“I grew up in the Balducci’s and Grace’s Marketplace food family,” says Daniel Emilio Soares, whose relatives own the upscale New York City grocery chains, “and I have an emotional dependence on food to show for it.”
Soares’s food roots run deep. A fourth-generation Balducci, he carries a family legacy of grocers and mongers hailing back to 1916, when his great-grandfather Louis Balducci immigrated to the U.S. from the small town of Corato, in Puglia. Initially selling ice out of a truck in Great Neck, Long Island, Balducci graduated to peddling produce from a rented pushcart in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, in 1918. A few decades later, in 1948, along with his daughter Grace Balducci Doria and her husband, Joe Doria, he opened a 24-7 grocery store in Greenwich Village, which sourced out-of-season produce and carefully selected delicacies. The Balducci chain grew from there, until the family sold it, in 1998. Now they own and operate Grace’s Marketplace on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and in Old Brookville, Long Island.
Soares, 27, grew up between Queens and Roslyn Heights, on Long Island, and attended New York University. He worked as a broker at the Corcoran Group before moving to Paris, where he collaborated on retail and hospitality projects with fashion and food brands. The real reason he went to Paris, though, was to pursue his love of food—and seek inspiration for the specialty-food stores he had in mind to open.
The first of these, Alimentari Flâneur, has just opened on the lower level of the Lower East Side Market Line complex, on New York’s Essex Street. The quality-produce market re-creates the intimate European-style grocery experience Soares encountered in his time abroad, without too many Americanized frills. “I noticed that no matter whether I was in the Marais, or in the Left Bank, or if I traveled to Barcelona, London, Milan, or my grandmother’s hometown in Portugal, this type of marketplace always existed,” says Soares: a place forgoing myriad options for a few high-quality ingredients. “It dawned on me that this marketplace is so central to the livelihood of a city or town; it really is a catalyzer of community.” With Alimentari Flâneur—which this summer will host pop-ups in Brooklyn and Manhattan and a farm stand called La Ferme, opening on June 10 at Bhumi Farms, in East Hampton—Soares is aiming to build a community around good food.
“Donna Lennard from Il Buco, Rita Sodi and Jody Williams from Via Carota, even André Balazs with Chiltern Firehouse and the Standard, these are all people who understand the power of really good storytelling,” says Soares. “That’s really what I’ve been trying to create.”
Alice Cavallo is a New York–based writer