According to multiple sources, Village Super Markets, the second largest member of Wakefern Food Corp., is in serious discussions to acquire Manhattan-based upscale specialty retailer Gourmet Garage.
Gourmet Garage currently operates three stores in Manhattan – Soho (Broome Street), Tribeca (West Broadway and Lincoln Square (Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue). The perishables-oriented merchant has downsized in recent years (it once operated as many as five units in Manhattan) and sources told us the company has been looking for a possible exit strategy for several months. That speculation increased when CEO and co-founder Andy Arons exited last month. Arons had piloted the company since it opened its first store on Broome Street in 1992 and he was a co-founder of the initial iteration of company – Flying Foods International, a restaurant distributor of high-end fresh foods which was sold to Kraft in 1987. Five years later, Arons and partner Adam Hartman opened their first Gourmet Garage. Hartman remains an active owner of the company.
As for Village, the only publicly-traded member of Wakefern, the Springfield, NJ-based merchant is no stranger to expansion. A year ago, it opened its 30th store in the Bronx (and first in New York) and in 2011 it entered the Baltimore-Washington market by acquiring two former A&P/Super Fresh stores in Maryland. Previously, Village acquired five former Starn’s ShopRite stores in southern New Jersey in 1987.
All told, Village operates 30 stores – 26 in New Jersey, two in Maryland and one each in New York and Pennsylvania.
An original Wakefern member in the mid-1940s, Village was founded by two Greek immigrants, Perry and Nick Sumas in South Orange, NJ in 1937. The company went public in 1965 when it operated only six stores and has grown steadily over the past 50 years, primarily in New Jersey. Today, Robert Sumas (Nick’s son) serves as CEO; Bill Sumas (Perry’s son) serves as chairman and John P. Sumas (Perry’s son) is secretary of the retailer whose annual sales in fiscal 2018 were $1.61 billion. A third generation of Sumas also has leadership roles: Nico Sumas (son of Robert and grandson of Nick) and John James Sumas (son of former Village CEO, the late Jim Sumas and grandson of Nick) are both co-presidents of the company and are seen as future leaders of the organization.
In its most recent operating period ended April 27, Village posted earnings of $4.97 million for the 13-week quarter on flat sales of $395.5 million.
If the Gourmet Garage deal is consummated, Village would be the first Wakefern member to operate urban high-end small format specialty stores which would even be a clearer delineation from one of Wakefern’s other perishables-oriented banner, traditional supermarket Fresh Grocer, of which there are currently 11 stores operating in the Philadelphia area (nine by Pat Burns and two by Jeff Brown). It would also give Wakefern its first member-operated stores in Manhattan. On the wholesale side, the cooperative distributor currently supplies independent retailer Morton Williams’ 14 Manhattan stores.