Nina Balducci — the woman who pioneered the specialty grocer model in New York City along with her late husband Andy Balducci — died from colon cancer on April 12, representatives for her family tell Eater. She was 91 and living under hospice care at her home in East Williston, New York.
Nina was born on Long Island in 1928 and married Andy in 1952, shortly after which the couple decided to join Andy’s father Louis Balducci at his produce market in Greenwich Village. The couple was instrumental in transforming Balducci’s from an open-air produce shop to a gourmet food store two decades later in 1972.
The store at Sixth Avenue and Ninth Street was one of the first importers of prosciutto di Parma and reportedly introduced broccoli rabe to California. The shop also sold imported cheeses, charcuterie, breads, and pastries, among other items. It became the model later gourmet stores like Citarella, Zabar’s, and Dean & Deluca.
While the couple worked together on expanding the Balducci brand, Nina was pivotal in creating a 52-page color catalogue of the items sold at Balducci, which eventually helped the brand go national. While its presence in New York City has dwindled in recent years — there’s only one “on the go” store left in Manhattan — Balducci still has eight full-service stores along the East Coast.
The couple sold the company in 1999, but their legacy lives on in a spinoff business Baldor Specialty Foods, which was started by the couple’s son-in-law Kevin Murphy in 1991. Baldor was initially the wholesale division of Balducci, and continues to sell to restaurants and stores, not directly to the public. During the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it is one of many wholesale businesses that has pivoted to selling its wide range of produce, dairy, and meat straight to the public.