Meet A Merchant: Big Apple Finer Foods
A Grocery Store with Some Heart and Soul
Big Apple Finer Foods | 2345 N. Clark
Our neighborhood has a huge variety of shops, restaurants, salons and spas, and beyond, many of which range from independently owned to regionally owned to national brands. However, we’ve found that the little guy, those independent shops and eateries, have the greatest connection to the neighborhood and are the businesses in most need of the neighborhood’s support. One such independent business that we recently met up with is Big Apple Finer Foods. This neighborhood institution has been serving the Clark Street and Lincoln Park communities since June 1, 1960. For over half a century, Big Apple Finer Foods has been providing fresh produce, groceries, and grade A service to the community. And throughout their time on Clark Street, they’ve always put their customers, our neighborhood, and their employees first.
Big Apple Finer Foods, a family owned and operated business, was named after New York City’s nickname “the Big Apple.” At the time, New York City was in vogue and the store’s founders decided to use that to their advantage. Today, however, Big Apple certainly doesn’t need an advantage from the most populous city in the country, because their customers come from as far away as Indiana and Wisconsin, and of course Lincoln Park’s surrounding neighborhoods. Customers range from DePaul Students to young professionals to seniors, “we even have a 96-year-old doctor who regularly comes in,” Holly, who oversees day to day operations, commented. Their success is due mostly to the pristine care and service they provide to their customers. They go above and beyond what we’ve come to expect from a retail business these days, especially a grocery store.
Big Apple offers several service amenities that you might only expect from a national brand, but comes as a refreshing surprise from an independent grocer. For starters, Big Apple offers phone ordering, where you can call in what you need, they’ll shop for you and you can have it delivered or pick it up. You can also have your groceries delivered after shopping in store if you choose. When in the store, if you can’t find it on the shelf, ask an employee! They will either guide you to where it is or order it for you. The shop also offers gluten free and other special dietary options; they have kosher foods for Passover, and they partner with local bakeries, such as Bennison’s and Elegant Farmer Pies, providing delicious treats for Easter. Plus, the Apple Market, the operators of the meat and deli counter in the store, provide USDA prime dry aged beef, in house butcher services, fresh fish, and a delicious selection of deli options. If all that wasn’t enough, Big Apple takes care of their regular customers, meaning they call them at home if they haven’t seen them in the store for a while to make sure they’re well and they assist elderly customers with their groceries, occasionally carrying them home if needed. This level of service is not something we see everyday and what makes shopping at Big Apple Finer Foods a unique and welcoming experience.
Interestingly enough, that personal touch is what ends up being a favorite part of the job at Big Apple. In speaking with Laura, a Big Apple employee who's been with the store for several years, she chatted about an elderly gentleman in his upper 80’s who frequents the store and still runs marathons. She said, “he told me if he crosses the finish line he’ll bring me a rose the next time he’s in the store.” Sure enough, the next time he stopped by he had a rose ready to give her. According to Laura, the reason they get to know their customers so well is that they choose to treat them like they’re family. For example, don't be surprised if Big Apple sends along flowers to their regular customers for a milestone birthday or anniversary. Even the support they provide their employees is remarkable, helping out when staff members experience an illness or tragedy. It’s these acts of kindness that mark the difference between just a business and a neighborhood store with heart and soul. The small acts that Big Apple displays create a relationship and cause customers to come back and depend on them.
Big Apple is certainly not one to hold back in how they help the community. From donating water for events to the Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce to snacks for kids programs at the Lincoln Park Zoo to helping out schools and churches in the neighborhood, they are always willing to give back in order to help the neighborhood thrive. Plus, the staff, which includes employees who have been there for many years, will regularly visit some of Clark Street’s most popular stops like Orange on Clark for brunch, Firecakes Donuts for a sweet treat, and By the Park for a cup of coffee. So, next time you head to the grocery store, take a detour and check out Big Apple Finer Foods. It’s a small market with a whole lot of love to give, building relationships that last in our community.
Written and posted by Bryan Biello, April 2017