Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bits & Morsels takes on Co. and Fairway

The Popeye pizza at Co. topped with spinach before oven insertion.

This past Saturday night I took myself out to dinner and a movie. The movie I will not comment on. However, I went for what I thought would be a funny distraction. After the movie I went to Jim Lahey’s new restaurant Co., located at 230 Ninth Avenue.

Company was packed but I only waited a few minutes for a seat at the bar, so that was a relief. The décor at Co. is minimal and modern with individual tables, a bar, and a communal table. Although the refreshingly misshaped pizzas with colorful toppings looked irresistible as they were being drawn from the oven, for me nothing beats a Margherita pizza with buffalo mozzarella.
Boscaiola pizza — tomato, mushroom, buffalo mozzarella, sausage, onion, and chili.
Margherita pizza.
Leek and sausage pizza.
Jim Lahey is famous for all of his great breads at Sullivan Street Bakery and thankfully, the pizza did not disappoint. The pizzas are all individual and sized appropriately, rather than the usual overwhelmingly massive, generic individual pies which exist all over town (and out of town). The crust was chewy and moist with just the right amount of char on it. My plate was left completely clean. Other pies on the menu include the Popeye with spinach and the leek and sausage. Excellent pizza, great vibe. I will definitely will be back.

Company – 230 Ninth Avenue, 212.243.1105
Outside and inside Company.
Co.'s Jim Lahey. Pizza about to get topped with spinach.
Toasts — pinto bean, roasted pepper, and roasted eggplant. Chocolate breadcrumb torte.
Every New Yorker should know about Fairway. Fairway is the best place to shop for food in New York . Bar none. They have every item you could possibly desire and the price is right. It’s a family business and so, they really do care. Last week I sat down with Dan Glickberg, who along with his father, Howie Glickberg, runs the operation at Fairway. Right now, they have four stores with one more scheduled to open at the end of the month in Paramus, New Jersey. I am a big fan of Fairway and have always wondered how they're able keep their prices low without sacrificing quality. Dan gives us great insight into how the company works and continues to grow during these difficult economic times.

Fairway's Executive Vice President, Dan Glickberg.
What’s the best selling item at Fairway?

We have a bunch of best sellers. Our top selling department is produce, which is something you normally don’t see in a food store. We sell so many items. Our olive bar is always a top five seller in the stores. Our olive bar is massive and salmon is always a top seller. We really like to focus on the perishables. Groceries for us are a little mundane but we do have better prices than anyone else including ShopRite.

Everyone is always surprised and I think there is a common misperception that if you have high quality that’s preceded by high prices. I think we have really broken that mold. When people come into our store for the first time they are very surprised at our pricing. You see a store like Brooklyn where when we moved in 1 out of 3 people I think were unemployed. You have people buying food that is subsidized by the government shopping next to people in porsches. That’s a dichotomy you normally don’t see in a supermarket. Usually it’s one or the other but we really seem to bring everyone together. That’s what makes our markets so interesting and so diverse and such a fantastic place to be.

What’s your daily routine?

It really depends on what’s going on. Right now I’m in Paramus everyday. We are a little under 3 weeks to the opening. Myself and Howie we are really troubleshooters. Unfortunately, we always look at the negative side of things and look at what’s wrong. We will go through the numbers and walk through the stores and kind of troubleshoot and see where our biggest problems are and come up with a plan on how to alleviate them and move on from there. So I really don’t have a daily routine, which is also pretty neat. Most of my friends are stuck in cubicles all day. For me to be able to get to five stores every week is neat. I enjoy it.
Organic apples stacked high.
Navel oranges. Fairway's impressive coffee selection.
What advice would you give to someone looking to grow their business?

The first thing is you better love your job. Food has been in my family for 75 years it’s in my blood and its something I love to do everyday. I’m very passionate about it. I see what’s going on in the stores and I take it very personally. I look at my family name and how it is attached to the store. Right now you better look at your finances.

Blood orange juice.
You have to make sure you are positioned well in the market. We like to say we are not recession proof but we are recession resistant just with our business model. If you are positioned well for a downturn you will be well positioned when the economy starts to pick back up. You definitely need to look at your assets now and some of your financial liabilities.

Another thing I that you need to make sure that the employees around you are competent and you have to be able to trust them. IF you can’t trust your employees that are closest to you there is no way you will be able to expand properly and successfully.

How has the economy affected Fairway?

It’s interesting. People are definitely shopping more and our growth is still extremely strong. One thing I told our finance department to take a look at was the average shopping cart. The average shopping cart in dollars has gone down but our foot traffic has gone up. We are seeing an increase in sales. People might not be buying 26-day aged steaks anymore but they might be going for another cut of prime meat that’s less expensive. We have built our brand equity up so well that people trust us and they know when they come to Fairway they are going to get the best prices on everything.
Fairway shoppers.
A section of the olive bar.
What keeps you awake at night?

Everything makes me nervous and keeps me up at night but I’m confident with how we are building our company and leveraging four stores into hopefully eight within the next four years. One thing I have trouble with right now is that I am extremely hands on and I am starting to learn who I can delegate things to. At some point you have to start letting things go ... which is tough.

Does that get frustrating?

Yes because I know that a lot of things wont get done as well, but you need to prioritize.
Prepared fish and seafood.
Steaks and roasts.
Lobster tank.
What sets Fairway apart?

Definitely the selection, absolutely the price, and our perishables are better. Our business is really built on taking our profits and putting them back in the business. We don’t have a true central facility where we might make some of the foods and then freeze them and send them out to the stores and throw them in an oven. All of our deli foods and our hot food are prepared in the kitchen in that store. They are all prepared fresh everyday that morning. That’s something you ordinarily don’t see. Our bakery is not a bake off bakery.

We make everything from scratch and bake it off in the stores. The biggest thing is that we have our top guys in the business like Peter Romano, our produce director, who literally inspects every piece of produce that comes into this company. You don’t see that kind of meticulous work being done anymore. The other thing is that we don’t have a central warehouse. So our produce in other stores do not come into a central facility and get thrown into a warehouse. We get everything directly into the stores and that gives us a big leg up. That’s how we keep our prices down because we don’t have the up-charge of a central facility. We are able to buy a product that’s better and might be a little more expensive but since we don’t have that up-charge we can keep it at a good price.

Fairwaymarket.com (Upper West Side, Harlem, Red Hook, and Plainview)
Discoverfairway.com (Discover Fairway is a great site with cooking demonstrations and useful food information).
Fairway on the Upper West Side, 2127 Broadway (at 74th St).
Be careful where you buy your food. A few people who bought peppers in a store in Queens found bags of cocaine in their peppers. None of the customers had any clue what they were buying. [The New York Post]

I am obsessed with scanwiches.com. Basically it is just a web site of scans of sandwich halves on a dark background for 'education and delight.' Every time I look at these sandwiches, I get hungry. [Scanwiches]

Until we eat again,
Jordana Z.

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