New York City -- From a local cheese shop founded by a career changer, to a specialty supermarket that has expanded to more than 100 locations without sacrificing its commitment to quality and customer service, the winners of the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade’s (NASFT) Outstanding Specialty Food Retailers of 2011 awards are a diverse group.
“Each honoree exemplifies the hallmarks of specialty food retailing in a unique way,” said Ann Daw, president of the NASFT, which will present the awards on July 11, at its Summer Fancy Food Show in Washington, D.C.
Here’s a brief look at this year’s winners, who were selected by a panel of specialty food experts convened by the NASFT:
- Central Market: Since opening in 1994, this Dallas-based merchant has expanded to eight stores offering more than 50,000 items, including produce, specialty foods, bakery and deli. The company prides itself on providing customers with unique items in unexpected ways, such as allowing samples of anything in the store and offering year-round cooking classes.
- Fromagination: Based in Madison, Wis., founded by a former footwear buyer whose international travels exposed him to the great food markets of Europe, Fromagination presents a carefully-edited selection of 400 items. The cheeses include dozens from local food artisans. The store, on Capitol Square in Madison, Wis., is across from one of the nation’s largest farmers markets.
- Olives Gourmet Grocer: Two veterans of Whole Foods Markets started their own specialty store in 2004 to fill a niche in Long Beach, Calif., with high-quality foods from lesser-known producers. Their specialty food savvy has helped them expand to a second, larger, location, and soon a third. Customer loyalty is a key to success, but Olives also is a popular tourist draw.
- The Cheese Iron: A European-style specialty shop, housed in an antique farmhouse in Portland, Maine, The Cheese Iron offers more than 200 domestic and international cheeses. Opened in 2006, the store sells cheese making supplies and classes, an olive bar, wine, pâté and freshly baked bread. There’s also an on-site cheese cave.
- The Fresh Market: Based in Greensboro, N.C., The Fresh Market blends the variety and vastness of a large chain with the expertise and quality of a smaller-scale specialty food store. The key is continual innovation, close ties to food producers, and a commitment to community involvement. The family-owned business has 100 locations in 21 states.
- ZZest Market & Café: Founded in 2009 by two food professionals, this Rochester, Minn., specialty retailer is a market by day and restaurant by night. ZZest offers a welcome addition to an area that was lacking in options for food lovers. The shelves are stocked with products from small-scale, local producers and vendors from other states with items like charcuterie from Iowa and chutneys from California. The café fare features ingredients from the store’s shelves.