By Emily J. Weitz
The lush green lawn of Water Mill Commons has been aching for an anchor since Citarella closed its doors last year. With Southampton Wines, Muse Restaurant, the Water Mill Cupcake Company and Foody’s, the plaza has become a destination for discerning diners.
But without a market, it simply can’t be a one-stop spot. That’s why Michael DeGennaro and Matt Guiffrida, owners of Southampton Wines and Muse, respectively, decided to join forces to open Avanti.
“Think Fairway meets Whole Foods, and then make it locally owned and operated,” says Giuffrida.
Because Giuffrida and DeGennaro own their own businesses, they understand the importance of supporting small proprietors. And not for charity, but because they believe small business make the best products. Instead of big-time brands like Goya or Purdue, smaller business can focus on “doing one thing really well,” says Giuffrida.
“I’m a small restaurant and I focus on these 32 seats and the food comes out exactly how I want it,” he said.
This means the aisles of Avanti will be lined with products made with the most care and attention possible. Brands like Rick’s Pickles, Brooklyn Salsa, Hampton Chutney, and Hampton Popcorn will take the place of bigger names. Hampton Coffee Company will provide the coffee, brewed hot for a buck. A huge selection of carefully crafted microbrews will be offered.
“We’re working with lots of small bakeries on Arthur Avenue and Sullivan Street,” says Giuffrida, “with fresh-baked goods coming in seven days a week.” Meat and seafood will also be delivered daily.
This attention to detail is what the owners hope will allow them to provide something for everyone.
“We’d like to create a market that everyone can shop at that has all the products they want,” says DeGennaro. “Organic, natural, gluten free, and vegetarian options will be available not only on our shelves but in the prepared food section as well.”
But DeGennaro emphasizes that variety needs to apply to price as well. “Just because something’s gourmet doesn’t mean it’s outrageously priced. We want everyone to feel comfortable shopping here.”
Because of the local, small-business mentality that Giuffrida and DeGennaro promote, “We want to know what our clientele wants,” Giuffrida says. “We want our store to be interactive. We want to listen to our customers and get what they want as soon as possible.”
To this end, they plan to communicate with customers through social media like Twitter and Facebook so people can request certain products and make suggestions. Customers will also be able to find out what’s available in the extensive prepared food section every day, since the menu will always be changing.
The philosophy at Avanti is all about how the food is produced. The market will work with companies that care about the products they’re making.
“We are interested in how things are raised and how things are grown. It has to matter where things are going and how they’re getting to us,” says Giuffrida. “And it starts with businesses, and then becomes normal for everybody.”
This means that not only the products, but also the prepared foods, will be thoughtfully considered. The rotisserie chickens will be organic. In fact, about 80 percent of the entire store will be organic.
Part of the Avanti space includes the upstairs, where sundry items like paper towels and cleaning supplies will be available. This is something that was never offered in the plaza before. But even these essentials will echo the overriding philosophy of the store. Organic dog treats will be brought from a woman on Shelter Island. Paper plates made from leaves and containers made out of corn starch will be sold. Items like paper cups, cleaning supplies, diapers, soaps, and shampoos will be recyclable, organic, or biodegradable.
“We also really want to promote a sense of community,” says Giuffrida.
To this end, they plan to have cookouts every weekend throughout the summer, with grills fired up and music playing.
“Local New York vineyards will be invited to come and people can sample wine and food,” says DeGennaro. “The upstairs is a great space that was never utilized and we’re trying to make this a destination for people.”
This sense of community doesn’t just mean helping themselves, though. The owners of Avanti believe that their success hinges on the success of the other businesses in the plaza.
“The more people we attract,” says Giuffrida, “the more people will know to ask Mike about what wine to purchase with the lamb, to ask me how to prepare it… And we’re not going to sell cupcakes in our store because there’s a business in this plaza that sells cupcakes. We’re not selling pizza because there’s a pizza place here.”
What the owners did was look at what Water Mill Commons was missing and try to fill in the gaps. With the abundant parking, the hope is it will be a one-stop shopping experience.
“We’re all trying to get more people here,” says Giuffrida. “Now you can drop off your dry cleaning, pick up a bottle of wine, get groceries, and go home. You can get everything you need here.”