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Jun 1, 2010 6:02 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Schmidt's Market celebrates 30 years in business

Jun 1, 2010 6:02 PM

Thirty years ago, when a customer walked into the newly opened East End Quality Fruits on Jagger Lane, one of the two Schmidt brothers, Dennis or Robert, would run up to them and personally help the customer fill a produce basket.

“We really came from the stone ages,” Dennis Schmidt said this week, as he prepared to begin his 30th summer in the produce business in the Hamptons. “We had hanging scales, and we didn’t even have a calculator for the first six months. We just did all the math on the outside of the bag.”

Today, the small staff of the old Jagger Lane store probably couldn’t even direct the car traffic zooming and weaving in, out and around the Schmidt’s Market parking lot at the North Sea Road market the business has occupied since 1990.

On this, its 30th anniversary, the growth of the Schmidt’s business—from those days in the 500-square-foot shop that provided only basic vegetables, to today’s multifaceted grocery, deli, lunch counter and full-blown catering business—seems as if it was inevitable given today’s gourmet-obsessed Hamptons atmosphere.
But the growth was slow and organic, like that of the vegetables that still dominate Schmidt’s business.

“When we moved up the block—to what used to be the Curious Cook—we put in a small salad bar. It was an immediate success,” Mr. Schmidt, 57, recalled of the market’s first foray, in 1985, beyond the produce business. “Then we added a little cheese display, and that was an instant success too. Then my mother started bringing out bread from Cardinelli’s Bakery up the island. She would load up her car, the whole car, and drive out with it and people would be waiting at the store for her on Friday evenings.”

But it was the Schmidt brothers’—who’d grown up in New Hyde Park and worked for a large produce market—eye for the finest and lesser known produce, like rambutan, a tropical fruit related to lychee nuts, that caught and have held the interest of discerning customers.

“When we first opened, the Gershons on First Neck Lane had these crazy parties and the chef would literally come and scoop everything off our shelves, 12 to 14 baskets worth,” Mr. Schmidt said. “He saw the lychee nuts and asked us to get him 600 for the next day.”

When the market, which was then known as Schmidt Brothers Produce, moved to its current location the extra offerings began to expand. First came a cold deli-counter, then hot-prepared foods as the lunch crowds grew, then breakfast and then—with the aid of a full kitchen built into the basement—to the catering business. Such diversified offerings at a produce store was common in New York City, but was rare on the East End prior to the late 1990s. The quirky offerings of stores like Schmidt’s and Dreesen’s caught on quickly as the East End’s zest for everything gourmet mushroomed (or king trumpet mushroomed).

Then came sushi.

“One day this guy walked in the store and he said, ‘I want to sell sushi here,’” Mr. Schmidt, who bought out his brother in 1998, recalled. “I said, ‘No way,’ and he said, ‘I only need this much space’ and held his arms out.

“So I said, ‘OK, I’ll give you a try.’ The first week he sold $2,000 worth of sushi. I said, ‘All right, you can stay.’”

For all the traffic the popular lunch offerings brings to the store, the produce is still king, Ms. Schmidt says—more than half the gross business.

Schmidt’s is the biggest seller of produce on the East End, he said, and the biggest buyer of white cherries (which are red) in the Northeast. Every day, a full tractor trailer with the Schmidt’s logo on it rolls out from the Hunts Point Produce Market, the nation’s largest food distribution center, bound for Schmidt’s retail shelves and wholesale distribution route.

Mr. Schmidt says the pressure is mounting on the business. Citarella has been searching for a Southampton location for three years. Farm stands and farmers markets chip away at revenues. Growing and diversifying is the only way Mr. Schmidt—whose 31-year-old son, Daniel, now oversees the produce operation—can expect to persevere.

“My son runs the business with me, and he’s into it, so we’re going to stay in some form or another,” the elder Schmidt said. “Things are changing out here. We’re trying to hold on, but it’s getting tougher.

“Everything has gotten so expensive. I think, percentagewise, I make much less money now than I did with that first store,” he went on to say. “But I’m right behind Daniel. It’s a good relationship, and it’s good for service.”

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Dennis is the best!

Long Live Schmidt's :)
By elliot (254), sag harbor on Jun 4, 10 10:03 AM
1 member liked this comment
Oh yeah, it must be hard making a profit at $6000 per pound for apples but you'll just attempt to make it in these tough times with all of that competition. Wait let me get the violin.
By tuckahoetrip (46), Water Mill on Jun 5, 10 6:18 AM
Nice place I must admit. But the "stone age hospitality" isn't there anymore.
By LocalGuy (28), Southampton on Jun 5, 10 2:34 PM
When I used to shop there years ago, the produce was two times as much as you could get elsewhere. This place is only in business due to the mentality of the summer hamptonites who think thery are not getting a deal unless it is high priced.
By Walt (292), Southampton on Jun 5, 10 4:01 PM
The produce is great the food is geat and the service is even better. The Schmidts are great people!!!!
By poools81 (10), hampton bays on Jun 5, 10 8:59 PM
For all the people with unsatisfactory comments! Maybe they should knock them out and put in a large stop and shop. Maybe the bickering will stop. Probably not. This town is full off busybody's!!
By johnnyhampton (82), Southampton on Jun 6, 10 8:16 AM
I don't think they should knock them out, but the village does need a good, basic grocery store. Competition would do it good. And it would keep the locals from going to Riverhead and HB.
By LocalGuy (28), Southampton on Jun 6, 10 9:47 PM
The Scmidt's are great hard working people that deserve the best! Good job boys
By johnnyhampton (82), Southampton on Jun 6, 10 8:18 AM
Just a question I don't have the answer to, fellas. Do all his employees have green cards? Does he treat his employees well?
I haven't been there in a long time.... just asking.
By Jean (79), whb on Jun 6, 10 6:48 PM
"Just asking" You mean, "just taking the opportunity to do some irrelevant immigrant bashing"
By peoplefirst (787), Southampton on Jun 8, 10 10:53 AM
Don't put words in her mouth...
By LocalGuy (28), Southampton on Jun 8, 10 5:38 PM
peoplefirst said:

"Just asking" You mean, "just taking the opportunity to do some irrelevant immigrant bashing"

Is your persistant failure to distinguish between legal immigrants and criminal aliens an attempt to smear those who want our immigration laws enforced, or do you need some assistance in understanding the difference?
By RealityFirst (597), Bridgehampton on Jun 8, 10 8:54 PM
When you say "reality first" is that the reality of the planet earth or the one on which you reside?
By peoplefirst (787), Southampton on Jun 9, 10 10:29 PM
The words are her own, the observation mine
By peoplefirst (787), Southampton on Jun 9, 10 10:31 PM
Nobody works as hard as the Schmidts to make sure only the very best stuff is on the shelf and anything that doesn't make the grade is culled. It doesn' get any better than this!
By artizt101 (29), Hampton Bays on Jun 7, 10 1:34 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By C Law (354), Water Mill on Jun 7, 10 6:20 PM

You worked hard to get the market where it is today!!
By AnonymousSgh (183), Sag Harbor on Jun 9, 10 10:31 PM