By WINNIE HUJUNE 16, 2014
Jetro Cash and Carry, a wholesale outlet in the Bronx, is a go-to spot for bodega owners seeking to replenish supplies. Credit Bryan Thomas for The New York Times
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At Sandy Ortiz’s bodega in the Bronx, no platanos means no business.
If his Dominican customers do not see plantains for their dinner, they walk out without bothering to buy anything at all, Mr. Ortiz said. So he makes sure to keep plantains on hand as well as a growing selection of fresh fruits and vegetables: lettuce, broccoli, green peppers, onions, celery, pineapples, strawberries.
Mr. Ortiz gets all his fresh fruits and vegetables from Jetro Cash and Carry, a wholesale warehouse in Hunts Point that has long been city bodegas’ go-to source for cereals, paper towels, bottled waters and other staples with long shelf lives. In recent years, the warehouse has responded to changing appetites by significantly expanding its fresh produce and meat offerings, adding a fish and seafood market, and sponsoring health fairs and cooking demonstrations that teach bodega owners to make, for example, salad with grilled tilapia.
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Now Jetro is teaming up with City Harvest, a nonprofit that collects excess food for pantries and soup kitchens; Hostos Community College; and city health officials on a new effort to promote healthy eating in poor neighborhoods, where supermarkets can be scarce and access to fresh food even more so.
Sandy Ortiz, the owner of Mango Grocery and Meat Market, reads his shopping list at Jetro Cash and Carry, where he buys fresh fruits and vegetables. Credit Bryan Thomas for The New York Times
This summer, a store display of fresh produce will be created at the warehouse to encourage bodega owners to recreate it in their stores. There are also plans for a “Bodegueros Institute” that would teach free classes on handling and selling fresh foods, imparting information like tomatoes need not be refrigerated.
“I think it’s a pretty novel partnership to reach this economic niche — the bodega owners — we really take for granted,” said Sally Cooper, a program director for City Harvest. “They’re beloved in their neighborhoods. We think of them as anchor institutions that are helping to hold their neighborhoods together.”
Ramon Murphy, president of the Bodega Association of the United States, which is based in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, said that New York City’s 12,000 bodegas play a vital role in supporting the local economy. He estimated that a typical bodega employs four to seven workers and averages $15,000 to $30,000 in sales a week, generating much-needed sales tax revenue for municipal coffers.
In recent years, the warehouse has responded to changing appetites by significantly expanding its fresh produce and meat offerings, including adding a fish and seafood market. Credit Bryan Thomas for The New York Times
The Hunts Point warehouse is the flagship for Jetro Holdings, a fast-growing nationwide chain of 108 wholesale warehouses that carry the name Jetro, Restaurant Depot or a combination of both; there are five in New York City. The company, which is controlled by the South African business magnate Nathan Kirsh, caters to urban bodegas that have neither the space nor the refrigeration capacity for large inventories: It allows them to replenish supplies as often as needed, with no minimum orders or delivery fees (Jetro has no delivery at all).
Jetro, which has operated in Hunts Point since 1985, moved to a new 200,000-square-foot building in 2012 that more than doubled its size. Bodega owners troll for bargains in enormous aisles — some as long as two football fields — packed to the ceiling with Goya black beans and Little Debbie honey buns as well as specialty items like halal chicken, cured pork tails and frozen whole goats.
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Felix Rodriguez, 62, the owner of La Gondola Deli in the Bronx, said he initially got so turned around in the warehouse that he left by an exit on a different side than he had entered on, and was convinced his car had been stolen. (Store workers had to help him find it). He spent several days learning where to find everything, including the plantains, pineapples, bananas and strawberries that his customers request.
A customer at Jetro. This summer, a display of fresh produce will be created at the Hunts Point warehouse to encourage bodega owners to recreate it in their stores. Credit Bryan Thomas for The New York Times
“You have to satisfy the customer,” he said. “If they come back the next week and you don’t have what they want, they’re not coming back.”
Jetro does not advertise to the general public, and sells only to members, though membership in this case is more of a technicality: It is offered free to anyone with a business license. The doors open seven days a week, starting at 2 a.m. on weekdays for those who want to avoid checkout lines, or simply do not have anyone to mind the bodega while they shop.
Jack Sagen, sales director for Jetro, said the company has increasingly sought to help bodegas stock healthy options for their customers. City health workers have tagged items in its warehouses that meet a city-approved nutritional standard with white magnets saying: “Good choice, shop healthy.” Jetro has also cultivated its own network of farmers and suppliers to guarantee fresh products. “We want to support them,” Mr. Sagen said of the bodegas. “In the long run, the more business they do, the more we do.”
Mr. Ortiz, who owns Mango Grocery and Meat Market, took over the family bodega in 2006 after his father, Quirico, moved to the Dominican Republic to become a farmer. As the oldest of four children, Mr. Ortiz, 32, recalled growing up in the aisles of Jetro; his younger brother, Davis, later went to work for Jetro as a retail consultant.
Mr. Ortiz shopped off a list of more than four dozen items scrawled on a Little Debbie carton top. He comes every Monday or Tuesday to stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables, and returns on Thursdays for nonperishables and again on Fridays for whatever is left on his list. He has even dashed over on Sundays to pick up more plantains for his Dominican customers.
“I come here and I don’t have to go nowhere else,” he said.
A version of this article appears in print on June 17, 2014, on page A18 of the New York edition with the headline: Keeping Health in Stock at the City’s Bodegas. Order Reprints|Today’s Paper|Subscribe