Serious Eats: New York
Market Tours: Rossman Farms, a Wonderland of Cheap, Tasty Produce
Huddled under the BQE overpass, on a somber stretch of Third Avenue otherwise characterized by liquor shops and 24-hour "video" stores, is a breath of fresh air: Rossman Farms, a purveyor of a staggering variety of fruits and vegetables sold at jaw-droppingly low prices.
The store occupies the vast first floor of an old warehouse at the corner of 25th Street, and it's packed to the brim with colorful arrays of lettuces, peppers, tomatoes, melons, grapes, and, well, pretty much any produce item you can think of. Eyes bigger than your stomach? That's not an issue at Rossman's. Pile everything you want into your basket (or your shopping cart) because the prices here are among the best in the city: you don't have to worry about running low on dough.
Check out these prices: butternut squash, 58 cents a pound. Want to upgrade to organic? That's 98 cents a pound. Yukon gold potatoes are 98 cents a pound, too, and Idahos are just 48 cents a pound. Cubanelle peppers are $1.98 per pound, and if you want some protein with your meal, the store just started carrying wild-caught Scottish salmon at $9.98 per pound.
How do they do it? Gil Brendel, general manager of Rossman's since 2007, shared the number one factor: storage space. Rossman's owns the entirety of the giant warehouse, and that means there's enough storage for huge quantities of food. Rossman's doesn't pay to have its products delivered and stored elsewhere, nor does it pay to transport those products in once they've been shipped. Everything comes right to the warehouse, where it's stored in cavernous walk-in coolers or processed in an on-site kitchen. And those savings are passed on to the customer.
"The concept here is best prices and best quality," Brendel said. "This neighborhood, it wasn't always so nice. There wasn't always a Union Market nearby. In the past, you could get away with products that weren't top of the line. But our customers, today, they know, and they demand the best."
Rossman's opened in 1990 after its owner, Mike Rossman, ran a wholesale produce business out of the warehouse for three years, delivering fruits and vegetables to local shops and restaurants. In the early 90s, this section of south Park Slope/Sunset Park wasn't the desirable neighborhood it is today, and the business was slow in coming.
"I think Mike made about 300 bucks that first week he opened," Brendel said.
But as the neighborhood changed, business picked up, and Rossman's responded to the needs of a newer set of customers, expanding its produce line and adding dry goods, spices, coffee and beverages, plus more recent, ritzier additions such as a robust cheese section and an expanding set of organic products.
But Rossman's isn't interested in changing too much, Brandel said.
"A lot of the stores around here are becoming 'gourmet.' That's tempting, but it's pricey. We want to stay unique and stick to our goal of great prices," he said.
"We're not a one-stop shop, either," he added. "We don't carry meat or laundry detergent. We don't want to be just any grocery store. We're our own kind of thing here."
Rossman's store motto reads, "Like No Other Market," and one visit makes it clear that those aren't empty words. One last example of Rossman's uniqueness? They're open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So next time that craving for jicama hits—no matter what time of night or day—you can head down to Third Avenue, and Rossman's doors will be wide open.
Click through the slideshow for a tour of Rossman's and a closer look at its products.
770 Third Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11232 (map)
About the author: Lauren Rothman is a former Serious Eats intern, a freelance catering chef, and an obsessive chronicler of all things culinary. Try the original recipes on her blog, For the Love of Food, and follow her on Twitter @Lochina186.