Enter the Super Foodtown at Restoration Plaza and you will be greeted by a kaleidoscope of quality produce, enough fresh seafood to make you forget you’re in the heart of Brooklyn and an indefinable sense of warmth and hospitality.
No, this is not your average grocery store and its owner, Noah Katz, is going to great lengths to make sure of that.
Noah Katz is the kind of person who is fully present in whatever he’s doing. He is direct but easy to talk to, smiles inevitably at mention of his 6-month-old daughter and, having worked in a grocery store since the age 12, is eternally passionate about the family business.
And this Bronx native-- who now runs 13 different Foodtowns with his father and brother-- is also passionate about Bed-Stuy.
“We are absolutely thrilled to be in this community,” Katz says as a preface for an explanation on how he came to Restoration Plaza seven years ago.
With an investment of several million dollars, the Katz family transformed what had been a Pathmark into the sprawling complex that is now Super Foodtown.
While the initial changes may have been aesthetic, i.e. turning back offices into a vibrant produce section, much of the change was centered upon the store’s role in the community:
“In every store we operate,” Katz explains, “we are committed to the community. We believe we are part of the community.”
It shows. Hovering above shelves are sepia-tone images of a pre-developed Restoration plaza, posters endorsing local schools and advertisements for the Bed-Stuy YMCA.
But Katz’s commitment goes much deeper than printed gestures; in many ways, it is also financial. For example, as a means of bolstering Restoration Plaza’s community programs, Katz has agreed to pay higher rent than what is typical for a supermarket.
Katz also developed an incentive program in which points acquired through grocery purchases may either be redeemed for discounted merchandise or donated to nearby schools and organizations. Twice a year, Katz turns those donated points into cash.
With a plush selection of food, collecting points is rarely a problem. Aisha Rodriguez, 32, lives just a few blocks from Super Foodtown and lauds its variety of specialized produce. “If I am cooking Spanish or southern food, I shop here because they have tomatillos, Mexican peppers, things like that.”
Unloading a baked chicken from her shopping cart, Rodriguez adds, “We try to eat organic and free-range as much as possible, and this is one of the only places around that carries that.”
Not only does Super Foodtown carry an entire isle worth of organic and natural products, but Katz, who attains these brands from the same vendor that sells to Whole Foods, manages to offer these usually pricey goods at supermarket prices.
Katz is also committed to bringing local food to the Bed-Stuy community. “Local,” Katz says, “is anything within a 200 mile radius. We work with a huge network of local farms.” And so from New Jersey smoked meat to Catskill corn, a selection of local produce is always readily available, especially if the product is in season.
Food and altruism aside, one of Super Foodtown’s most endearing qualities is the palpable spirit of conviviality.
Produce manager Delano McClaren has worked in this store since 1993 and says, “I enjoy working here because I love to deal with customers.” Without missing a beat, McClaren will pause to smile or offer his assistance to shoppers passing through the entrance.
This type of interaction, omnipresent throughout the store, speaks to the sort of business Katz has set out to run. He is, however, reluctant to take credit for its success and demurs when asked to photograph for this piece.
Instead, Katz defers to two nearby employees clad in blue uniforms and arranging a display of produce. Both employees, Delano McClaren and Joel Rodriguez, have worked for Super Foodtown for more than 15 years each.
“Our company is successful because of the people," says Katz pointing to them. "Really, it’s all them.”