Gourmet Garage Boasts Truckloads Of Bargains
The bare-bones warehouse thrives as mecca for New York's ``food crazies''
TWO years ago, the wholesale food company Gourmet Garage was supplying more than 100 New York restaurants with their specialty produce.Skip to next paragraph
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The key to their success was simple: high-quality food for low prices. As high-volume importers, they cut out the retail markup. By choosing out-of-the-way locations, they saved on overhead. Under such conditions, it wasn't unusual to find smoked Scottish salmon for $16 a pound as opposed to $28 a pound elsewhere.
Little by little, the word got out, and the SoHo garage started receiving knocks on its door from ``ordinary'' people, whispering, ``Pssst. Can I buy a little of that?''
So, in the fall of 1992, the owners tried offering gourmet bargains to the public as well.
About 1,200 people showed up when the doors opened.
``We were shell shocked,'' remembers John Gottfried, who owns Gourmet Garage along with Andrew Arons and Edwin Visser. Soon after, they decided to keep selling to the public in addition to taking wholesale orders.
Mr. Gottfried says the onslaught was a clear indication that people in the 1990s didn't want to change their extravagant tastes; they just wanted to pay less. People also like the idea of snooping around a ``warehouse'' in search of unusual things - at low prices, of course.
``We're fine food for the downwardly mobile,'' Gottfried says.
These days, Gourmet Garage is flourishing.
On the wholesale end of the spectrum, they fill orders for such celebrated restaurants as the Four Seasons and Le Cirque. Once a week, they supply a private jet.
The original store has moved a few blocks up from Wooster Street to Broome Street. Another store opened last year on East 91st Street. (It has since been sold to Zabar's, a gourmet food shop in New York.) And more are yet to come: In about a year, Manhattan will have a total of five Gourmet Garage outposts, Gottfried says.
Commenting on Gourmet Garage's success, Clark Wolf, a food consultant and partner of the Markham restaurant in New York says: ``They're focused, and they're editing, and they're making it easy. Good food at good prices is always a good idea.''
``In the United States, you can get a discount on almost anything. But no one tried that approach to fine foods,'' Gottfried explains as he gives an informal interview in the SoHo store.
This particular day, Gottfried is hosting a tomato contest. The entrant with the largest tomato will be awarded $500.
``That'll go on one heck of a hamburger,'' Gottfried jokes with Mini Zaccaria, a woman holding a 4.19 lb. tomato, which would eventually win the contest.
``We're bare-bones,'' Gottfried says, looking around the store. The atmosphere at Gourmet Garage is casual, unglamorous. Wooden floors and modest displays focus attention on the produce. The sound system spews out the likes of Neil Young and Tom Waits as workers display bread and stack goods.
One realizes this is a company that relies heavily on sales of perishable products: Wild mushrooms from the West Coast, bell peppers from Holland - inventory turns over every 30 hours. Gottfried admits that it can get hectic. Four trucks go out to the airport every day.