Louis Rozzo, the fourth-generation owner of high-end Manhattan fish supplier F. Rozzo and Sons, knew that everyone was in trouble when the city started shutting down Broadway theaters. The entire hospitality industry followed in short order, and Rozzo’s 120-year-old wholesale business, which supplies to restaurants like Le Bernardin, suddenly went from doing upwards of 350 deliveries a day to the city’s top restaurants and hotels to around 20 per day.
“It doesn’t take a long time to put up 18 deliveries,” Rozzo tells Eater. “It was leaving me nothing to do for the rest of the day.” So in the idle time, Rozzo pivoted in a direction that the century-old business had never tried before: selling its prized fish directly to the public, at wholesale prices.
It’s a move being replicated by several of NYC’s top restaurant suppliers (see a full, updated list of these suppliers here), including ones like Rozzo who have never sold to customers despite decades of doing business in the city. Like restaurants hanging onto delivery, most suppliers aren’t turning a profit in this new venture — but many say that it’s an opportunity to connect to new customers and helps keep staff employed.
For the public, it’s a chance to get expertly sourced meat, produce, and fish usually found at restaurants like Per Se or Frenchette at prices comparable to the local supermarket — and so far, there’s demand.
Though it’s not the most effective way to do business as a wholesaler — Rozzo once processed $80,000 worth of orders per day, now it’s more like $6,000 per day — hundreds of customers flock daily to the Chelsea shop for fish that Rozzo once sourced for Michelin-starred clients like Marea and Daniel. On a recent weekday, he sold red snappers from Florida at $8 per pound, tilefish from New Jersey at $6 a pound, fresh shrimp from North Carolina at $9.50 per pound, and fillets of Scottish salmon for $8.95 a pound.
Other suppliers have launched online shops and have started offering (or expanding) delivery services for customers, and they too are seeing demand.
At Piccinini Brothers — a century-old, family-run meat wholesale business that has a client list of over 200 restaurants in the city — co-owners Paul and Sylvie Vaccari just launched an online shop selling beef, lamb, pork, chicken, and veal, at a minimum of $50 per order. They’ve seen a lot of repeat customers, and with business growing steadily, they’ve launched delivery to the Hamptons and are considering expanding to Westchester, too.
Sales at Happy Valley Meat Co. — which sells meat from farms in central Pennsylvania to some of NYC’s top restaurants including Frenchette, the now shuttered Gotham Bar and Grill, and Golden Diner — initially plummeted 95 percent the week of the shutdown, but after it launched an online shop, hundreds of orders started pouring in, sales manager Jesse Voremberg tells Eater.
Produce orders from Natoora, an international wholesaler that counts Per Se and Estela among its NYC clients, saw nearly 1,000 orders come in one week after it launched online for New York orders, according to CEO Franco Fubini.
But the dramatic pivot in business is not without its challenges.
Initially, Natoora offered next-day delivery, but massive demand means that the delivery times have extended to two or three days. It’s now delivering to Manhattan and Brooklyn, with plans to figure out how to manage the new model.
New packaging is also a hurdle. Happy Valley previously shipped, at minimum, 30 pounds per restaurant but has had to figure out how to repackage its bulk orders for customers. It’s now doing five-pound packages with burger patties and meatballs, as well as a popular family meal that costs $60 and has 10 pounds of meat, including sausages, meatballs, and newly introduced chip steak, which is super thin slices of beef.
And Rozzo needed to convert a family warehouse to become a retail shop.
Even those who with years of experience selling directly to consumers had to make speedy adjustments. Ariane Daguin, the owner of D’Artagnan, a high-quality meat supplier with a national reach, says that it’s been a “saving grace” that the company already had an online shop that’s been in operation for over a decade.
Still, her company mostly supplies to restaurants like Tom Colicchio’s Craft Hospitality, and she’s now trying to grow the straight-to-consumer part of her business by expanding delivery range and offering discounts. Dozens of refrigerated trucks that used to do restaurant deliveries are now being used for free home delivery options for the public.
There are still plenty of unknowns as the business pivots, Daguin says. “How long is this crisis going to last? What kind of effect will this have on customers? There are huge question marks out there,” she tells Eater.
Despite early success, none of the suppliers have been able to make enough revenue so far to make up for what’s been lost. But the new business model has been promising, and as sales grows, some of the suppliers who launched retail over the past couple of weeks are now considering keeping it going after even after the novel coronavirus crisis has passed.
And doing retail has been rewarding in other ways too, says Rozzo of the fish company. Customers swap recipes with each other while they wait, he says, and he enjoys convincing people to try fish that may be out of their comfort zone.
“We’re putting smiles on a lot of people’s faces,” he says. “It’s good to give back to the neighborhood.”
Here are some wholesale purveyors now selling directly to the public. See a longer, updated list at this link.
Pierless Fish Corp: Sunset Park wholesaler Pierless Fish, based out of the Brooklyn Wholesale Meat Market, is selling a wide range of fish. There’s a $40 minimum, but it offers next day delivery in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and parts of Queens.
Happy Valley Meat Co: Working with top NYC restaurants like Frenchette and Golden Diner, this meat purveyor is now selling to customers throughout the city with contactless next day delivery.
Natoora: This international produce purveyor with an outpost in Bushwick and clients like Per Se is delivering to Manhattan and Brooklyn with a $6 fee.
Chef Collective: Though there’s a $100 minimum to ship to Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan, this fine foods purveyor is selling a wide range of imported and domestic cheeses, cured meats, eggs, vegetables, and more.
Baldor Food: There’s a $250 minimum, but with that comes a massive selection of groceries that are home delivered the following day.
F. Rozzo and Sons: The high-end fish supplier is selling scallops, shrimp, red snapper, tilefish, and other types of seafood out of its retail shop in Chelsea, at 159 9th Avenue, between West 19th and West 20th streets. The selection changes daily. There is no regular online shop, but the supplier is listed on Goldbelly, where customers can find bulk packages of fish available to ship across the U.S.
Piccinini Brothers: The meat supplier that counts Daniel Boulud, Dan Barber’s Blue Hill, and Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group as clients is now running an online shop with selections of beef, chicken, pork, and lamb available. There’s a $50 minimum for orders.
Farm One: Microgreens, herbs, and edible flowers are all available for contactless pickup or delivery from this indoor vertical farm based in Manhattan that sells to restaurants like Eleven Madison Park and L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. The company is also launching a weekly home delivery subscription package and the option to buy seedlings for home gardens.
D’Artagnan: Shop from an extensive selection of meats, foie gras, caviar, mushrooms, and truffles at this legacy gourmet food supplier, available to ship across the U.S. The company is currently running a 20 percent discount on Easter meats and eggs.
Regalis: Fancy foods purveyor Regalis is selling truffles, caviar, and more for delivery with orders shipping Monday through Thursday.
This story has been updated with links to a new guide to wholesalers selling to the public.