Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Q: When was Micucci's market founded?
Rick Micucci, owner of Micucci Grocery on India Street in Portland, remembers times when his father would buy an entire rail car full of canned tomatoes.
Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer
WHO: Owner and president of Micucci Grocery Co.
ADDRESS: 45 India St., Portland
SHOPTALK ALLOWS people to describe in their own words the rewards and challenges of their jobs. In doing so, they reflect the energy, imagination and hard work that characterize the workplace in Maine.
THE QUESTIONS for this week’s Shoptalk were compiled by Staff Writer Deborah Sayer.
DO YOU know someone who would make an interesting candidate for Shoptalk? Send your suggestion to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A: In 1951 by my parents Leo and Iris Micucci. My father had just retired from his boxing career and he was a natural (at this line of work). In the beginning, he didn't have an actual storefront. He was more of a peddler. He'd buy product from distributors, store it in the basement of his home and sell it door-to-door (at homes and businesses) in mostly Italian communities in Maine and in Berlin and Gorham, N.H., where he was originally from. The business grew mostly by word of mouth from the families who bought from him. He had quite a following. He opened this store in 1965, with the grocery side evolving from the wholesale business. People knew they could get good products at really good prices. By 1988, we outgrew the storage space at the retail store and opened the distribution warehouse across town. Today, we actually operate as two separate businesses, with my three brothers owning Micucci's Distribution (wholesale) and my wife, Anna (Micucci), and I owning the grocery store.
Q: What are your earliest remembrances of the store?
A: I grew up here. My three brothers, two sisters and I played here as children. And, I've been working here full time since high school. When we got our driver's licenses, we helped our father make deliveries to customers. My father was always looking for good deals on quality food. I remember times when he'd buy an entire (train) rail car full of canned tomatoes. He'd ask my brothers and I to grab a few of our friends and unload the freight car into a truck and haul it back to the store. Sometimes it would take us two days to finish the job.
Q: How many generations of Micucci's have worked at the store?
A: Three. My parents, my siblings and I, and now my 23-year-old daughter Vanessa works here. My father passed away in 1997, at age 76, but my mother still works six days a week, doing office work for the wholesale business and operating the cash register here at the store. She's 82 and is one of the first people to arrive here in the morning.
Q: Do a lot of the older families still shop there?
A: Yes -- a lot of them third- and fourth-generation families who tell us they remember my father making deliveries to their grandparents' homes. We also have many new customers, from many nationalities, who come in for our selection.
Q: What sets Micucci's apart from other local grocery stores?
A: We are not a full-service store, meaning we don't sell things like milk, butter and eggs. We are a small, Italian grocery store that is a second stop for people doing their grocery shopping. We search for the finest Italian products, though we also carry the products of other Mediterranean countries -- food items that might be hard to find elsewhere, such as a particular kind of olive, olive oil or cheese or a shape or size of pasta.
Q: Would you say that at least half of your stock of goods is imported?
A: Oh ... more than half.
Q: What other kinds of goods or services do you offer?
A: We opened a bakery out back about five years ago. I hired a local baker that makes breads from scratch, including focaccia, pizza, some cannolis and a few other Italian pastries. We also have a nice deli where we sell Italian cold cuts like prosciutto, mortadella, serrano and all those types of meats from Italy and other European countries. And, we sell many imported cheeses, lots of it from Italy and some from Greece and from here in the United States. We also sell a good selection of wines. And we also service some area restaurants.
Q: How do you go about selecting the products that you sell there?
A: We have some of the same suppliers my father had 60 years ago but also a new supply of things. You try to get a feel for what you want your business to be known for and we also like to honor customer requests to make available certain foods.
Q: What do the regulars keep coming back for more of?
A: I think the biggest draw is the deli. The pizza is another favorite with our customers. It's a simple cheese pizza -- no toppings. And, we don't make it to order. The baker starts making it around 10:30 or 11 a.m. and keeps making it until he leaves, which is around 4 p.m. most days. People love it. Quite often there is a line just to get a slice. He sells out every day. My wife is a big part of our success today. She's the one who hires the staff, does the accounting and comes with me to trade shows to search for new products and suppliers.
Q: What are the challenges for the small grocery store?
A: The challenge is getting people to make an extra stop for our products. We try to keep it interesting for our customers -- things the can count on to be here -- things they can experiment with in the kitchen. That's where the food shows come in handy. They provide a good opportunity to view new items and meet the people who make them. We can learn more about the organization and talk about ingredients or how a product is made. Food shows have manufacturers who come from all over the world. The one we just went to had 500 vendors to sample from -- just from Italy.
Q: What are some of the things you consider besides the taste of a potential product?
A: We look at the packaging and what is the best way to source the items. For instance, some vendors will sell their product only by the case and others by the truckload. Then, we have to consider things like how we will get the product from their door to ours in the most cost-effective way and what temperature the goods must be stored at.
Q: What are your memories of your father's work ethic?
A: I remember him as an honest, hardworking man who liked to keep things simple. No frills, just basically offering a good product at a good price for his customers to make a living to provide for his family. I know I don't have to work as hard as he did. I have a really great staff who helps me do that.
Q: What are your hours?
A: From 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.