By Richard Thompson
The winters in Milton, Massachusetts, bring brisk cold-snaps and 30 degree rains to its historic red-brick buildings and famous waterfront restaurants. Red-cheeked children skate on the frozen brook in nearby Cunningham Park and short horn blasts from incoming barges are carried over the sea air all the way to East Milton Square. It’s here that residents put on their Red Sox embroidered scarves and head out into the cold, because they know that if they want some of Mike’s Fresh Sushi or need to stop by Kinnealey’s Meat Shop for a whole chicken, they have to make it to the Fruit Center Marketplace.
“This is a family run business that’s been around for 42 years now,” says Michael Dwyer, Marketing Director for the Fruit Center Marketplace Milton. Focused on specialty and gourmet products, Dwyer says that residents come here because its a place they can trust. “From bread and butter to paper goods and detergents, all the stuff you’d find at a regular grocery store, you’ll find here – with countless gourmet items as well.”
The Fruit Center Marketplace, named by The Boston Globe as one of the Top Places to Work in Massachusetts for four years running, began in 1973 with the simple idea of providing exceptional produce to customers in the South Shore community. Its loyal base and reputation quickly saw business expand, so the original store was replaced with two locations to meet demand – one in Milton and a smaller location found down the road in Hingham. Says Dwyer, “Folks come to us because they’re looking for the complete food experience.”
The Milton Marketplace, in which Fruit Center Marketplace resides, is a 10,000 square-foot two-story building that houses the Fruit Center Marketplace on the first floor, while upstairs, customers will find an assortment of stores and a gourmet eatery, The Plate, that makes for a complete shopping experience. According to Dwyer, the layout is designed this way to entice customers to stay and shop: “We have a range of customers; some who shop here weekly for their groceries and leave, while others spend the entire day here, shopping upstairs before picking up some bananas and a few takeaway items to bring home for dinner. Different customers…different purposes.”
The grocery store itself is home to an assortment of gourmet and specialty departments that are locally sourced, high-end and are highly regarded by both customers and upscale restaurants. Dwyer says that an important factor in choosing their partners was that these companies have experience in working with hotels and restaurants and specialize in high-quality products. He said, “This is certainly not usual for any other grocery retailer.”
Inside, customers are offered a selection of locally sourced produce from the Boston area, a 40 foot salad bar that boasts over 100 fresh items everyday, a baked goods display, an olive bar and even a line of prepared meals and side dishes such as meatloaf, chicken Parmesan, scallops au gratin and butternut squash, for those busy shoppers looking for something to eat without dealing with the hassle of cooking.
Mike’s Fresh Sushi, which partnered in 2008, specializes in all things raw, making all of its products in-house, right on the floor. While there is no seating available, shoppers are able to pick up restaurant style sushi and take it home without a second thought. Everyday, the itamae – or sushi chef – behind the bar creates 10 to 12 varieties of sushi ranging from traditional California rolls to more creative sushi offerings like eel with strawberries.
Kinnealey’s Meat Shop, which has worked alongside the Fruit Center for nearly 30 years, is its own business run inside the marketplace and is a high-end meat purveyor that caters to high-end restaurants and hotels in the Boston area. Aged sirloin steaks, veal cutlets, pork ribs, game, sausage and organic poultry options are all offered by the specialty butcher.
On the second floor of The Marketplace, shoppers will encounter the newly opened restaurant, The Plate, offering customers a sit-down compliment to the food-center motif downstairs. “The new cafe will offer an inventive dining experience with a partially open kitchen,” says Suzanne Lombardi, Chef and Owner of The Plate.
Says Dwyer, “Suzanne [Lombardi] has a long and impressive food background in Boston and we know from her two wildly successful past enterprises that she could bring homemade food and innovative dishes to Fruit Center.”
The 2,600 square-foot marketplace cafe serves handmade, gourmet breakfasts and lunches Tuesday through Sunday, allowing patrons to enjoy its reclaimed wood décor, natural sunlight and variety of seating options. Everything from commuter breakfasts for on-the-go professionals to organic eggs and smoked bacon dishes are offered as eat-in or take out choices. Lombardi even makes her own English muffins and jams.
After filling themselves up at The Plate, shoppers who meander upstairs will find a small assortment of retail merchants selling clothes, jewelry and toys. The Gift Garden carries a selection of upscale women’s clothing and jewelry plus greeting cards, cookbooks, candles and ceramics, while The Nutshell focuses solely on children’s clothing. Rounding out the second floor is The Toy Chest, a toy store that harkens back to a simpler time, where customers can treat their grand-kids, nieces and nephews with toys that don’t require batteries or AC adapters. “It’s a traditional toy store,” says Dwyer.
During certain times of the year, the Fruit Center works collaboratively with the retailers upstairs for social and shopping events such as a “stroll” night where shoppers can go to the second floor and take advantage of special deals, and then come downstairs to enjoy some wine tasting and cheese and chocolate sampling downstairs.
Says Dwyer, “Having regular product samplings within the store, a busy restaurant and a wide range of products that customers desire not only brings them back, but they tend to come back with greater frequency.”