First Impressions: 55 Fulton Market by Key Food

The grand opening of 55 Fulton Market by Key Food is today. Before we take a look around—and say somewhat snobby things—let’s get one thing straight: It’s a game changer for southeast FiDi, in that it’s mostly a genuinely pleasant place to be.

First, you might peruse the website—wait, there isn’t one. I only bring it up because it’s indicative of the store’s awkward branding. Giving it a name mostly different from its relatives could be taken as a sign that Key Food knows its core brand isn’t much esteemed, but if you’re going to do it, do it right and drop the “by Key Food.” (Also: Why bring up Fulton Street if you don’t have to?) But then much of the store feels like an imitation Whole Foods—look, it’s the World of Cheese! And there are Beers from Around the World! And a man slicing prosciutto off a pig’s leg in the middle of the sales floor! Calling another brand to mind is risky, however, when the comparison doesn’t ever favor you.

The baskets are a nice touch—OK, maybe not the one with the fake hibiscus.

Wherever you look, aspirations keep bumping into reality.

I kid, and I don’t. At times, it feels like the fresh and local food revolution hasn’t happened. There is an organic section, oddly segregated from the rest of the store, and it’s not just produce—it’s anything organic. Only when I was downstairs—the store is on two levels (three if you count the little dining area above the ground floor)—did I see this sign:

Huh? Maybe I’m the only one who shops this way, but as much as I like organic anything, for what that designation is worth, I want the most delicious-looking apple. At 55 Fulton Market, that means I have to look at the apples upstairs, then downstairs, then possibly remember to go back for the apple I saw upstairs? I guess the choice was to highlight how cutting-edge the store is by positioning the organic stuff right by the entrance, but who cares?

I will say that the air conditioning was supreme, and the outdoor seating area is pleasant. And like I said, it’s all a vast improvement over what the area has had to deal with.

55 Fulton Market is at 55 Fulton (at Gold), 646-581-9260.

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Saluggi’s Sandwich Shoppe
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Maslow 6 Wine Bar
Salvatore Barber Shop
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  1. must visit now for the signature starter artisan recipe tostitos

  2. It’s a lot like the Morton Williams store at Bleecker and La Guardia Place (and nearly as far away for many Tribecans). Kind of a weird throwback to grocery stores of yesteryear, with a few faux contempo touches that don’t quite work. But you didn’t mention prices. I still shop at the (mostly horrid) Food Emporium for stuff like bleach and paper towels because it offers mass market prices and sizes on those kinds of items.

  3. But they have green peppers for $.75/pound. Where can you beat that? There were some other vegs for $.75/pound, too.

    I passed a staff person on the lower level saying into his cell “It’s really cold down here” so maybe they’re working on it.

  4. @Everyone: I wasn’t shopping, so I have no idea about prices. And make no mistake: The a/c was lovely.

  5. Those signs are hilarious! “Beers from around the world”? “Signature starters”? Especially with respect to the product underneath.

  6. HA! I like “Specialty Milk”.. I always wondered what Yoohoo was

  7. Spot on review. It doesn’t stack up to whole foods but it’s a huge win for the neighborhood. The staff seemed pretty clueless – and despite a large bakery department they didn’t have any baguette – just some weird loaf they tried to pass off as ‘French bread’.

  8. First: “southeast FiDi”–? WTF? I think you turned your coordinates on their head and backwards. Maybe I’ll grant you the “east” since Gold Street is several blocks east of Broadway, the artificial, immaterial dividing line between east and west sides. But even if you insist on referring to Southbridge as FiDi (which it ain’t by a long shot; ask anyone who lives there: it is Southbridge and don’t you forget it), how can anything located that far above Wall Street be “south”?

    Okay, geographic rant over. What about the store? I had great hopes. Maybe I would no longer have to schlep up to the Pathmark, and over to Whole Paycheck, and down to Jubilee. Maybe I’d find good prices, a wide selection of necessary items, well-kept fish (for when Alex is not at the Greenmarket), good prices, easy store navigation, good-quality fresh food, good prices. Mostly, no such luck. Beer and yogurt, the main reasons I ever walk into Whole Paycheck, are several dollars higher than there, and higher than Jubilee. Milk is $2.49 for a half-gallon. (In case someone else pays your grocery bill, that’s high.) Produce looked reasonably good, but the store has only been open a few days. And yes, that split between organic and conventional makes it almost impossible to compare anything. Loved that they carry a large selection of meats from D’Artagnan–but I should have checked the expiry on the rabbits so that I can swoop in and buy them up on their last day, when I hope the price will be reduced. Are the little old Italian ladies still living in Southbridge going to abandon their butchers uptown for this? I doubt it. At least the store knows how to display their fish (mostly).

    In the 30+ years I’ve lived here, I’ve frequently wished for a decent supermarket. This may be bigger than anything else around, and for now is all bright and shiny and fairly well stocked. But at the end of the day, this isn’t the answer to my prayers.

  9. I’ve been over several times, hoping the prices would be as low as they used to be at the grungy Key; and they can be (the store still runs Key-Foods specials) but oh dear the staff. There was the manager who took my frozen waffles away from my checkout line in order to show the rest of the managers (who presumably aren’t allowed out of their mirrored office?) that it scanned wrong. I said I was in a rush (aren’t they technically “mine” once i have paid for them?) but she waved me off and disappeared with the product. She did return them, but by then they’d thawed a bit–and it was on one of the rare actually-hot days of summer. Same woman, next visit, snapped at my cashier who’d told her the scanner wasn’t accepting member’s key-foods cards. Up until then, the cashier had treated me well, after that she was surly. Trickle-down attitude? Dunno. For a sparkly-new store that’s brightly lit with well-stocked shelves, the employees sure don’t seem the least bit happy.

  10. I should mention (without further comment) that I consider myself something of a supermarket aficionado, and I have to go along with the general lack of enthusiasm for this store.

    The entire upstairs, which is presumably meant to respond to the Whole Foods concept, is the very definition of mediocrity on every level. The downstairs, I must admit, impressed me a bit more because of the “Key Food Specials”. I go to big, mainstream grocery stores for things like cleaning supplies and such, and I wasn’t disappointed in that regard. A large bottle of store brand club soda, for example is 3/4 of the cost of the same at Food Emporium and less than half of what’s charged at Whole Foods. But considering the enormous size of the mostly useless upstairs, where the selection is poor and the prices considerably higher than WF, the entire enterprise seems a profligate waste of space. Still, I’ll go back some time for paper towels. Gets big points for being 24 hours (though that may not last).

  11. Key Food is actively promoting this store on Facebook and Twitter, with a dedicated and responsive social media manager. When I spoke with the store manager she said that she hopes people let her know what products they would like to see and how the store can improve. While all the former store staff came over, there are loads of new staff as well, especially in prepared foods. The sushi is even decent (and I cannot believe I just said that). I have already requested that they stock a few items that I buy elsewhere, to positive response, and will see what happens. Hopefully they can keep it up. A shiny 24 hour relatively well stocked market is exactly what we need south of City Hall. For us Food Emporium and Whole Foods are a shlep. And the old Key Food was not an option. If they are responsive to customers, they will be great.

  12. For my coupons, nothing beats the Food Emporium experience-a-paloooza. Rumor has it they are adding an extra check out line. That should help with faster check outs, regardless of the tighter squeeze. Can’t wait to see the shopping cart jam up now! Only in America! God Bless ’em.

  13. Went there again tonight and couldn’t find what I needed. Smiling, pleasant employee walked every foot of the place with me, explained that they, too, were still learning the store and asked me how I liked it. Finally found what I was after, reasonably priced. I thanked her and she smiled and said “that’s my job”. So there you have it. Common civility, not deceased.

  14. PS: Time was 10:45 pm.

  15. So I returned on Tuesday, midday, looking for not-ultrapasteurized heavy cream. Of course, this item was not to be found. What I did find was crowds of local workers buying prepared foods, either from the staffed counters or from the saddest-looking “buffet” (fka salad bar) imaginable. I would prefer to go hungry before I’d take any other that dried-out stuff. (And I do, if fact, occasionally purchase from other local “buffets.”)

    As for the “third level,” (not to be confused with the unappetizing seating area reached by stairs only): once an elevator came — it takes several tries to get the button to summon one of the two “passenger” elevators — and lumbered up to the level above ground floor, the doors opened on . . . storage! No wonder the elevators are so big: they’re not needed just for shoppers with carts, but for staff with U-boats to unload. Can you say “lawsuit” the first time a member of the public wanders into that storage room and slips or gets buried under a pile of fallen cartons?

    Sigh. I still long for a Wegman’s or a King’s. Guess that dream will never come true.

  16. Update: They removed the organic produce section and replaced it with a ton of juices. The last time I was there when the organic produce was still present, I found mold all over the tomatos and some not so fresh looking mushrooms. Ut oh. Seems like it’s just another Key Food after all. Sad.

  17. Why would I even waste my time with this Festival of Corporate Mediocricy with its crap ‘Facebook Feedback Forms’ and ‘Specialty Milk Moron-ness? This kind of stuff depresses the hell out of me.

    I really think one of the big problems with food is the distribution systems that get it to us. There’s such a disconnect between what food could be and what we actually buy. We certainly have no problem in North America with making massive amounts of food, and no problem getting science on our side when it comes to agriculture- so why is it that we are shopping for such crap?

    No one seems to understand what growing is, and our disconnect from farms, be them gigantic or small, seems to be one of the biggest problems. Instead we deal with middlemen idiots like KeyFoods. When $0.84 cents on every dollar goes to the people who have nothing to do with actually growing and producing the food- I expect the system to be a little less dumb, unhealthy and ridiculous.

    Luckily, when you think of the big picture, NYC is a pretty great place to get good food. One stop on the 4,5,6 train and I’m at one of the best farmers markets in the country, Union Square Greenmarket- literally 10 minutes from my seaport/ FiDi apartment. And the New Amsterdam Market has fruit from Maggie Nescuir (aka Flying Fox) every sunday as well as some other really good farmers goods. And we have three CSAs in the area that I know of. Mine, ‘Spruce Street Wellness CSA’ supplies food to the local public school and is delivered at whatever time is convenient for me by ‘Max Delivery’ along with cleaning supplies, cigarettes, condoms whatever, for no additional fee.

    Get your act together KeyFoods! We aren’t dummies!

  18. Yeah, KeyFoods!! We aren’t dummies! We know exactly where to get our cigarettes, condoms, and Windex!

  19. Yeah! Smithers. Yeah!

  20. FYI: This is not meant as an endorsement, but they seem to have listened to some of the grumblings. All the produce, both organic and conventional, are now in the same place: downstairs.

    @Zoe: If you really want to connect directly, you don’t have to schlep to Union Square on the subway (which, btw, requires more than one stop on the 6 to get to Union Square). There are Greenmarkets at City Hall on Tuesday and Friday, Tribeca (by the park) on Wednesday and Saturday, Bowling Green on Tuesday and Thursday, and the teeny tiny remnant of WTC on Thursday at Park Place and West Broadway. Yeah, I can see going all the way up to 14th Street for farmers and producers who don’t come down here, but we have always had more markets than any other part of the city.

    And if you’re going to praise the New Hipsterdom Market (Manhattan’s answer to Smorgasburg), you might also mention the attempts to have markets at South Street (Fulton Stall Market) and the Andaz.

    But where were you 30 years ago (and more recently) when we tried to entice grocers to open here on the east side of Downtown (long before it was the F***ing FiDi)? Probably not living here, but that’s beside the point. Don’t just rant; try looking into the logistics that are their excuse for NOT opening here.