Trans World Food Market
50 Russell Street, Hadley
Small Valley, big world
Brothers David Tran, 22, and Sockha Son, 30, say the success of their market hinges on staffs’ ability to help customers find just what they’re looking for — even when customers don’t know exactly what they’re looking for — amid aisles of exciting, but likely unfamiliar foods.
When planning to cook a Thai dish, for example, the brothers say customers have a much easier time preparing for it in their store rather than scouring the traditional supermarket racks for the exotic items they may or may not have. Plus, Son is a trained chef experienced in cooking a variety of foods and is able to provide on-the-spot cooking advice.
The brothers, who took over the store after their father fell ill a few years ago, say many of the customers feel like family because they’ve seen them in the store for more than 20 years.
The store appears small from the front, but is actually quite large. Their biggest customer base, says Son, are foreign students studying in the Valley who want a taste of home. They also cater to a lot of chefs in the Valley, as well as international clubs, and even plenty of Americans who have travelled and simply want to cook the foods they enjoyed while away.
“Everything that people can get in their own country we try to get,” says Son.
Son says he makes weekly trips to Boston and New York City for things that don’t make it to the Valley, like specialty vegetables.
They sell food from all over the world — Asia, South America, Africa, and the Middle East.
While we talk, they busily pluck mustard greens and basil leaves, sealing them in plastic bags as they go. Son’s five-month-old son sleeps in his playpen a few feet away as his wife helps with the prep.
“There’s always something to do — there’s not a lot of sitting around,” says Son. “If we don’t do it, it doesn’t get done.” The brothers say they stay open later if a customer calls and says they’re running late. If a customer requests an item they don’t have, Son says, they try to get it in the store for the next time. Son, a chef, helps customers with recipes as they shop. “A lot of the customers that come here, they appreciate that,” Son says. “When you come here we treat you like you’re at our home. You don’t get that at big stores. That’s how we’ve made it.”
The store makes anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000 a day, says Son.
The brothers say they typically log 12-hour days, but that doesn’t feel like a lot.
“It actually kind of feels like a vacation,” Son says, saying that he used to work as a chef at UMass while working at the store. “When you grow up in this kind of family it’s not a lot of work,” adds Tran. “Working for other people is a lot harder.”
“I’ve been shopping here since they were babies,” says Roy Martin, 75, of Northampton. “This stuff keeps me walkin’,” he says, gesturing towards the box of “Mega Joint,” an arthritis soother, in his shopping bag.
Brian Wickline, owner and baker at People’s Bakery in Montague, stops in for some jerky fixings — Sriracha, Teryaki, Worcestshire.
Stephen Fitzpatrick walks towards the register with coriander seeds and rice noodles in his basket. He says he travelled as a young man and ever since he enjoys cooking exotic foods at home. “They have things I can’t get other places,” Fitzpatrick says.
Old San Juan Bakery and Deli
408 High Street, Holyoke
Fill a void, rule the market
Alyssa Rosario says Old San Juan, her family’s bakery and deli, doesn’t have to contend with much competition because they cater to a specific demographic.
“We are catering to the latino community — we’re targeting a different demographic,” Rosario says. “A lot of customers are in the lower income bracket, so we keep prices competitive. We want them to be able to enjoy a nice meal — we want to make them happy.”
Most of the customers approaching the counter at Old San Juan in Holyoke, place their order in spanish. “Digame su nombre, caballero,” the cashier says, “tell me your name, cowboy.” “Marco,” he responds.
Alyssa Rosario, 35, says she’s been working at Old San Juan since she was 15. Their Springfield store has been open for 20 years, and their Holyoke spot for 18.
Her mom, Alicia, was always a baker and realized there was no Latino bakery in the area. Her uncle was a baker and she remembered how sweet his clothes would smell when he’d come from the bakery.
“That’s why I go downstairs, or else I’d want to eat everything,” says Alyssa Rosario.
The sweet smells from the doughnuts mingle with aromas from the ribs, available at the store’s hot unit. The space is spotless.
“We pride ourselves in keeping our establishment very clean,” says Rosario.
In addition to their baked goods, they sell hot, prepared foods — today’s items are rice, beans, plantains, and ribs. Rosario says their cuban sandwiches are also very popular, as well as their empenadas. Customer after customer comes in ordering their pan solado, or “sweet bread.” Rosario says this type of bread is often eaten in Puerto Rico with sharp cheese, provided in Old San Juan’s deli case, and hot chocolate.
Rosario says 80 percent of the profit comes from their baked goods — they make 800 pounds a day of bread, she says.
899 Main Street,
Pasta with a side of Bocce
Rico Daniele, who lives upstairs from the downtown shop and grew up in Springfield, has been running the place since he and his family opened it 39 years ago. He says the one thing that keeps his family’s business alive despite the big-chain competition is something the suit-wearing corporate executives don’t have: heart.
“Those guys with the ties don’t know their butts from their elbows,” Daniele says.
Mom and Rico’s feels more like someone’s home than a market. And that’s exactly how Rico Daniele likes it. The aroma of tomato sauce and herbs hangs in the air. And the house-made pizzelles catch customers at the front counter. Daniele greets me, arms waving. He talks a mile-a-minute, taking me on a tour of this shop pointing out his favorite photos among the hundreds of pictures of Daniele with Mayor Domenic Sarno, Daniele playing stick ball with hot-shot ball players, bocce matches, famous people, like John Kerry, who’ve come through.
Daniele admits that business isn’t as booming as it used to be, since Springfield and the rest of the world “went to poop,” but he and his sisters keep on trugging. He keeps overhead low, he says, because the family does all the work. Daniele says he wasn’t excited about the idea of MGM coming to town at first, but now he’s coming around to the idea and is hopeful it will bring in some new energy to Springfield’s downtown.
“We gotta think outta that box — from here,” Daniele says, firmly planting his right hand over his heart. “A lot of these small stores fade, but here we do it for the family.”
They provide 30 homemade dishes a day. They also specialize in tasty Italian grinders and they sell house made pasta — cheese ravioli, lobster ravioli, tortellini, manicotti, you name it.
Daniele can barely sit still long enough to talk to me. He flits around the store, opening doors for people, pointing out pieces of the store that reflect its longstanding history.
“You do something, you’re supposed to do it from the heart,” says Daniele. “Everything we do here is from the heart — we make our food like we would eat it ourselves.” His signature sub, the Bocce Bella, is mouth-wateringly simple. It’s made with sopressata capricola, provelone cheese, lettuce, tomato, and oil with Italian herbs — served on a fresh baguette.
Bocce merchandise also makes up a chunk of the store, including his own line of bocce-brand soda Daniele had bottled in New Hampshire. Daniele takes all his extra energy out on the bocce court, he says. For Father’s Day every year he runs a free bocce school from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the court he had installed at Forest Park. This year, he says, is his 10th year doing it.
144 Main Street, Greenfield
Cooperative hands, light work
Suzette Snow-Cobb, membership and marketing manager for Franklin Community Co-op, says what sets Green Fields apart from competing grocers is the co-op’s sense of community.
“Our primary goal is to serve our members and our community — it’s not to make money for our shareholders,” Snow-Cobb says. “Our members are our owners — they serve on our board. In serving our members, we want to get products that add to the vibrancy of the community.”
She says people know they can come to Green Fields, in downtown Greenfield, for great lunches, nutritious foods and bulk goods. The co-op, says Snow-Cobb, was founded in 1977. Green Fields opened in 1993.
Another aspect of the co-op that sets them apart, says Snow-Cobb is the educational component. Customers know they can come with questions and get answers when it comes to healthy eating.
“We try to help people educate themselves about what they put into their bodies,” says Snow-Cobb. “It’s not just about the purchase.” The biggest challenge, says Snow-Cobb, is keeping prices low enough to hold true to their mission, which is to provide healthy food at affordable prices. Being part of the National Cooperative Grocers Association, she says, helps them do that. The NCGA helps with marketing and with providing a network of national food providers. This access, Snow-Cobb says, allows the store to purchase goods in bulk and therefore sell it at cheaper prices.
Considering Franklin County is one of the poorest in Massachusetts, she says, their efforts to keep prices down are important. But with rising costs of goods, services and payroll, it isn’t always easy.
“There’s no quick fixes, but we can as co-ops work together to lower costs,” Snow-Cobb says.
Last year, says Snow-Cobb, the unified co-op had a membership of 2,400 and did $8.5 million in sales. As much as they can, she says, they work with other local co-ops to offer need-based discounts and give to area food pantries.
In addition to making healthy foods more accessible, Snow-Cobb says, the store is also a gathering place. Shoppers mingle while they shop, chatting in the aisles, and others take food from the deli counter up into the balcony dining area above the store.
“People say it’s important to have a store downtown,” Snow-Cobb says. A look around reveals a bustling market.
65 State Street, Northampton
Where everybody knows your name
Jaime Golec, general manager at Serio’s, says their commitment to selling local goods, a deli counter people drive distances for, and a very personable staff sets her store apart.
Founded in 1902 by the late Joseph Serio, Serio’s began as a horse drawn cart. Passed down to his daughter Josephine Cavallari, then to her daughter, Christina Cavallari — who tragically passed away last May — the store is one of the longest standing independent grocery stores in the Valley.
Since her step-mom’s passing, Golec, 36, has taken the reigns.
“We’re still here — going strong is debatable,” says Golec. “Loyal customers — those are the people that keep this place going. It feels like family.”
Golec says the store’s biggest problem is that customers do their larger shopping elsewhere and come to Serio’s for a couple items at a time. In the interest of encouraging bulkier purchases, they offer free grocery delivery for a minimum of $40 worth of groceries.
In addition to coping with the sudden loss of Golec’s much-loved step-mom, Chris, she says it’s been a struggle just to make ends meet. Golec says bills were piling up before her death and she’s been trying to pick up the pieces.
She says for the month of March, there were 38,970 individual sales netting $143,168, which Golec says is pretty standard. Most of that, she says, she doesn’t even see because of all the back bills. Insurance and advertising, she says, are the biggest burdens. Golec says she was forced to abandon paid advertising altogether and is experimenting with social media marketing instead.
“My step-mom was the nicest person in the world — she really was a saint,” says Golec.
Golec says their deli counter — they’re full-service butchers — is a major draw, especially during the lunch and dinner hours. Golec says she’s worked hard in the past year to bring prices down, buying more wholesale goods, and that now some of their prices are even lower than many chain stores in the area. She says her Boar’s Head products are almost a dollar a pound cheaper than at Northampton’s supermarkets — Stop and Shop and Big Y.
Golec says they try to keep the store as environmentally friendly as possible, using paper and reusable bags and buying from companies she considers to be “the good guys.” “We look for little guy products, or at least big guys who are good to the little guys,” says Golec.•
Contact Amanda Drane at firstname.lastname@example.org