Requiem for Balducci

 Balducci I came to this country 20 years ago for work. I was an accountant with Ernst & Young and they transferred me from Rome to the NY office. This to say that when I came to New York, with no support from cooking friends and family and with no clue of even how to boil pasta, my safe heaven was Balducci’s in the Village (the only location at the time, before they were purchased and destroyed by financial investors), where I would go often even if it was far from home. I remember them dearly.

With much sorrow, I read this article, which says they are in the process of closing “underperforming” stores in Ridgefield, CT, in Lincoln Square and Chelsea in New York City and in Washington, DC. Are there any Balducci’s stores left?

10 Comments Add yours

  1. I, too, remember Balducci’s with great fondness. I would shop there whenever I was in NYC. It was such a lovely, old fashioned place and the staff was always helpful.

  2. Adam Sterling says:

    I, too, have fond memories of Balducci’s before it was turned into just another food boutique by investors’ (and the family’s) desire to wring every last nickel out of every last morsel.
    My father owned a house between 5th and 6th Avenues on West 11th Street. The Jefferson Market (the Jeff) and Balducci’s were his regular haunts ~ plus a long-gone traditional Italian butcher on SoHo’s Thompson Street that had been in business at that location since before World War 1.
    I was a teenager when my father lived in the Village. Shopping at these places was an important part of our father/son bond, as I had inherited from him his his passion for hours in front of the stove.
    Here’s a little anecdote about Balducci’s when it was still in its original incarnation:
    My father sent me to deliver his carefully considered list of holiday platters to be made and then delivered by Balducci’s catering department. It was Christmas season and of course the place was completely mobbed.
    Waiting my turn, I found myself standing next to a tall, skinny woman in sunglasses and an outrageous fur coat, also waiting her turn. It was the early 70s and she was at the height of her pop-popularity: Cher.
    This is New York, so of course everyone pretended not to notice, but the man taking the catering orders did, and motioned her forward to the head of the line. “Oh, thank you, but no thank you,” Cher said. “I’ll just wait my turn like everyone else.”
    At this the entire mob lined up to hand in their orders broke into applause. Standing as close to her as I was, I saw her blush.
    Balducci’s is gone, but memories like that last forever.

  3. John Rusnak says:

    While it is sad that Balducci’s has closed its doors in New York City, it comes as no surprise to me.
    As a veteran of the specialty foods industry and the originator of the original Sutton Place Gourmet concept in Washington, DC I saw this coming a long time ago. When the executives of what was then known as Sutton Place Gourmet purchased the assets of the original Balducci store on 6th Avenue and 9th St. It was the beginning of the end. You can’t have accountants and investors running the day to day operations of a gourmet food company.
    The executives of Sutton Place Gourmet knew nothing about running a gourmet food store. In fact there is an interesting story told that employees of the bakery at Balducci’s were informed, from Washington, DC mind you, that they could no longer purchase baked goods from multiple sources. “It was too difficult to write that many checks,” was the comment. First of all it was accountants that were telling bakery employees how to run their department. But even more critical was the lack of understanding that this was what made Balducci’s great. The bakery purchased and stocked only the best the city’s bakeries had to offer. This was true of everything that Andy Balducci and family purchased.
    The other thing was why would anyone in their right mind attempt to put a gourmet store within 8 blocks of Fairway? It was a formula for disaster.
    As for the Chelsea location it seemed as though the owners were more interested in the opulance rather than food.
    Fairway, Citarella, Dean and DeLuca, Eli’s, Zabar’s and Agata and Valentina all continue to thrive. They get it. The owners of Balducci’s don’t.
    They just never got it.

  4. Beatrice says:

    ciao John! and thank you for sharing with us. yes, it has been a slow death. too bad.
    if you have so much experience with food retail, why don’t you help us at identifying the Gustiamo retail concept? do you think we might have a chance? far from fairway, of course! we have been thinking of establishing a phisical presence for a long time now. we even thought to partner with Casimiro http://gustiamo.typepad.com/gustiblog/2009/04/colomba.html and sell Gustiamo mobile.

  5. John says:

    I have been a long-time admirer and occasional buyer of Gustiamo. Having been to Italy more than 27 times over the years (I’ve lost count) and a lover of all things Italian I take great delight in perusing your top quality offerings. Of course, I have been to Sant’ Eustachio and it is an experience second to none. I have purchased some of the coffee, but nothing beats the experience of being there. Peck is also a must stop when I am in Milano. I have also been to Marchesi purchasing a wonderful cake (and a panettone at Christmas) to bring to my Milanese friends dinner party. I have had close friends in Milano for years. My overseas family, as I like to think of them. When there I stay with them.
    I would love to work with you on a retail concept. In this economy you should be able to pick up a nice retail location at a good price. I would envision your retail operation as a boutique. Your products are definitely for a niche market.
    It would be a pleasure to work with you.
    Let me know what your thoughts are.
    John

  6. J. Itsuo Takita says:

    I entered Balducci’s doors in it’s last days. I had heard so much about it and was sorely disappointed it was closing for good.It will forever be a symbol for me!

  7. nycgirl50@hotmail.com says:

    Investors and bad landlords are recipes for disaster. As a native New Yorker, born and raised, I feel so fortunate that I was able to shop at landmarks like Balducci’s. If you’re not from NY or have never shopped there, you just don’t ‘get it’. The name doesn’t make the store. It’s the family, the staff, the friendliness, the familiarity, the ambiance and of course the merchandise. The Balducci’s in Alexandria, VA was a joke. How dare they call that cold place Balducci’s? I was only in there twice.
    After 6 months of creating a successful beginning of a warm, friendly upscale Italian Market in South Central PA, I had to leave because of a landlord who didn’t take care of the building, inside or out. Would someone like to pick up where I left off, in another location?

  8. nycgirl50@hotmail.com says:

    John,
    I have been out of the loop, and somehow, just got an email from Gustiamo. Has your retail concept for Gustiamo come to fruition?
    Would you be interested in South Central PA? I started a lovely Italian Market which was becoming very successful, despite the economy, but due to a slum landlord, my business is on hiatus…

  9. Beatrice says:

    ciao nycgirl. sorry to hear about your bad luck. are you still in PA or in NYC? if here, why don’t you stop buy, one of these days? we are in the south bronx. we’d love to talk to you about your experience. grazie mille!

  10. John Rusnak says:

    Thanks for the invite.
    However, I live in South Florida and don’t think I want to trade it for South Central, PA.

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