SOUTHEAST, N.Y. — DeCicco Family Markets is planning to open its seventh and largest store yet here later this month, a 40,000-square-foot gourmet emporium featuring high-end products and a range of prepared foods.
The chain, owned and operated by the founding DeCicco brothers and their families, has plotted a careful expansion course since opening its first location in the Bronx in 1973.
“Our system seems to be working,” John DeCicco Sr., one of the founding brothers, told SN. “We go into the center of town, we give back to the community, and always our philosophy has been to provide great customer service, with great quality products. Now the second generation is continuing that same philosophy.”
DeCicco (pronounced de-CHEE-ko) and his two brothers, Frank and Joseph, launched their food-retailing business at the site of a failed butcher shop called Jubilee Meat Market where they had worked during junior high and high school. Although they had no money to invest at the time, the three were able to negotiate weekly payments to operate their first store.
They soon hooked up with local wholesaler Krasdale Foods — which continues to supply the DeCicco Family Markets chain to this day — and turned the small butcher shop into a C-Town, one of the banners licensed by White Plains, N.Y.-based Krasdale.
“Krasdale has always been a big help to us,” DeCicco explained.
The brothers soon expanded to another store down the block — “we had taken all their business,” DeCicco pointed out — and in 1984, 12 years after opening their first location, the DeCiccos expanded into Pelham, N.Y., in suburban Westchester County.
The chain gradually expanded in Westchester, with locations in Bronxville and Scarsdale, and it eventually expanded into suburban Rockland County as well. The six current stores now all operate as DeCicco Family Markets.
The first stores the brothers opened in the Bronx are no longer in operation.
The affluent shoppers of the bedroom communities just a short train ride from New York City have been the perfect customers for the high-quality product the DeCiccos were offering.
“We realize quality is the most important thing,” DeCicco said in an online video promoting the chain's Certified Angus Beef program. “The price might be a little high, but when she gets home and realizes that the quality is good, the price is always forgotten.”
All of the stores have full-service delis and meat departments, and most have full-service bakeries and seafood departments as well.
As the chain has expanded, it has been able to capitalize on some of the retail spaces from chains that have scaled back their operations — including Montvale, N.J.-based A&P. DeCicco's 12,000-square-foot Pelham location and its 10,000-square-foot Scarsdale site are both former A&P stores.
The newest location — massive by comparison to some of those earlier sites — is a former Linens 'n Things store that shut down only five years after it was constructed.
“It's a nice box — good construction,” said DeCicco, his Italian accent still intact, with a heavy mixture of Bronx.
The store will include some of the features that have been popular at the company's earlier stores, such as a tap beer program that allows customers to fill growlers. In fact, keg beer for growlers — half-gallon jugs that customers have filled at the store in order to enjoy tap beer at home — has become a bit of a signature offering for the DeCicco chain at its Ardsley location.
“It works really, really well,” DeCicco explained. “We have tastings, where we try pairing beers and cheeses. We do that every couple of months, and we have more than 100 people come in to the Ardsley store.”
Other locations also include extensive bottled beer selections that include more than 400 varieties from around the world, DeCicco explained.
The Ardsley location, which opened four years ago, also includes a sit-down eating area on a second level.
The soon-to-open Southeast supermarket, in a shopping center that also contains a Home Depot home improvement outlet and a Kohl's department store, will expand even further in the in-store dining offering, with a menu that will include brick-oven pizza, sushi and sandwich items. Plans call for seating to hold 80 to 90 dine-in customers.
Other features at the new location will include in-store coffee roasting and a gelato bar, according to John DeCicco Jr., vice president of operations, who has been planning the Southeast opening.
“This is the way the industry is heading, with more prepared foods,” he told SN.
He said about 75% of the store will be dedicated to perishables. The store will also include a wide selection of organic and natural offerings.
Construction of the store has lasted about four months. The company received some financial incentives from the county because of the 100 jobs it will create, the elder DeCicco explained.
Just a few years ago, DeCicco found itself in the spotlight based not on what products it offered but on products it decided to stop offering — namely, tobacco products. In 2008 the company eliminated cigarettes and other tobacco items from all stores after testing it in the Ardsley location, which has never offered tobacco products.
According to reports at the time, the decision cost the chain about $500,000 a year in sales, or less than 1% of its estimated $50 million-plus annual revenues. The move followed a similar decision a month earlier by fellow upstate New York operator Wegmans Food Markets, based in Rochester.
DeCicco Family Markets remains a family operation, John Sr. handling finance, Frank handling the meat departments and Joseph handling produce.
The second generation handled the opening of the Ardsley store and also has responsibility for various corporate tasks, such as accounting, bookkeeping, human resources, marketing, technology and organics. John Sr.'s wife, Marie, oversees the bakeries.
All the individual store managers are not members of the family, but have been brought up through the ranks in-house.
During the weak economy, the chain has sought to look for ways to maintain margins, John DeCicco Jr. said in a recent interview on Fox Business News, in which the chain was profiled as a successful small business.
“We've been lowering our costs, and trying to make it up other ways, negotiate better pricing with our suppliers, in all the stores across all product selections and varieties, and we've been pretty successful in doing that,” he said.
He noted that the company has never had to lay any employees off in its history, but during the recent downturn, it has allowed some workers to retire without replacing them.
“We just try to do the best we can with that,” he said.
In the same interview, John Sr. was asked if he ever considered selling the business.
“We never have,” he said. “My two brothers and I, and their children, all love the business. It's something you have to love, because you work very hard. It's a 24/7 operation.”