Balducci’s Food Lover’s Market made an immediate impression when
it opened in the Rye Ridge Shopping Center on Friday, Jan. 27, taking the place
of the long-shuttered D’Agostino.
“We love to create a wow in every department,” said President and
Chief Operating Officer Rich Durante as he led an early-morning tour through
the new 11,000-square-foot Rye Brook store, pointing out some highlights.
He said the store was convenient for consumers with no time,
carries over 200 organic items (plus many non-organic ones) and stocks some of
the biggest jack fruits in the world.
Mark Steinbrick, a merchandiser for Melissa’s, the largest
specialty produce company in the country, bringing in products from all over
the world, held up a 30-pound jackfruit and the packaged arils that come out of
it, the meat of the Mexican import.
“For vegans and vegetarians, this is their meat, their protein
source,” Steinbrick said. “They can grow up to 75-100 pounds. These are
babies.” The arils taste something like a fresh version of Juicy Fruit gum.
In the bakery and patisserie department, a cannoli tower provided
that wow factor, and I’ll have to say that these cannolis were as good as those
made at Neri’s Bakery, which, after numerous taste tests, our office had
determined to be the best in town.
An employee behind the patisserie counter talked up the two-layer
Dolly Sin chocolate cake, a customer favorite, which comes in three sizes—four inches,
six inches or eight inches. It’s on my list to pick up for our office’s next
They also sell ice cream and professionally decorated cakes. “We
have our own Cake Boss,” said Durante. “We just love to have fun.”
For the opening celebration, a large sheet cake, frosted to look
like a white quilted package too beautiful to eat, when cut revealed a chocolate
inside and chocolate filling. Another five-layer black, orange and white cake spelled
out Balducci’s Food Lover’s Market, with a different theme on each layer,
showing the kind of creative work their decorators can do. A third cake was in
the shape of an Italian wine bottle that even fooled a Balducci’s bigwig who
was in attendance.
Besides the decadent desserts and the luscious produce, Durante
remarked about the colorful plants from New Jersey, the gourmet chocolates,
including a huge Valentine’s Day display, and the large selection of cheeses.
“Cheese is a big differentiator for us,” he said. “It is hand cut and wrapped
every week. It has more flavor when you hand cut it than machine cut.” Samples of
new offerings are given out at the front of the store on a daily basis.
“We are constantly giving the consumer new ways to use food,”
Durante said. A current example is the quinoa-based sushi.
‘It’s all about prepared foods’
“It’s all about prepared foods,” he added. “You can shop here
seven days a week and have something different every day.”
When it comes to prepared foods, there are numerous bars from
which to serve yourself for takeout or to eat in at the plentiful customer
seating at the front of the market. Besides a salad bar and hot bar
($9.99/pound), there’s a soup bar featuring about six varieties for $6.99/lb.,
a mezze bar ($8.99/lb.) with pita and ingredients like falafel balls and
tzatziki sauce to make a falafel sandwich, an olive and antipasto bar
($10.99/lb.) and even a ramen noodle bar with a variety of ingredients to
choose from ($8.99/bowl).
This market was designed to have a wide open feel, “a place you
feel the energy and enthusiasm,” said Durante, and is the first Balducci’s to
have an open kitchen. You can watch the chefs make quiches, sandwiches, soups
and all the other prepared food items using Balducci’s proprietary recipes, which
change on a seasonal basis.
Various meats were being sliced or recipes cooked up for tasting on
opening weekend, but even after that the store will have a daily dish that the
chef will prepare in the center of the store, said Durante.
Wow factor continues
The seafood department is called “Freshest Catch” because “we buy
the last catch of the day which is the freshest you can get,” said Durante. He
highlighted the 18-pound skate fish and the 15-pound grouper on display and for
sale that day.
Meat is prime and dry-aged and can be cut any way you want it.
For the wow factor, he challenged anyone to eat the two-pound cowboy steak.
Beef, pork and lamb comes from New York, New Jersey and
Pennsylvania farms. There are even burgers made from grass-fed beef.
In the grocery section, check out the Sbiroli Zitoni 2
½-foot-long pasta. Wow, you don’t find that just anywhere!
“We like to have products that no one else carries,” said
Durante, like kosher items flown in from Israel.
From functional beverages (what?) to craft beer, there’s a drink
for everyone. Functional beverages are healthy drinks such as the brand new
Ripe craft juices that “serve a purpose,” said Durante. Balducci’s has a whole
case full of them, beautifully displayed.
From food to flowers, Balducci’s rounds out the shopping
experience with its catering department for any occasion.
Opening day hoopla
“We are absolutely thrilled and delighted Balducci’s selected Rye
Brook to open their latest store,” said Rye Brook Mayor Paul Rosenberg at the
opening. “It is absolutely gorgeous, the food looks so fresh and appealing.”
“You are all christened food lovers by standing in this market
today,” said Balducci’s Chairman and CEO Judy Spires. “It was started over 100
years ago by Pop Balducci. One hundred and one years later we are opening this
beautiful food market in Rye Ridge, New York.”
“The secret to our success is our people,” she said. “We could
not be prouder of our people for getting us here today.” She also thanked the
store’s vendor partners.
Tamar Jacobson from the Food Bank for Westchester, which provides
food to 300 food banks and soup kitchens, accepted a check for $1,000 from
Balducci’s. “We pick up food from stores like Balducci’s,” she said. “Last year
we recovered one million pounds of food.”
Port Chester Middle School Principal Pat Swift received a $500
check for his school’s drama club.
“Our secret ingredient is our people,” said Durante, who
introduced all of the department managers. “We searched far and wide to find
this professional team. They are here to exceed expectations every day.”
“Let’s break bread together,” he said, at which time a 12-foot-long
seeded Italian bread appeared, which the managers grabbed hold of and Mayor
Rosenberg cut for the cameras.
With the Rye Brook market bringing the number of Balducci’s
stores to seven in New York, Connecticut, Virginia and Maryland, further
expansion is planned along the East Coast, including Westchester.
“We love the customers in Westchester,” said Spires. “They love
what we offer. Our goal is to give the customer an epicurean delight every time
they come into our store.”
Pop Balducci, she said, “invented take away foods in New York
City,” where the first store was located on 6th Avenue in Greenwich
Village. The family, originally from Italy, cooked Italian food in the store
and packaged it so people could take it home. “They brought the Italian
experience into New York City.”
Not a typical grocery store
“We’re not a typical store,” said Spires when asked about the
prices. “We’re a food lover’s paradise. Prepared food is worth every penny.”
She also said Balducci’s features the highest quality food anywhere.
Customers shopping on opening day tended to agree.
“It is more like a specialty store if you’re looking for good
quality items,” said Pat Wagner of Rye Brook “Some prices are high, some are
“The store looks amazing, like a mini Whole Foods,” said Nicole
Parise-Flornese of Rye Brook. “It might be a place where I will do my
supplemental shopping. I would come here for stuff I can’t find anywhere else.”
“This is amazing, this is dangerous,” said Rye Town Assessor
Denise Knauer as she was sampling a pasta dish prepared by James Kessous, the
account manager for Italian Products USA. “If I ever get out at lunchtime, I’m
Catherine Simson of Greenwich, who was ordering foods from the
deli, had no idea the store was opening that day. “It is such a great
addition,” she said. “I come here [Rye Ridge] 3-4 times a week. I go to RIPPED
and the blow dry place and Lester’s” in addition to Chop’t and Chipotle.
“Everything is here. It makes it very easy.”
“It’s really something,” said Rita Marinaro of Greenwich, who was
filling out a card to become a member and enter the drawing for a Balducci’s
gift basket. “They have everything you need. They are going to put other places
out of business.”
Store manager Angel Caban has been with Balducci’s more than 25
years, having worked at the original Balducci’s on 6th Avenue,
moving to the one on 14th Street and 8th Avenue, then to
the store in Westport, Conn. and then to the Scarsdale market before coming to
“I’ve been everyone,” he said. “I have the whole experience with
He said they interviewed 300-400 people to come up with the 85
employees who were hired, “and we’re still looking” for people in every
Caban’s goal is to make a connection with customers, provide them
with the freshest products and build relationships with Rye Brook and Port
Many associates live within walking distance, he said. That
includes front end manager Diego Olivero Godoy who lives five blocks away on
Soundview Street in Port Chester.
He was a part-time cashier for four years at D’Agostino and also
worked part-time at Balducci’s in Greenwich, eventually becoming full-time front
end manager at Balducci’s. When the Rye Brook store opened, he was transferred
The opening of Dig Inn and now Balducci’s has put a strain on
parking at the Rye Ridge Shopping Center.
“You come here at 11:00 and you can’t get a space,” said Pat
Wagner of Rye Brook.
Win Ridge Realty, LLC, which owns the shopping center complex,
has encouraged tenants and employees to park in the perimeter spaces of the
parking lot or the rear of the building to leave open the more convenient spaces
for customers and patients.
“This is a good problem to have,” said Mayor Rosenberg. “You
can’t park in front of the front door all the time. I’ll take a crowded parking
lot over an empty parking lot any day.”