Dean & DeLuca Wins Luxists' Editors' Choice Award for Best in Food
It's Sunday afternoon on New York's affluent Upper East Side, and one look at the crowd milling around the Dean & DeLuca store at Madison and 85th Street gives even the most casual observer a good idea of just how incredibly successful the high-end grocer has become. It should not come as a great surprise, then, that Dean & DeLuca is the recipient of the Luxist Awards' Editors' Choice Award for Best in Food.
Women decked in pearls and Metropolitan Museum of Art pins stroll past color-coordinated fruit displays while men in tweed jackets pause at the seafood counter to choose from King Salmon, Chilean Sea Bass and Black Cod, each at least $20 per pound. An elderly woman from Paris admires a stack of ten squares of chocolate, tied together and wrapped in pastel paper.
"The last time I came in, the first thing I saw were these," she says, pointing to the $62 bundle of chocolates. "They're so pretty that I never even opened them."
Gallery: More from Dean & DeLuca
Dean & DeLuca is a revolutionary gourmet market. It has become one of the nation's most successful high-end grocers in part by attracting this sort of clientele. Well-heeled shoppers gobble up foodstuffs from the company's 14 stores and cafes across the country, as well as through the company's website, www.deandeluca.com. Dean & DeLuca's prosperity is all the more remarkable considering its humble beginnings.
Joel Dean and Giorgio DeLuca started their company in 1977 from a small shop in New York's SoHo neighborhood. In those days, SoHo wasn't filled with European tourists lugging overstuffed bags from Abercrombie & Fitch and the Puma store, as is the case today. On the contrary, it was among the Big Apple's grittier patches, the sort of place more likely to attract junkies looking for a fix than wealthy shoppers looking for red velvet cupcakes.
The inside of Dean & DeLuca's first location reflected its rugged surroundings. Jack Ceglic, a founding partner, designed the first store to feel like a turn-of-the-century food department. Vintage surroundings aside, the founders were quite ahead of their times. They started selling French copper cookware before it came fashionable and refused to sell garlic presses because they believed garlic was better chopped than mashed. Beneath the whir of high ceiling fans, shelves overflowed with rare artisan goods from flavored salts to cured meats, many of which its customers hadn't seen before.
"What put Dean & DeLuca on the map is that we introduced America to gourmet foods that were never before available in this country," says spokesperson Emma Murphy. "Dean & DeLuca is widely credited with introducing America to high quality balsamic vinegar, sun-dried tomatoes, and pesto in jars among other ingredients."
A quick hit with New York's burgeoning downtown bohemian scene, Dean & DeLuca quickly expanded, moving into a 10,000 square-foot space previously occupied by an Army/Navy store. More majestic than its predecessor, the new space boasted soaring exposed columns and stainless steel shelving perched atop floors made of Carrarra marble-the same material Michelangelo used to make his famous sculpture, David. As the years went on, Joel and Giorgio continued to expand their operations, adding more boutiques throughout New York. Other locations in Charlotte, Kansas City and Washington, D.C. followed.
Gallery: Dean & DeLuca
In recent years, Dean & DeLuca has added a robust seafood department as well, selling whole fish from all around the world. Customers can choose Salmon from Scotland, Loup de Mer from Greece, Rainbow Trout from North Carolina and many other varieties; other fruits of the sea on the menu include a wide selection of caviar and a handful of cured and smoked fish. All of these are available on the company's web site; items are shipped next-day air to any location in the contiguous United States to ensure freshness.
Even as the iconic grocer soared to new heights-and continents, opening for business in Japan-the company endured a devastating loss. Joel Dean passed away in 2004, felled by a staph infection. He was survived by longtime companion Ceglic and titular partner DeLuca, both of whom still shop at the store they helped create. In recent years, their company has pressed onward, opening a café in Bangkok with plans to build a full market.
All the while, Dean & DeLuca has continued to do what made it famous: searching the globe for the best little-known products and bringing them to its shelves. Top sellers include hand-made salami, cheeses from all around the world, bountiful holiday gift baskets, and a line of private label teas, coffees, candy tins and spices. The company just introduced Kunsei Olive Oil and Kunsei Soy Sauce, cold-smoked by Japanese artisans over cherry wood to give it a deep, smoky taste.
"Some of Manhattan's best chefs are using these products," explains Murphy. "We are making them available to the wider community."
Back at the Dean & DeLuca on 85th and Madison, there's at least one visitor hoping that there's even more expansion on the horizon.
"In France we have this kind of preparation," says the lady from Paris, motioning toward the color-coordinated stacks of fruit packed in plastic across the room. "Here, it's even finer."