An old world Italian grocer takes a produce legacy into the future by focusing on customer needs, quality and relationships.
The Petruzzelli family began its love affair with fresh food in the 1920s, when Sebastiano Petruzzelli sourced and sold high-quality fruits and vegetables in a horse-drawn wagon through the streets of Boston — beginning at Faneuil Hall and winding through streets as far as Waltham. Throughout the years, the Petruzzelli name became synonymous with high-quality fruits and vegetables.
In 1949, Sebastiano’s son, Domenic, and his brothers started a store and wholesale business, which eventually evolved into the New Deal Fruit store. Today, Domenic’s sons — Nick, Yano and Domenic Jr. — represent the fourth generation of the Petruzzelli family in carrying forth Sebastiano’s legacy selling high-quality fruits and vegetables at the current New Deal location (opened in 1971).
New Deal is a modern-day food emporium with the feel of an authentic Italian market. The owners take pride in providing their diverse clientele with the highest quality produce and a dizzying array of Italian specialty products — from fresh cardone to black pasta made from squid ink to 50 varieties of cheese. The store also offers hand-sliced deli meats and oversized submarine sandwiches.
Old World Feel
The store evokes an Old World charm, merchandising everything on open tables and racks. The atmosphere carries a warm, neighborhood feel. Customers chat happily with each other and staff as they browse and select their purchases. “We try to give customers food as good as we’d want for ourselves and our children,” says Nicky Petruzzelli, co-owner and produce buyer. “We focus on serving and making a connection with customers. We treat them like family.”
Though the 6,000-square-foot store has a small footprint, its hand in the neighborhood and business is significant. “Everyone sooner or later ends up at New Deal Fruit,” says Petruzzelli. “We have just about every ethnic group, every age, every income. It’s a great gathering place for everyone. Our area used to be heavily Italian demographically, but now it has diversified into many different ethnic groups. We have remained relevant to all our new customers.”
New Deal aims to personally please every shopper coming through the door. “We supply what people ask for,” says Petruzzelli. “We are in touch with our customers and tell them if there is anything they don’t see, please ask and we’ll bring it in. Often, these requests lead us to great business. One perfect example is lychee. We had a customer ask for lychees and so I went hunting. I got them in and it turned out we couldn’t keep them in the store.”
Petruzzelli believes a crucial aspect of his business is that the store has a face to it. “Our customers know who the owners are and who they can talk to when they come in,” he explains. “Our staff can answer any question they might have, whether it’s a fresh arrival, about seasonality or just to try something they’ve never tried before.”
The store reflects its produce roots — more than 50 percent of the physical store is produce, accounting for approximately 30 percent of overall sales. “Produce is crucial to our store and to our customers,” says Petruzzelli. “Without produce you don’t have everything to make a meal. And, without produce it doesn’t make your store whole.”
Produce is merchandised on a 45-foot display made of wooden tables positioned in the center of the store. At the far end of one side, a 50-foot wet rack with lettuce, greens, radishes and ginger calls to customers with a fresh appeal. Three to four separate island displays highlight particular seasonal or special deal produce items. The visual appeal of the displays is stunning — alternating colors and taking the use of color blocking to a whole other level.
Throughout the store, produce displays are complemented by stands of Italian gourmet specialty products. All displays are impeccably ordered and merchandised. “We merchandise many different items, but in small amounts,” says Petruzzelli. “We stack in a way that doesn’t hurt the product, but shows abundance.”
The produce layout changes every week, according to what’s on sale. The store handles hundreds of items. “We have expanded our product mix immensely,” says Petruzzelli. “We are handling products we never handled before. For example, we never had avocados or even knew what cilantro was years ago; now they are staple items. Prickly pears are another great example. We maybe sold a few before, but now with our increased customer segment from the Middle East, we have a hard time keeping up with demand.”
The Freshest In Town
Petruzzelli has stringent standards for what product makes the shelf at New Deal. “Our motto is ‘The Freshest Store in Town’ and we mean it,” he says. “It’s more than just a motto for us. Nothing comes in the store unless I taste it and like the way it looks. I don’t care if everybody has strawberries; if it doesn’t taste good, we don’t carry it. Nothing gets by me unless it tastes and looks good.”
New Deal sources just about 100 percent of its produce from the Boston Produce Center. “We’ve been dealing with people there for 50 years; we all grew up and got old together,” says Petruzelli. “We have great relationships there.”
The store does have a few direct deals with local farms. “We buy direct from them and they deliver,” says Petruzzelli. “On average, we buy 10 percent local during the season, depending on the weather.”
The store’s confidence in its produce is evidenced by constant sampling. “We sample every day,” says Petruzzelli. “Often, while customers are waiting for sandwiches at our deli, we’ll sample our produce. We enjoy cutting what customers are looking at and letting them try it. In this building, we don’t yell at customers for trying a grape, we want them to.”
Showing off the merchandise is also highly touted at New Deal. “We cut open samples and display them on top of related items,” says Petruzzelli. “This way customers can see what the fruit looks like inside and smell the aroma from it.”
New Deal relies mostly on its location, word of mouth and social media for promotion. “We use Facebook and other social media sites,” says Petruzzelli. “We have a gigantic sign in front of the store we use to advertise all the specials. Everyone goes down this street — our location is awesome. Those are the best ways to reach our customers.”
Employees at New Deal learn from hands-on experience — most have a long-term relationship with the store. “We have new employees shadow somebody until they get it,” says Petruzzelli. “Most of our employees have been here so long, they are all experts in their work. Employees really don’t leave our store employ unless it’s time to move on in life. When they do, there is always another family member or friend ready to come in and fill that slot.”
New Deal Fruit Inc.
Sun – Sat 8 am – 8 pm
Every day except Christmas