Here, we honor the Top 50 Retailers, including our Retailers of the Year. Choosing just 50 was a difficult task. Some retailers were nominated by their sales representatives and spouses, others nominated the stores they own or where they proudly work, and we added a few of our favorites, too. Thank you to everyone who took the time to share their stories. We honored these retailers as well as our Industry Innovators for 2010 at a special cocktail reception on Jan. 16 in San Francisco.
By James Mellgren and Anna Wolfe
A Southern Season
Chapel Hill, N.C.
Art of the Table
Grand Rapids, Mich.
Colorado Springs, Colo.
Cook's Shop Here
Dean & DeLuca
DiPalo's Fine Foods
Dorothy Lane Market
Menlo Park, Calif.
Earth Fare Market
Hubbell and Hudson
In the Kitchen
Cherry Hill, N.J.
Marion Street Cheese Market
Oak Park, Ill.
Newport Avenue Market
Pastoral Artisan Bread, Cheese & Wine
PCC Natural Markets
Rolling Pin Kitchen
Little Silver, N.J.
Sprouts Farmers Market
Star Provisions (have story done)
Sur La Table
The Better Cheddar
Kansas City, Mo.
The Chopping Block
The Cook’s Warehouse
The Extra Ingredient
The Pasta Shop
The Spanish Table
Weaver Street Co-op (‘09 yearbook)
Chapel Hill, N.C.
West Point Market
Whole Foods Market
Ann Arbor, Mich.
Art of the Table
Grand Rapids, Mich.
Seven years ago, Amy Ruis started this gourmet shop — with a focus on tabletop, micro-brewed beers and selected wines, and a specialty food selection with the area’s best artisan cheese selections. Like many other independent gourmet retailers, Ruis wears multiple hats — she personally selects every item that goes into the store and then creates visually stunning displays to entice shoppers. Ruis also is focused on building relationships with her customers and the community. To celebrate the store’s seventh birthday, Ruis teamed up with a local furniture retailer (that also is celebrating seven years in business) to host what the retailers are billing as “the party of the year.” More than 70 wines and more than 30 beers, local chocolates and other specialty foods could be sampled for a flat fee, with some of proceeds benefiting the Local First community organization, which encourages shoppers to buy local.
A Southern Season began in 1975 when owner Michael Cooper Barefoot opened an 800-square-foot coffee roaster and gourmet shop in the rural college community of Chapel Hill, N.C. Soon it moved into a much larger space that Craig Claiborne, writing in the New York Times, called “wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling, a visual and gustatory delight.” In 2003, they opened their 60,000-square-foot flagship “gourmet emporium” in University Mall, just around the corner from the original shop, in which they offer an extensive line of fresh and packaged goods, housewares and tabletop, catering, gift baskets and CLASS (Culinary Lessons at A Southern Season), their state-of-the-art cooking school. It also maintains a wholesale division, Weathervane restaurant, and a concession at RDU International Airport.
Once a destination for gourmets, the company also serves as an illustration of the growth and evolution of the gourmet industry. The store’s success and its position in the industry is attributable to its constant ability to adapt and change, while retaining its mission to provide individual customer service and remaining true to its gourmet roots.
See related story in The Gourmet Retailer’s archives:
“A Southern Season: Winner of the 2009 GIA Award”
Named for a street in West Los Angeles, Bristol Farms began in 1982 in Rolling Hills, Calif., as a venue for fresh and specialty foods from around the world. In 1986, it opened in Pasadena, and its store in Manhattan Beach, opened in 1991, offers catering and a cooking school. In 2000, it converted the location of the former Chasen’s restaurant to serve the Beverly Hills and West Los Angeles areas. Today, it operates eight stores in Los Angeles County and five more located throughout Southern California and San Francisco. Each store’s design is evocative of the local area (it even kept the high-backed leather booths at Chasen’s) as well as an integral part of the community through its many philanthropic activities such as City of Hope and the Muscular Dystrophy association. Bristol Farms has been called “the best small market” along with other accolades, including high marks in overall quality and service by Zagat Marketplace Survey.
The idea for Central Market was born in 1992 when H.E. Butt Grocery Co.’s owner, Charles Butt, wanted to take grocery shopping to an experience beyond traditional grocery stores, including the 300-plus HEB stores throughout Texas and Northern Mexico. He turned to longtime HEB employee John Campbell to make his vision happen, and after traveling to many of the world’s greatest markets in Europe, Central Market opened its first store in Austin in 1994, followed by several more stores in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Plano, and their newest store (2006) in Southlake in North Texas. Their European-style fresh market concept has been called “an amusement park for food lovers,” offering many products that Texas consumers can’t find anyplace else. The original store in Austin has become one of the city’s most popular tourist destinations, with more than 2 million visitors each year. Today, Central Market is a model for specialty food stores throughout the world.
The two Chopping Block stores in Chicago offer best-in-class items in kitchenware, tabletop and gourmet food items. Both stores, a 4,000-square-foot location in Lincoln Square and an 8,000-square-foot store in the open-to-the public section of the Merchandise Mart, offer hundreds of cooking classes per month for a wide range of culinary skill levels. Owner Shelley Young, her staff and outside chefs offer a broad set of classes in the stores’ multiple educational kitchens. The Chopping Block even offers a weeklong cooking bootcamp class that covers a selection of culinary skills for the amateur home chef. Also, the retailer is using mobile couponing.
Established in 1912, Citarella continues to be a family-run business that has grown from a venerable seafood shop into one of the top food destinations in Manhattan and the Hamptons, thanks to the driving passion and vision of owner Joe Gurrera, who also is known as Mr. Citarella. Over time, Gurrera expanded Citarella’s selection to include the highest quality prime meats, the finest produce, chef-prepared foods and pastries, artisan cheeses, charcuterie and gourmet groceries.
Gurrera was able to develop a unique vertical strategy in the marketplace for seafood that allows the six stores to have access to the freshest and most varied seafood available. More than 25 years ago, Citarella purchased a whole fish company to eliminate the middleman. In 2008, the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce recognized Gurrera as Retailer of the Year.
Joel Dean and Giorgio DeLuca began a food revolution in this country when they opened their eponymous food shop in 1977. They brought in extra-virgin olive oils from Italy, artisanal vinegars from France and cheeses from everywhere, introduced American consumers to balsamic vinegar and sun-dried tomatoes, and sold commercial-grade cookware and tools, all in their sleek and sophisticated, yet completely utilitarian, store in New York’s Soho district. Partner Jack Ceglic designed the space, all white with steel wire shelving — a neutrality that allowed the food and housewares to be the stars and decoration. From the black-and-white tile floor to the revolving fans on the ceiling, the original store has been copied in gourmet stores across the country and more recently in Europe. Today, Dean & DeLuca has 14 retail locations in the United States, including New York; Washington, D.C.; St. Helena in Napa Valley; Charlotte, N.C.; and the Kansas City metropolitan area. They also have expanded internationally, with several markets and cafés in Japan, one in Qatar and plans to open another one soon in Buenos Aires.
DiPalo's Fine Foods
DiPalo's Fine Foods has been a fixture in Little Italy since it first opened its doors in 1910. Now, 100 years later, the fourth and fifth generations are continuing the family tradition.
It all started when Savino DiPalo opened the original DiPalo's in 1910, selling milk in metal cans as well as mozzarella, ricotta and fresh butter made on the premises.
When the fourth generation took over DiPalo's in the ‘90s, the Italian gourmet shop kept true to its Italian roots and diversified by offering a deeper assortment of specialties from Italy’s 20 regions. Two years ago, the shop expanded into the space next door, and it now has a shop that sells Italian wines.
Lou DiPalo, the most visible of the family members, is a tireless evangelist for celebrating the regional foods of Italy. DiPalo has worked with the two consortiums for Grana Padana and Prosciutto di San Daniele, not only to educate his customers, but to educate other retailers. He also has worked with the Foods of Lombardia to educate the trade about those region’s specialties.
Although no longer located on Dorothy Lane, this family-owned business in Dayton, Ohio, has been innovative from the beginning, but especially since Norman Mayne and his son Calvin took the reins. Dorothy Lane Market (DLM) began as a roadside fruit stand in 1948, and since that time, it has grown to include three stores, all in the Dayton area. Besides their thoughtful selection of food and a deep commitment to quality, what really sets DLM apart from the competition is its unique approach to customer service. In 1995, Mayne launched Club DLM, arguably the most radical loyalty program in the supermarket industry. Customers routinely have received turkeys at Thanksgiving, invitations to concerts, and bouquets of flowers, in addition to the regular savings they receive as Club DLM members.
From its genesis in 1925 as a German delicatessen in San Francisco, Draeger’s has grown to become one of the most successful and most revered food stores in the San Francisco Bay Area. Grandson Richard Draeger now is at the helm of operations for the family-owned business that spans every facet of the gourmet food world. Besides offering a vast array of specialty foods and packaged, fresh and prepared foods, it has an entire upper level devoted to an extensive selection of housewares, cookbooks and tabletop items. In addition, it operates a fine dining restaurant on the premises (Viognier) that is considered one of the best in the Bay Area, a cooking school, a catering business, a floral service, its own smokehouse and even a sushi bar. Draeger’s is one of the leading lights in an area renowned for the quality of the food.
Beginning in 1972 with a produce market, owners Harold Seybert, David Sneddon and Howard Glickman expanded their operation over the years to become one of the premier specialty stores in a city known for its premier specialty stores. They were joined in the early 1980s by cheesemonger and food impresario Steve Jenkins, who helped them expand and eventually turn Fairway into a merchandising poster child, and one of the busiest and most successful food stores in the Tri-state area.
In addition to the Broadway store, Fairway has added seven more locations in and around New York, including Harlem; the Red Hook section of Brooklyn; Plainview on Long Island; Paramus, N.J.; Stamford, Conn.; and Pelham Manor, N.Y. One of the things that sets Fairway apart from its competitors is in its owners’ tireless search for products that are new and unique, much of which they import themselves, including a sterling assortment of extra-virgin olive oils, perhaps the best and most affordable selection in the city.
Feast — a specialty food shop that specializes in artisan cheeses, cured meats and local produce — is known for giving shoppers an extraordinary experience. Kate Collier and Eric Gertner, the husband-and-wife team behind Feast, first opened their store, then 720 feet, in 2002. Over the years, the specialty food store and café has expanded to 5,000 square feet.
In the eight years it has been opened, Feast has been recognized with several awards. It was even named a "shop that pops" in the book“Shopping: Why We Love It and How Retailers Can Create the Ultimate Customer Experience” by luxury market analyst Pam Danzinger.
Like many of The Gourmet Retailer’s Top 50, Feast is a unique concept and has what Danzinger describes as a “contagious, electric quality.”
Working alongside their son Kurt and a savvy, well-trained staff, owners Ihsan and Valerie Gurdal now have three locations: their flagship in Cambridge, Mass., South End Formaggio in Boston’s South End neighborhood and Formaggio Essex in New York City’s Essex Street Market.
Over the years, Formaggio Kitchen has built its reputation on sourcing unique, handmade cheeses; charcuterie; condiments; olive oils; vinegars; and preserves from small producers in the United States and beyond. Oftentimes, the Gurdals import the products direct.
A testament to its lasting impact on the gourmet retail industry, Formaggio Kitchen has been the training ground for many specialty retail entrepreneurs who have gone on to open their own gourmet shops. Formaggio Kitchen’s alumni list is a who’s who in specialty retail, including Matt Jennings, Farmstead and La Laiterie, Providence, R.I.; Jeremy Kirkpatrick, Grand Trunk, Newburyport, Mass.; Vince Maniaci, Cheese Iron, Scarborough, Maine; Matt Rubiner, Rubiner’s Cheesemongers and Grocers, Great Barrington, Mass.; Jason Sobocinski, Caseus, New Haven, Conn.; and Carolyn Welch and Renee Hardie, Joppa Fine Foods, Newburyport, Mass.
Not surprising, Formaggio Kitchen has received numerous accolades since it has been in business, from the New York Times, Saveur, Gourmet, Boston Magazine and more.
Larry Ehlers was an employee of the Brown Deer Market until he bought it from his employers in 1970 and renamed it Larry’s Market. Today, Larry’s Market is a venerable Milwaukee institution, housed in the same brick building in the Brown Deer area that has been a grocery store for more than a century. Larry’s son, Steve Ehlers, who now runs the operation, claims that his father once said, “I never intended to buy the store. I just ran out of owners!”
Steve and Larry went to their first Fancy Food Show in 1971 and began transforming the 2,200-square-foot neighborhood grocery store (they have an additional 2,000-square-foot in prep area and kitchen), adding specialty cheese and other gourmet items, into the first specialty food store in Milwaukee. Today, it does most of its business in food service and boasts an impressive array of specialty and artisanal cheeses. Steve Ehlers sits on the board of the American Cheese Society and has been a tireless promoter of American cheeses. With Jeanette Hurt, he is also the co-author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cheeses of the World,” an excellent book that is decidedly not for idiots.
Newport Ave Market
Newport Ave. Market has been a Bend, Ore., favorite for almost 20 years. It has been voted best grocery store by local newspaper, The Source Weekly, every year since 1997 and was named Small Business of the Year in 2009 by the chamber of commerce.
Newport Ave. Market has maintained sales and, at times, increased sales, despite a major street renovation detouring traffic for more than a year and increasing competition from national chains. It was the first retailer in the city to install self-checkouts and employ a wine steward.
Over the years, the store has diversified its product mix to include more gourmet and local foods, specialty cheeses and kitchenware items. It also offers cooking classes (which have been highly successful), and earlier this year, it launched an online store. The store’s owners feel confident that coupled with cost reductions, continued vendor participation and concentrating on areas of their business that customers use most, Newport Ave. Market will continue to thrive in the years to come.
In its six years in business, Pastoral Artisan Cheese and Wine has established itself as Chicago’s pre-eminent destination for artisan and farmstead cheeses that are cut to order, charcuterie, wine, sandwiches and other gourmet staples.
Partners Greg O’Neill and Kevin Miller wanted to create a true specialty shop and took inspiration from specialty shops in the United States and in Europe.
Each of the three locations — North Clark Street, Lake Street in the Loop and its newest location at the Chicago French Market — has its unique strengths. The Clark street store is the hub for the store’s mail-order business (it has done holiday promotions with Williams-Sonoma in past years), while the Lake Street store has in-store seating and serves wines by the glass as well as cheese plates. It also is home for the store’s bustling wholesale-to-restaurant business. And the year-old location at the French Market is establishing a lucrative lunch business.
See related story in The Gourmet Retailer’s archives:
“A Global Market for a Global City”
PCC Natural Markets, formerly Puget Consumers Co-op, began as a food-buying club of 15 families in 1953. Today, it’s the largest natural food cooperative in the United States, operating nine certified organic stores in the Puget Sound region.
To attract more non-member customers and to reinforce a consistent look and feel from store to store, the co-op underwent a major rebranding campaign a few years ago. As part of its community outreach efforts, PCC hosts one of the largest natural products fairs on the West Coast. The two-day Healthy Living Fair is free to the public, and features vendors sampling and sharing information about more than 600 natural and organic food, health and personal care products. The stores also offer demonstration and hands-on cooking classes.
Over the years, PCC has remained committed to its core values and been a trailblazer on many food-related issues as well as an active advocate of the organic standards, also taking a stance against genetically modified organisms. Back in 2007, the stores removed products containing the controversial sweetener high-fructose corn syrup and eliminated all dairy products containing the artificial growth hormone rBGH.
PCC has stringent standards for the products it carries. Meats are from range-grazed animals raised without hormones or antibiotics, fish are sustainably harvested, and products are not tested on animals.
Rice Epicurean is the oldest family-owned supermarket chain in Houston, with roots reaching back into the community more than 70 years. In 1937, William H. Levy, grandfather of the current owners, founded Rice Food Markets. The company grew, but in order to compete with the larger chains, they set out to reinvent themselves with the goal of becoming the best grocery store in town. Toward that end, they opened the first Rice Epicurean Market in 1988.
Today, the family operates five locations in the Houston area, ranging in size from 25,000 to 42,000 square feet, while still maintaining the founder’s original concepts of offering quality products and personal service. The company boasts a growing number of employees who have been with them for more than 20 years. Each store is merchandised to be in tune with its particular neighborhood, offering the finest meat and produce as well as a broad selection of prepared foods, and upscale floral and European bakery departments.
In 2002, Rice Epicurean became the first Houston grocer to offer online shopping at RiceDelivers.com. The store continues to be wholly owned by founding family members.
Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium
Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium has grown and developed through the years, dealt with the economy and worked to influence the culinary needs of the community. Rolling Pin opened in a new location in 2006 with 3,500 square feet of retail space and a 1,000 square foot culinary center. This larger store allowed it to expand its gourmet housewares product lines to include companies such as Viking cookware and small appliances, All-Clad, Cuisinart Green Gourmet, Swiss Diamond and Tyler Florence cookware, Wusthof and Kershaw cutlery, and Emile Henry ceramic ware. In addition, an extensive depth of culinary tools and gourmet foods are offered. The store’s product lines increase daily to keep up with the ever- changing culinary world.
Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium also features a demonstration center where guests sample many gourmet and artisan food items. Specialty cheeses and wines also are available. A Coffee and Tea Center is equipped with an operating Capresso Coffee Center and a full line of gourmet coffee beans and bulk teas. This open concept is to create areas of unique interest for guests each time they visit the store. Karen and Dave West, the owners, understand that guests’ needs vary and are prepared to meet those needs. Rolling Pin is the community’s culinary resource.
With the change in economy, the Rolling Pin team examined all costs to the business, reviewing contracts, renegotiating where applicable and eliminating all expenses not directly improving customer experience or building sales. Once costs were reduced to an appropriate amount, it turned its attention to areas to grow the business and identified where it could improve.
Cooking classes, wine sales, cheese sales and prepared food sales were identified as the areas for laser-like concentration. The store looked to customers to determine why and how they used these areas of the business. It then developed strategies and tactics to capitalize on these areas. After implementation, Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium has seen significant improvements.
See related stories in The Gourmet Retailer’s archives:
“Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium Wins Small Business of the Year Award”
Fast-paced growth has lead Sprouts Farmers Market to open a dozen of stores so far this year. The natural food store, which has 54 locations in Arizona, California, Texas and Colorado, has a slogan — Healthy Living for Less—that resonates with shoppers from all demographics looking for natural and organic foods.
Thanks to the low, five-foot high shelving throughout, shoppers have an unobstructed view across the store. With a focus on affordable and healthy alternatives, Sprouts offers deli, meats, dairy, shelf-stable grocery, bakery, produce, and natural supplements and body care items. Each store averages about 25,000 feet.
Two of Sprouts’ traffic-driving areas are its bulk and produce departments, featuring many items that are sourced from local farms when in season. In all areas of the stores, Sprouts’ hybrid approach includes the best of organic and conventional items.
See related stories in Progressive Grocer’s archives:
The Cook’s Warehouse owner and founder Mary Moore operates three kitchenware stores in the Atlanta area. Even during the recession, Moore continued to advertise her business and remained committed to community involvement and supportive of local events.
At its three stores, The Cook’s Warehouse offers more than 15,000 products. The company also operates the largest avocational cooking school in the Southeast, conducting more than 600 classes each year.
See related stories in The Gourmet Retailer’s archives:
“The Cook’s Warehouse: 2008 GIA Nominee”
“The Cook's Warehouse Celebrates!”
The Pasta Shop
Sara Wilson and her brothers Tony and Peter envisioned a traditional market hall, located in a building they owned, where each of the businesses would be individually owned and operated, all existing under one roof for the collective good of their customers. Toward that end, they opened Rockridge Market Hall in Oakland, Calif., in 1987, at the core of which is The Pasta Shop — an elegant and thoughtful gourmet store that serves as an anchor for the Market Hall. In the Hall are individual spaces for the green grocer, a butcher, a fishmonger, a wine shop, a coffee roasting shop, a bakery and a florist, all connected to Oliveto, one of the Bay Area’s premier Italian restaurants.
In addition to a fine selection of olive oils, vinegars, teas, honey and other specialty offerings, The Pasta Shop boasts a splendid selection of fresh and dried pasta - hence the name - as well as an extensive prepared foods selection and perhaps the best cheese counter in the entire Bay Area, overseen by cheese wiz Juliana Uruburu. Wilson, along with her brothers and Food Buyer Linda Sikorsky, opened a second Pasta Shop in 1996 in Berkeley’s upscale Fourth Street shopping district nearby.
For more than 15 years, The Spanish Table has been celebrating the flavors of Spain and Portugal. It offers traditional foods, including extra virgin olive oils, oils, pimenton and paprika as well as varied wines, cookware, music, books, and everything needed to cook and eat in the Iberian tradition. Owner Steve Winston has created four brick-and-mortar stores in Seattle, Berkeley and Mill Valley, Calif., and in Santa Fe, N.M., plus two vibrant online retail sites, www.spanishtable.com and www.spanishtablewines.com. In September 2009, The Spanish Table opened its newest venture, Paris Grocery, a stone’s throw from its Seattle store.
West Point Market
Back in 1936 when John Seiler, Harry Anderson and Harold Dwight “Slim” Vernon purchased the grocery store for $500 each, they probably never imagined it would ever grow to be one of the country’s premier specialty shops. Harold Vernon’s son Russ, who began working at his father’s side as a boy, has been the guiding light behind the company’s success. Russ joined the company officially in 1960 and encouraged the three founders to let him introduce a variety of specialty products to the Akron community.
At that time, only major metropolitan areas realized the coming popularity of fine wines, imported cheeses and other specialty foods. Russ’ commitment and vision paid off, and today West Point Market is one the best known and most respected stores in America, credited as much for its outstanding selection of fresh, packaged and prepared delicacies as it is for superior customer service.
Although Russ is officially retired, he still travels and seeks out new and interesting items for the store while his son, Richard, now sits at the helm of this iconic Ohio emporium. In 2008, Russ published “West Point Market Cookbook,” chronicling the foods his store has developed over the years, including its signature Killer Brownies.
The small university town of Ann Arbor, Mich., may seem like an odd place to find one of the country’s most renowned specialty stores, but then, so, is Akron, Ohio (see West Point Market). Partners Ari Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw met while working in the same restaurant, became friends and eventually opened Zingerman’s in 1982 as a classic Jewish delicatessen, serving chicken soup with matzo balls, chopped liver, smoked fish, cured meats, cheese, pastry and what has become one of their signature items: a wonderful range of delicious sandwiches, all made with top-quality ingredients. Gradually, their selection grew to include estate olive oils, artisanal vinegars, the finest hams, cheese, salumi, pasta, and other delicacies from here and abroad.
Today, Zingerman’s is a whole community of businesses, including the Zingerman’s Deli, Bakehouse, Catering, Creamery, Coffee Company, Roadhouse, and ZingTrain, which provides training and consulting services in order to share the “Zingerman’s experience.” Weinzweig has authored a number of books, including “Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating” and “Zingerman’s Guide to Giving Great Service.” Zingerman’s has become a benchmark in the industry for product selection, production, innovation, customer service and staff training.