A Boston-area grower is hoping his foray into retail sales will fulfill a pipedream in a marketplace dominated by chains.
Steve Napoli opened Snap Top Market in September 2012 in a South Boston neighborhood that had seen all of its so-called “mom-and-pop” grocers disappear over the years.
Snap Top markets itself as an 850-square-foot “specialty market and produce shop focused on bringing a meticulously curated selection of produce and gourmet products to Boston.”
Napoli said he knows produce first hand, since he is a fourth-generation green grocer who grew up working on his family’s Acton, Mass., operation, Idylwilde Farm. It has a greenhouse and gourmet grocery store, in addition to field production of squash, tomatoes, corn, leafy greens and other vegetables.
Two years in, his business is doing well, Napoli said.
“It’s going great,” he said.
Napoli, 28, said he had been involved in the family farm and its assorted revenue streams since childhood, and he wanted to bring that expertise to a neighborhood store.
“I had been wanting to do it in the city, always kind of a pipedream,” he said.
He said his experience got him ready to meet the challenge the new business would bring.
“I always thought I could do it on my own. It’s what I’m good at,” he said.
Napoli scoured Boston for possible store sites.
He found a South End neighborhood that had no shopping choices outside the occasional convenience store.
“I thought it was kind of lacking down here, nobody offering anything qualitywise I thought was very impressive,” he said. “It was hard to get a good piece of fruit and something for dinner that was fresh.”
He said he loves the spot he chose, in the middle of a residential block in the Back Bay neighborhood.
“A lot of people go to work every day and we have a really good core in the South End that may be walking home from work — a good mix of young professionals and young families,” he said.
Customers flock to the store, Napoli said.
“They want to support small businesses, which is great,” he said.
Napoli recently remodeled to accommodate a “takeout concept,” which, he said, is “very skewed toward raw, plant-based cuisine.”
“We’re doing wraps with collard green leaves as a tortilla,” he said.
“We’re doing some really good things with produce, which people wanted. There was really a calling for ready-to-eat items.”
Napoli said he wanted the store to be more than just a place “you can just get a head of lettuce.”
In addition to the collard wraps, the new fresh takeout menu includes acai bowls, kale salad and raw “pasta” of freshly cut strips of cucumber, zucchini, sweet potato, and green papaya and served with dressings made in-house.
Napoli said the number of fresh produce items available in the store can vary by season, but typically it has about a dozen types of fresh fruit items and the same number of vegetables year-round.
He gets a firsthand look at all products he buys, either on the New England Produce Center or area farms, he said.
“Guys my family bought from my whole life, I usually work directly with them, so I burn a lot of miles getting produce around the state for fruits and vegetables,” he said.
Napoli said he’s aware opening a small grocery store goes against current trends.
It doesn’t matter, he said.
“You’ve got to have confidence in what you’re selling and I think I bring something unique,” he said.
“I put a lot of stock in what I bring, as far as specialization. There was nothing down here, so people see things they can use as a fresh grocer.”