Friday, March 04, 2005

Middlemen Add Value In The Wee Hours

Today's New York Sun provides a lesson that would make Tom Sowell smile:

"See that brown spot? Whole Foods would never accept that," said Scott Stark.

Mr. Stark bought the apple anyway, the entire case in fact, because he knows his customers. He knows that his other extremely persnickety customer, the upscale Four Seasons restaurant, will accept that apple and its neighbors in the crate at the Hunts Point market.


"Well, it is an extremely good apple. But Four Seasons is going to cut it up and put it into a pie, and Whole Foods is going to display it," Mr. Stark said at exactly 4:17 a.m. in a very cold shed in the Bronx.

....Mr. Stark puts his highly trained but only 26-year-old fingers on almost every piece of produce he buys at Hunt's Point (at hours when "it is tough to find girls") for his exacting customers, which also include the Post House and Mitchel London Foods.

"Chefs like us, "Mr. Stark said of himself and his partner, Mark Bastidas, "because we actually look at the stuff, as opposed to some guy getting paid $8 an hour just to load it."

An overnight with Messrs. Stark and Bastidas at the Hunts Point market is educational: Look for liquid at the bottom of the raspberry box; rattle the green peppers - you should hear nothing; asparagus tips must be firm, their stalks green not brownish; talk to the wholesalers' unloaders - they know what came in last and what is freshest, and maybe it's not the same thing, and of course, touch everything.

Mr. Stark gets even closer to the earth in the growing seasons, as he deals directly with what he calls "my farmers," mostly near the city, but sometimes he travels as far away as a field just shy of the Delaware Memorial Bridge, where he says the corn is particularly sweet.

....Mr. Stark's company, of course, makes its money in the difference between what he pays at Hunts Point (in the winter) and what he sells his fancy friends. Time after time, he rejected offers from his new friends in the Bronx for discounts on crates of fruits and vegetables when the spread between the two costs would have made him quite a bit of change.

"You see these Romaines? He's offered me a very good price on them," Mr. Stark said, "but you also see these brown spots. I'd rather make a buck less and keep my customers happy."

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