ve put an emphasis on our logistics,” says Serafino. “We ‘in-house’ our logistics now. We are a direct importer, so we now have the ability with our logistics company to not only pick up our cargo at the port but also to deliver our cargo to customers.”
Auerbach operates its own fleet of refrigerated trucks as well as using a reliable pool of outside carriers. “We basically arrange all transportation for product coming in and going out,” says Paul Auerbach. “It has become more difficult than 10 or 20 years ago, whether because of food safety, trucker hours of service or cost structure. It seems in some respects now the logistics are as important as the sourcing for good flow of product.”
Baldor Specialty Foods in the Bronx delivers produce and other foodstuff to New York area restaurants, retailers, wholesalers, hospitals and schools. The distributor is growing with a state-of-the-art facility in Boston and an expansion at the Bronx property to 300,000 square feet. Where there used to be 30 bays in the Bronx, there are now 96 to make room for additional business.
Baldor’s Muzyk is about halfway through the process of implementing a conveyor belt system that will do a more efficient job of preparing orders that include less-than-full cases. “By doing some projected analytics and studying this, we vetted a software to help with the networking and hardware companies to create a conveyor belt system to help product move more efficiently,” he says.
A case will have a bar code on the exterior identifying the customer, route and truck, and will be sorted by weight. The heaviest items, such as a quart
of vinegar or jar of mayonnaise, will go on the bottom. Frozen foods and poultry will go next, with produce at the top, so the frozen broccoli or meat doesn’t drip on the produce. And it’s all automated.
“Then the pallet goes up a corkscrew to the second floor where it will pick up the lighter cases, with microgreens or edible flowers,” says Muzyk. “This case will be pre-picked, then sent to a buffering system — and not touched by a human being — where it is stored at the right temperature. When that route is on the schedule four hours later, the order has already been pre-picked.”
Muzyk compares the buffering system to selecting a drink from a coke machine: “A robotic arm will go through the buffer system and pull out the case and send it on its journey to the loading dock and onto that truck. You press the right number and the buffering system will
pull out the right case and send it on its way to the dock so it can be loaded onto the truck. It’s more accurate, more traceable, more transparent, with a better fulfillment rate.”
Looking toward the future, Muzyk says he’s trying to think like a Millennial. “One of our strengths is not only to be able to look down the street at what’s coming, but also a little bit around the corner. I think the Millennial version of that is anticipating the next problem the customer is going to have before they even know they’re going to have it, and then providing a solution.”
PUSH FOR SOMETHING NEW
Changing marketplace diversity always pushes the envelope with new ways to serve customers. “You must continually bring something new to the table you didn’t do the previous year,” says Serafino. “For example, we started ripening in 2013, and now we have 29 rooms and can service a variety of products for ripening.”
Innovation is also diversifying product line as communities continue to evolve, says Serafino. “We like to increase one or two items a year to stay innovative,” he says. “Innovation is not just centered around technology; it also has to do with products and SKUs.”
Ben-Dror meets customer needs by providing a variety of pack options. “Our foodservice and fresh-cut customers use more jumbo carrots, so we sell in 50-pound bags of a special variety fitting the requirements of the market,” he says. “Our retail packaging includes 1-, 2-, 3- and 5-pound bags to meet different market segment needs, shipped direct from farm to customer. We also have club packs.”
Riviera’s Friedman agrees if you’re good in produce, you need to keep your finger on what’s going on in the marketplace. “You need to be always looking around, and finding new things,” he says. “Every once in a while, we find something new that is going to make a difference and help us grow. We are out there enjoying the world and looking at what is coming to prepare for the future. It’s time-consuming, but the things we end up hitting are invaluable.”
This year, Riviera is expanding to a fuller-line approach. “We are bringing in some non-perishable dairy items,” says Friedman. “We’re doing this per the request of customers.”
Partnering with niche-thinking wholesalers builds a strong foundation for retail and foodservice diversity. “Working with us means customers get what they want and not what the distributor has,” says Avillo. “We help customers talk to different growers and have their own apple or pear program, and we manage it for them. Customers can also tag onto what we’re already doing for others, for example, organic arugula.”
New York distributors also are expanding human capital to better serve customers. Vision has made a conscious growth effort this year with several new hires. “We hired Tony Mitchell as vice president sales and business development and brought on Eddie Perez, senior sales manager,” says Cohen. “We’ve enhanced our sales staff, bringing on talent to really push sales.”
Following the diversity of the marketplace, Vision promoted Angela Aronica, to sales director and added Yen Han Woo to focus on Asian sales.
“Angela is really ahead of her years and is good at what she is doing,” says Cohen. “We’re also so proud she is part of Wendy McManus’ program to mentor more women leaders in the produce workplace, too. Yen Han Woo is tasked with engaging Asian customers as well as ethnic segments of the market place. He speaks Mandarin as well as other languages. His family is originally from Taiwan.”
In the end, human capital is a game-changer, notes Serafino. “Change really puts your skills to the test,” he says. “But if you have a good team around you and stay true to your values, you can thrive.”
MILLENNIALS AND MORE
New York’s younger generations also influence the produce marketplace in terms of organics and convenience. “As far as age demographics go, Millennials are looking for more organics and health items,” says Bruce Klein, director of marketing for Maurice A. Auerbach Inc. in Secaucus, NJ. “They use technology more to find out what is new or different.”
Rafael Goldberg, chief executive at Do Good Organic in New Castle, DE, selling into the New York market, says since his company’s focus remains on organics, the area’s diversity benefits sales. “Organic blueberries are our largest item,” he says. “The diverse demographic is perfect for our mango program too. Our messaging is very much targeted at the Millennial group, where we talk not only about the commodity itself but also the health, social and environmental properties.”
However, trending age demographics have a negative impact on some items, says Klein. “For example, we used to sell a lot of rhubarb,” he says. “It was very viable 10 years ago. Now, we’re not selling much.”
Wholesalers note that Millennials push food trends. “Retail and foodservice are catering more to the younger population than ever,” says Floyd Avillo, president and chief operating officer at FreshPro in West Caldwell, NJ. “There are more packaged foods and more organics. Formats such as Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Aldi are examples of this growth.”
Paul Auerbach at Maurice A. Auerbach sees more foodservice and meal companies offering alternatives to retail. “There is increasing diversity of how people get their foods, how people are eating and how fresh produce ties into it,” he says. “Younger generations are driving this.”
Millennials affect foodservice trends, according to Anthony Serafino, vice president of public relations at EXP Group in North Bergen, NJ. “The foodservice distributor business is growing tremendously,” he says. “There is a push for home delivery as young people with buying power look to expand what they eat but also to make it easier.”
Higher-end foodservice remains a driver of new items. “Chefs are looking for new things or innovative items,” says Klein. “They want unique, convenient items such as mini potatoes, or something new, to freshen up their menu. This continues to push diversity in product.”
Ben Friedman, president of Riviera Produce in Englewood, NJ, reports demand for baby kale has exploded over the past 24 months. “Artisanal lettuces are also trending,” he says. “This is an item where five years ago we didn’t sell 10 boxes a week; now we sell 500.”
Friedman says Riviera is in the process of expanding product lines of goods and services to meet customers’ needs, including carrying a full line of dairy, spices, and more than 750 shelf-stable items.
ALL AROUND THE WORLD
New York’s high demand and diversity require distributors to handle just about everything under the sun and to try to do it year-round.
“Customers want year-round supply, which makes you look at different growing areas,” says Paul Auerbach at Maurice A. Auerbach Inc, Secaucus, NJ. “They want less out-of-stock and count on you. Markets change, prices change, supply areas change, but the customer wants the item no matter what. It can be challenging from a sourcing standpoint, but we have a good team, and we’ve done it well for years.”
New York’s demanding market, according to Rafael Goldberg, chief executive at Do Good Organic in New Castle, DE, affects how suppliers operate and source. “To be more useful and provide a higher level of service, you must have consistent suppliers form lots of different growing areas to keep the supply pipeline filled,” he says. “Longer, more consistent availability helps us stay in the spotlight with our customers.”
Ben Friedman, president of Riviera Produce in Englewood, NJ, believes diversity in sourcing makes his buyers work harder but also makes them smarter and better people at the end of the day. “We make room for the 1’s and 2’s of certain items that don’t move in high volume but are the glue in the relationship with the customers who know they can get what they need,” he says. “It’s a little more work, but that’s what makes us invaluable. We will go to any corner of the earth to find anything for our customers.”
Goldberg sources blueberries from Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Georgia, North Carolina and Washington/Oregon to ensure a quality year-round supply. “We bring mangos from Peru and Mexico almost year-round, and blackberries from Mexico and California,” he says. “Our pineapples come from Mexico and Costa Rica, and we source apples and pears from Argentina and Chile.”
EXP Group in North Bergen, NJ, offers mangos as a year-round item but sourced from different countries throughout the year. “If you want to do a good job in the mango business, you need to know where to source from and when to get a good mango at the right time,” says Anthony Serafino, vice president of public relations. “It’s our job to ensure we service our customers with the proper taste and shelf life so their customers can be satisfied. It’s up to everyone across the supply chain to ensure everyone stays accountable to ultimately provide the best product to the consumer.”
Ami Ben-Dror’s BDA/Dorot Farm in Melville, NY, strives to supply customers year-round. “We want to service our customers in the best way possible and grow nine months out of the year,” he says. “It’s important to follow the trends of what consumers want, to ensure we’re helping our customers meet their customers’ needs.”
Distributors must deal with the challenge of stocking a greater variety of products. FreshPro in West Caldwell, NJ, stocks more than 1,000 produce SKUs on a daily basis. “We have aisles dedicated to bottled dressings that we didn’t have years ago,” says Floyd Avillo, president and chief operating officer.
Increasing differentiation in the marketplace challenges some distributors to stock more in small quantity. “Because of the demand in diversity, we may have to stock 5 or 10 cases of something,” says Joey Granata, director of produce sales at FreshPro. “If we want to meet our customers’ needs, we have to have those items. All our customers want specifics within categories. Customer A wants a different tomato than Customer B. They’re all trying to be unique, so they’re coming up with different programs. We try to be as supportive as we can because we understand their need to differentiate.”
NEW YORK RETAIL PROFILE
Quality First For Produce (And More)
Eight-unit retail chain DeCicco & Sons keeps several New York bedroom communities coming back for more.
BY LINDA BROCKMAN
Before DeCicco & Sons moved into Somers, NY, in Westchester County, the town’s 21,000 residents did not have a grocery store. When locals needed meat, poultry or produce, they had to venture into a neighboring town, such as Lewisboro, or purchase staples at the local convenience store or gas station, says town supervisor Rick Morrissey.
So, “people are thrilled to have DeCicco’s in the community,” he says.
And DeCicco & Sons is happy to be here too, says Melvin Contreras, director of produce and floral for the chain of seven stores in Westchester County and one in Brewster (Putnam County). The chain’s motto is “Quality First,” says Contreras.
Competitors may offer cheaper prices, “but without a doubt, they don’t have the same quality. We have the best grade produce, meats and fish.” Even if a shopper pays 20 cents more for the same product, it is worth it for better quality, says Contreras.
Most of DeCicco & Sons’ produce comes from Nathel & Nathel in Hunts Point. The store uses other vendors too, including D’Arrigo for bananas and Katzman for berries, says Contreras, who visits the Hunts Point Market at least once a week. He likes to try the produce before it goes out on the floor. “Nothing gets on the store’s floor unless it’s up to our standards.”
The chain’s standards align with those of Sheldon Nathel, vice president of Nathel & Nathel and president of Nathel International. He called DeCicco & Sons “way better than the average retailer, the best in the business when it comes to beautiful retail stores and amazing produce. They insist on top, top, top quality.”
In 1972, the senior DeCicco brothers, John, Frank and Joe, started a chain called DeCicco Family Market in the Bronx. Growing up, Chris and John Jr., loved the business, says John DeCicco, Sr., about his two sons.
The family’s second-generation business began as an MBA project for John DeCicco Jr., who was attending Fordham University. His professor – aware that the DeCiccos were in the grocery business – encouraged the class to help the younger John find a location, as a learning experience. When they found the perfect plot of land, John Jr. seized the opportunity – and with the help of the family – opened the first DeCicco & Sons in Ardsley, NY in 2006.
Today, all three cousins, John Jr., Chris and Joe Jr., run the store. John Jr. and Joe Jr. handle finances, while Chris does marketing. Joe Jr. is also a chef.
AHEAD OF THE GAME
Customers can pick up a meal, salad or grab-and-go at the food bar or deli and then bring it to the upstairs loft, which includes indoor and outdoor seating for dining and a full bar that serves beer and wine. There is also a coffee bar, juice bar and cut fruit.
Westchester magazine readers have consistently recognized DeCicco & Sons as a gourmet market as well as in other categories, such as produce.
Each DeCicco store offers conventional and organic fruit. The town of Somers has a diverse mix of residents, young and old, from a variety of nationalities, so Contreras also offers specialty fruit, vegetables, spices and herbs. If a customer wants something that is not stocked in-store, the produce manager will order it.
Merchandising displays change seasonally, highlighting apples in October, citrus in January and cherries in the summer months.
“We have to be ahead of the game when it comes to trends and seasons,” says Contreras. “Not everything in season is a trend, and not every trend is in season. The store is selling cherries at the peak of the season, but we have to know when to stop. If a customer tries cherries at the end of the season and it’s not at its best, that customer may be hesitant to buy again next season.”
THE RIGHT IMPACT
It was important for the stores to be environmentally friendly, says Michael Puma, DeCicco’s director of operations. Aside from recycling, the store used reclaimed wood from New England barns for the building’s interior and exterior. Other features include: energy-efficient LED lighting, motion sensors to reduce electricity usage during low occupancy, and reclaimed heat from refrigeration system (reducing use of natural gas). “We spent a lot of time figuring out how the building would be represented,” says Puma.
DeCicco & Sons supports the communities in which they are located, and that loyalty is returned. Four hundred people came out for the grand opening of the 20,000-square-foot store on May 3, says John DeCicco Sr. Town supervisor Rick Morrissey was impressed with a 3-foot-tall elephant cake to commemorate former Somers resident, Old Bet — a pachyderm who inspired the circus.
In the early 1800s, Hachaliah Bailey, founder of one of the first circuses, purchased Old Bet for his farm, where she attracted multitudes of onlookers to Somers. There are tributes to the elephant all over the town as well as in the DeCicco store. Old Bet’s likeness decorates homemade cookies at the bakery and the growler (beer) dispenser at the bar. She’s even featured on the store’s shopping bag.
NEW YORK RESTAURANT PROFILE
Pasta By Hudson Takes Fresh, Convenient To Next Level
By Brandan Kneeland
Ah, the New York City subway. Home to crazy commutes, packed cars, confused tourists, locals annoyed at the confused tourists … and some of the freshest ingredients creating gourmet meals-to-go. Wait, what?
Nestled within the roaring bustle of New York’s Columbus Circle Turnstyle Market, Pasta By Hudson is an on-the-go, pasta-centric Italian restaurant that commuters, residents and everyday workers can customize an order, watch it be made from scratch in real time, and be on their way with convenient to-go boxes before the next train arrives. Pasta By Hudson’s creator and owner, Brandon Fay, has brought his own brand of fresh philosophy to one of the busiest travel spots in the city. Pasta By Hudson has injected the perfect blend of comfort food and fresh ingredients (“never enough herbs”) into an environment typically crowded by a variation of coffee and pizza. The result? A beautiful pasta dish, made from scratch right in front of the guests’ eyes, and served in a Chinese food-like container – served open, at first, for customers to put the final garnishes on the dish themselves. And to flex their foodie muscles on Instagram.
I’ve had the privilege of knowing Brandon over the past seven years, first in his rise to managing director of one of NYC’s busiest restaurants, Trattoria Dell’Arte, making it the successful and iconic restaurant it is today, to his recurring segment, “Cooking with Brandon,” on CBS2 New York. Now, he expands his culinary art into physical spaces where New Yorkers frantically push through every day.
I sat down with Brandon Fay to talk about the origins of Pasta by Hudson, how ‘fresh’ is infused, and what he sees as next on the horizon in the NY food scene.
Q: People do not usually associate ‘fresh’ with the New York City subway. For the uninitiated, how do you maintain a fresh atmosphere and vibe in your location?
Fay: We knew there would be some challenges making sure guests knew all the pasta and sauces we make are fresh – and made fresh daily – and that we only use fresh herbs and fresh produce. We knew once guests visited our location they’d SEE IT and TASTE IT!
I don’t follow a recipe when it comes to finishing my dishes. Does the dish make you smile? Will it make my guests happy? When guests see a lot of fresh herbs, I know they get it. There is no one else in an underground market chopping fresh parsley and basil. We go through 6-8 pounds of basil and about 40-50 bunches of parsley daily.
Q: What is your process? What can guests expect to see when they come here?
Fay: We buy all our herbs and produce from Baldor Specialty Foods. They are one of the best in New York City when it comes to quality fresh and local ingredients. Right around June, we will be introducing new dishes for the summer time all inspired by the season. I have a new “no cook” tomatosauce inspired by my friend, Nona from Italy. Talk about fresh tomatoes! You’ll have to come and try it.
It has become a big part of the experience for our guests to finish seasoning their dishes. I love watching the guests add sea salt flakes and crushed red pepper. They ask me, “What should I add? Does it need anything else?” I say we’ve added a lot of love, but it’s always great to add a little extra yourself.
Q: Talk a little about the origins of your vegetarian pasta dishes.
Fay: My wife is a vegetarian, so she inspires me every day to keep healthier vegetable choices on the menu. If it was up to me I’d just eat pasta with our signature a la vodka sauce every day! (Laughing)
Q: How do you integrate fruits and veggies beyond the obvious?
Fay: Knowing what’s in season. Specials, like ramps, are growing wild now. I’m adding a whole section of entree salads. All the salads will have a fruit or veggie! My philosophy is simple. Eat fresh, feel fresh!
Q: Where do you see the NYC food scene/general landscape going in the next couple years?
Fay: It has been really great to see the evolution of food. I remember eating dirty water dogs at Shea Stadium … Now, stadiums have become hip foodie destinations. Shopping centers with food courts have been replaced by small urban food markets. And ice cream shops became speakeasies! I know fresh is here to stay; I know, as a culture, we love exploring other cultures and finding what is new to us. You will see many more food halls in urban spaces, farmers markets and food trucks. People will continue to want diversity and freshness, and they want food fast without sacrificing flavor.