Originally printed in the July 2022 issue of Produce Business.
The name may not exactly say it, other than in an ironic sense, but Gourmet Garage is a food retailer that satisfies a customer base of savvy, food-conscious shoppers. The NYC retailer now has four neighborhood locations — in Manhattan in Soho and Tribeca, the Upper West Side and its newest store, the West Village.
Gourmet Garage really did start in a garage, with the first of its retail locations actually taking over from a former garage. But the company’s food expertise goes back to 1981, when it was founded as Flying Foods International, an importer and distributor of edibles to foodservice.
So it may not be surprising that Gourmet Garage, officially launched about a decade after the company first started operating, tells New York consumers to “shop like a chef” when they’re looking for quality food.
“Because of our background, we do have a strong focus on fresh, prepared foods and we offer a wide variety of affordable, chef-made meals and grab-and-go options, such as sushi, gourmet sandwiches, soups and coffees at our coffee bar,” says Perry Blatt, a third-generation grocer with Gourmet Garage and its parent company, Village Super Market.
The store offers 10 varieties of hand-crafted soups each day and over 40 varieties of sushi made by in-house sushi chefs. There’s also freshly prepared meats and to-go seafood in oven-ready tins, baked breads and desserts for a specialty market experience.
Produce is a critical part of the operation and one that is a draw among customers who look for fresh, abundant fruits and vegetables.
“Produce is one of the most important departments, and we know our customers expect the freshest fruits and vegetables and organics at a fair price,” says Rob Prusak, Gourmet Garage produce director. “Our goal is to always deliver on those expectations.”
He adds that almost 40% of the produce department assortment is organic.
The new, 15,000 square foot store in the West Village fills out the Gourmet Garage presence downtown where stores in the Soho and Tribeca neighborhoods were already serving customers.
The Hudson Street store also offers a new, bi-level model for Gourmet Garage, Blatt says. Freshly prepared fine foods and produce can be found on the first floor, the “Market Level,” while the “Chef’s Basement” lower floor features an assortment of pantry staples and groceries.
In a part of New York where rents are high and stores are mostly small, Gourmet Garage customers “want variety, fresh-cut fruit, organics, locally grown products and well-known brands. They also want affordable produce,” Prusak says.
Shoppers entering the new West Village Gourmet Garage get an eyeful of produce from the get-go, and the store uses fruits and vegetables as an anchor to link other product categories in establishing a strong, fresh food presentation.
“Our produce department is located near the entrance of the store and people will see an entire rainbow of fruits and vegetables as they enter the store,” Prusak says. “We also have tie-ins to make shopping and recipe coordinating more convenient for our customers.”
For example, right next to the produce, the store has a large specialty olive oil display that includes vinegars, cheeses and store-made croutons to complement tomatoes and greens. “We are always thinking about how the customer may use our products to create a simpler approach to shopping and meal prep.”
Prusak says color is a critical element in Gourmet Garage produce merchandising.
“We are proud of our produce selection and the bold, bright colors customers will see when they shop our produce,” he says. “Attention-grabbers, like our fresh tomatoes, basil and avocados, are on display when you first enter the store, along with a large, colorful assortment of our fresh-cut fruit.”
Although many shoppers are looking for produce in its basic form, Gourmet Garage has its reputation for prepared foods for the busy grab-and-go shopper. Manhattan’s long love affair with take-out and delivered meals is an opportunity and an important part of the Gourmet Garage market positioning.
“We cut a lot of our fruit and vegetables in our central kitchen, and we also cut at store level,” Prusak says. “That flexibility allows us to keep the freshest possible produce on shelves.”
Still, bulk produce is critical and shopping for it can be frequent. Famously, small Manhattan refrigerators don’t hold a lot, and so many consumers shop small, particularly when it comes to products they can get fresh locally. For instance, says Prusak, a lot of Gourmet Garage customers come in multiple times per week to buy their greens.
A greater emphasis on seasonal fruits and vegetables among health-conscious and environmentally concerned shoppers is something that Gourmet Garage takes into consideration as part of produce operations.
“Seasonal and local are a big part of our business,” Prusak says. “Customers expect us to deliver on the right items at the right time of the year, whether that is a large assortment of melons in May or local blueberries in July and August.”
Food-conscious Manhattan consumers also include a significant number of vegetarian and vegan eaters, and Gourmet Garage caters to them, too.
“We do have a section of plant-based options in the produce department that includes dairy replacement items and nuts, and we offer even more plant-based proteins in the meat department,” Prusak says.
As it laid the groundwork for the new West Village store, Gourmet Garage leadership took to the streets, Blatt says, and asked local residents what they’d like to see in a grocery store. “They told us that fresh foods and affordable price points were very important to them.”
“We believe the West Village needs a neighborhood market like Gourmet Garage that offers exceptional value with a large selection of affordable fine foods. We also want shoppers to feel like this is their market. If there is something they want that we don’t have, we ask them to tell us. We will get it.”
The latest location, operating somewhat to the north of the other downtown stores, provides Gourmet Garage with an additional advantage.
“This new location in the West Village allows us to extend our delivery for Gourmet Garage to additional zip codes in Manhattan,” he says. “We offer delivery through our Gourmet Garage app in as little as two hours.”
Gourmet Garage wants the West Village store, and really all its stores, to be a resource for the community, so catering to customer preferences is happily accomplished.
“We love the area and are excited to expand our footprint in lower Manhattan with this latest location in the West Village,” Blatt says.
Gourmet Garage, West Village 585 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014 Phone: (212) 835-6910 Website: gourmetgarage.com Sunday-Saturday 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
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