Interview with owners Andy Arons and Adam Hartman at their SoHo office, a 3rd floor walkup reminiscent of the old industrial SoHo—i.e., a small but neat warren of activity. The owners explained that while store rents are high, they keep overhead very lean. The business evolved out of a wholesale supplier to high end city restaurants of which Andy was a founder, just out of college, and Adam the accountant. Some of us remember when the actual garage in SoHo opened to the public in the early ‘90’s while still supplying restaurants. The motto “shop like a chef” conveys high quality and low prices.
There are now six Gourmet Garage outlets in Manhattan, the 7th Avenue and West 10th Street location being one of the smallest and a new one on Broadway and Franklin four times larger.
WestView News: How is the business doing?
Andy Arons: Really well.
WVN: Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Fresh Direct have arrived in Manhattan since you opened. Our restaurant reviewer David Porat has written that New Yorkers want quality food but don’t always have time to cook, hence the demand for quality prepared foods. How has this effected you?
Andy Arons: (By the way, I know David Porat very well—we have supplied his gift baskets.)
Adam Hartman: We have greatly expanded our prepared food section, and it is the fastest growing part of the business. Our Lincoln Center store has a prepared food commissary which supplies the other stores.
Andy Arons: Yes, it is a very competitive business and we can no longer offer wholesale low prices. Many other stores have closed. We are among the few locally-owned groceries remaining, and this is our strength. It is our relationship with the customer that sets us apart. We have loyal employees who get to know the customers. We all live in New York City for a reason–it is a more European experience as opposed to a big box experience. And we hope this resonates with customers and that they want to support the local economy.
WVN: This is one of the objectives at WestView News as well. Recently at your store I personally was taken back decades to the familiarity of Main Street Market in my small hometown, when, three weeks after Thanksgiving, I was passing the meat/fish section and the butcher, Mathew, asked me how I had liked the oysters I had gotten for a casserole. I said, “ We loved them, thank you.” “Well,” he said “I owe you $15 because I remember that you bought three jars and the computer gave the wrong price, so we’ll refund you at checkout,” which they did—no hassle. I also once witnessed a harried mother at checkout who had forgotten her wallet and asked if she could take the groceries and come back to pay the next day. Adam, in front said: “Let her. She’s a good customer.”