Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bits and Morsels has to go to Grace's

Rice balls and a martini (catered by Paola's) at the opening party for Hotel Wales.

I spotted the Wafels & Dinges truck
last week on 86th Street and Third Avenue, and I could not resist trying a hot Belgian sugar waffle.

The truck sells all kinds of waffle combinations such as fresh fruit and ice cream or belgian chocolate fudge and bananas or spekuloos spread and real maple syrup. You get the point. I sampled the liege waffle and was mesmerized by the wafting scent of vanilla and chewy pockets of caramelized sugar. I thought one would be enough. Boy was I wrong.

Wafels & Dinges
The location of the truck varies daily

The liege waffle from the Wafels & Dinges truck.
Macaroni and cheese has always been popular, but two restaurants have taken the tasty, comforting, and recession friendly food to another level. S'MAC and the newly opened Macbar focus entirely on mac and cheese. Macbar offers items like "Mack Quack," which has duck confit mixed in. [The Wall Street Journal]

Last Thursday I went to the Hotel Wales
to celebrate the landmark renovation that was completed by architect Stephen Alton. The atmosphere was very festive and the delicious hors d'oeuvres were catered by Paola's. I felt as if I was on vacation during my hour-stay at the Hotel Wales. Located at 1295 Madison Avenue, it's a low-key, pet friendly boutique hotel in an excellent location, especially for good food. Sarabeth’s and Paola's are on the same block. The Hotel Wales is the perfect place to dump your relatives when they visit  for Thanksgiving or other holidays. Just a thought ... [Hotel Wales]
Chris Northrup and architect Stephen Alton. Fresh flowers in every room.
A look inside one of the suites at Hotel Wales.
"I have to go to Grace's." Almost all of my conversations end this way. It seems that before any other marketplace on the Upper East Side existed, there was Grace's. It opened in 1985 and to this day it is family owned and operated. There is something in the store for everybody and the products are first-rate. Joseph Doria Jr. is in charge of the operations at Grace's.

When I met him at Grace's he was unloading cartons, checking inventory, talking to customers, truly immersed in all details of operations. A hands-on boss is a big understatement when it comes to Joseph.

What is your daily routine?

It varies every day. I get here at about 4:30 every morning. I open the store and I start accepting deliveries when I come in. We have the bread deliveries, the milkman, all the fresh produce and pastries. They all come in very early. We receive up to 150 deliveries a day from different vendors delivering different items.

Everything has to be fresh and there's a lot going on early in the morning. We have to get done before the customers start walking in and they come in at 7:00 when we open the doors. Also, we have to start cooking at 5:00 for the food to go up at 9:30.

Where do you make all of your prepared foods?

Here in our kitchen on the premises.

Who is Grace?

My mom. She is still in the business. We have a store in Long Island now that we opened a year ago and she’s out there with all my siblings. I’m the only one right now in this store.

How is this store doing?

We are holding our own but the economy does effect us because we are a higher-end store. Our customer count is the same but the way they shop is different. The caviar, truffle and prime meat sales are a little off. People are buying more chicken and vegetables and other less expensive items.

What’s your best selling item?

It varies. Our best section is produce, which is our busiest department. Louis Balducci was my grandfather and he started as a produce man. He had a produce stand and that how he started. We had Balducci’s down in the village and my father was a produce man too and he opened Grace’s Marketplace.

We call prepared foods tavola calda, which means hot table in Italian. It got started with off-stand produce. There was nothing wrong with the items, but people just did not like the look of them (i.e. bruised peaches or apples, broccoli rabe). So, we would give it to my grandma and she would cook it and send it upstairs as prepared food. That’s how the whole prepared food section started.

That’s so interesting. When did Grace’s open?

November 4th, 1985.

How important is organic food in the store?

It’s been growing and getting stronger. In every section of our store we have something organic whether it’s coffee or meat.

You also have a lot of local products, which I like.

Local, when in season, but this year was a tough season for local produce with all the rain. There was very little corn and tomatoes.

How many people work in the store?

I have 180 employees but they are not all here at one time. I would say 90 employees at a time.

What is your busiest day of the year?

All of the holidays. The single busiest day of the year is the day before Thanksgiving. It’s a big food holiday. It’s not religious and it’s American so everyone celebrates it.

How do you decide what products to sell in the store?

We look at all new products and take recommendations from our customers. Every day we have new purveyors showing us products and if it is something unique that I can sell, I will try it. If it’s something that I already have and it’s doing well, I’m not going to bring a similar product in. I don’t have the space, we are only a 7,000 square foot store.

It feels so much bigger.

The sales we generate from 7,000 square feet take most stores 50,000 square feet. That’s why I am here at 4:30 in the morning. I don’t buy once a week. I buy everyday.

What advice would you give to someone about working in a family business?

Working with family is difficult. What we learned to do is keep the business with the business. On Sundays we all get together and we never talk about business at home.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to open a market?

Make sure you have plenty of working capital. You are in a perishable business. To start a new business you are going to throw a lot of stuff away. You have to be able to feed the animal until you have a customer base.
Grace's Joseph Doria Jr. ... Fresh flowers abound outside of Grace's.
1237 Third Avenue

Grace’s Trattoria (Grace’s restaurant)
201 East 71st Street


Until we eat again,
Jordana Z.

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