Grace Balducci Doria and her family have been bringing delicious food to New York for almost 100 years. The daughter of Louis Balducci, Grace opened up her own marketplace on the Upper East Side with her husband Joseph Doria in 1985. Together they built a thriving gourmet marketplace, feeding the likes of former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Mick Jagger.
Together with their restaurant Grace's Trattoria, the marketplace has become a landmark on the Upper East Side. In a similar spirit to her father, Grace makes sure her marketplace has the largest variety of the freshest food. "If it grows, we sell it," she told us. The business is now run in collaboration with five of her six children.
The idea of selling prepackaged, homemade food from a counter came from Grace's mother. She would watch her mother prepare peppers, and other vegetables not fit for sale because they were bruised or cracked in some way, and she would bring them into sell the counter at Baldacci's every morning.
Despite it's success, and expansion the marketplace still feels extremely authentic. Customers enjoy fresh deli meats, over 80 varieties of gourmet cheese, and breads prepared daily. They source much of their produce from Hunt's Point in the Bronx, and receive deliveries of fresh seafood 7 days a week.
Grace has always run her marketplace as if it were her own kitchen. Often offering cooking tips to her customers, making sure anyone who walks through their door hungry leaves satisfied. She used to prepare meals for Lucille Ball and Gary Morton when they were living on the Upper East Side. Lucille wrote her a handwritten note thanking her for the delicious food and describing Grace as "Mother of the Year," because of her endless generosity.
"She treats our customers and our employees like they are family. She has an ability to make everyone feel special, no matter who she is talking to," her son Joe Jr. explained. "Customers have always loved that. If they come into the marketplace they see Mom or another family member, and that goes a long way I think. It gives people a sense of loyalty."
This summer they will be changing locations, moving only 4 blocks away to 1299 Second Avenue. There new location will have all the same departments offered in the current marketplace, but they will be adding an espresso bar and open kitchen. Customers will be able to take cooking classes from different New York chef's who will be featuring their favorite dish. They hope that the new space will offer a place for Upper East Side residents to come and socialize.
Grace's Market Place has been able to remain a family owned and operated business, despite increasing corporate competition. Joe Jr. attributes their continued success to their willingness to listen to their customer's needs. "If we don't have what you are looking for, whatever it is will be on our shelf the following week," he said.
Grace gave the example of when her father started selling watermelon at Balducci's in the middle of the winter because a pregnant customer was craving it. This was unheard of at the time, but her father made sure single customers could find what they were looking for. This sense of genuine customer satisfaction can still be found in her own market place today. "It isn't about where you eat, or what is trendy. What matters to us is making sure people feel at home," Grace said.