On Friday, March 16, the Tower Plaza Pathmark on Park Avenue held a grand re-opening as shoppers danced to the music of the afro-Cuban trio Mano a Mano, received free samples from Tony the Tiger, and learned how to cook Goya-style from Goya Executive Chef Fernando Desa.
The three-month renovation doubled the fresh produce section, added a 36-foot meat service case with 20 varieties of fresh and smoked offals (organ meats), and brought a brand new hot foods counter replete with espresso machine and ready-to-eat prepared foods.
A&P Director of Ethnic Merchandising Ed Ambrose, who has spent substantial amounts of time living and eating his way through several Latin countries, ordered a café con leche as he surveyed the bain-maries-full of chicharones, tostones, tamales, and taquitos.
“It’s been 20 years since we’ve updated the store,” he said. “Looking at the demographic of the neighborhood, you see a melting pot of the Hispanic world. We’ve worked with local merchandisers and residents and have come up with an inclusive multicultural selection that celebrates the diversity of the area.”
“[Pathmark] has widened its offerings across cultures. We’ve got something for everyone now.” – Ed Ambrose
“If we don’t have what customers want, they tend not to complain,” Ambrose said. “They’ll just go somewhere else. We had to get back to the neighborhood.”
Hudson County has the highest percentage of Latino residents in the state, and the Pathmark stands just across the street from Union City, whose Latino and Hispanic population totals 84.7 percent according to the 2011 Census.
The store has added around 1,400 new Hispanic products to its repertoire. There is an entire frozen Hispanic food section with an emphasis on smaller, local business vendors. The Hispanic dry goods isle has grown to such an extent they’ve had to categorize it by country; sign dividers in the aisle specify Mexican and Central American, to name a few.
Miami-based Hispanic food vendor Misavorlatino President Carlos G. Perez stood proudly by the new Hispanic baked goods case full of made-fresh-daily empanada and pastelitos.
“The empanadas are just as good as my mother’s,” he said, “and the pastelitos are messy, which is the only way to go. If there’s no mess, they’re no good.”
Of the 20 new staff hires, 60 percent are bilingual, A&P spokesperson Latrice Harris said.
“Do you know what the number-one seller from the meat case has been since we updated it?” Ambrose asked. “Oxtail. People were basically grabbing the new stuff out of the staff’s hands as they were stocking it.”
Working with small business
“People don’t generally think of A&P as one to work with smaller businesses,” Ambrose said. “They think we’re too big, but we’re not.”
As he passed by staff bearing plates full of Cuban sandwiches, deli meats, and Kellog products, he stopped by the new bread section. The entire center isle was full of many kinds of tortillas.
“I found this tortilla guy in Passaic,” he said as he picked up a stack of tortillas from Mi Pueblito so fresh they’d begun to release condensation into the packaging in the cooler Pathmark air. “I am addicted to them. They’re like a mother would make.”
Ambrose’s excitement did not end at the new Hispanic food selection. “I want to make clear that Pathmark has not pigeon-holed its products,” he said. “The store has widened its offerings across cultures. We’ve got something for everyone now.”
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.