Sometimes, the best plans are the ones you never see coming.
Frank Bruno, owner of Vine Ripe Markets in Westfield, never thought his passion for food would lead him to owning a grocery store.
“To be honest, I only had visions of making it in the insurance industry,” said Bruno, a 2005 graduate of the School of Business at Villanova. Those plans changed in late 2008 when market uncertainty forced many to look elsewhere for their career paths.
“After the market crashed in 2008, I was 25, and knew that I wanted to try a different path, so I started to really educate myself as much as I could about my first passion, food!”
From novice “foodie” to burgeoning saveur, Bruno began to cut his teeth in the grocery business, learning the industry from many successful market owners in New York and New Jersey.
“Growing up in a traditional Italian household, so many memories were created around the dinner table, and I realized that helping others create those same important moments, was incredibly special to me.”
It was sometime in 2014 when Bruno, the now married father of three, began to explore the opportunity of branching out on his own.
“After seven years of intense learning, I knew the marketplace I wanted to create; one focused on quality, passion for great food, and affordable for all families.”
This defines the core business values of Vine Ripe Markets.
Not just an Italian specialty market, Vine Ripe boasts a large deli, complete custom cut butcher counter, fresh seafood market and a bakery that cranks out fresh, hot Italian bread all day long.
“We also like to cater to the busy family,” said Bruno. “We’ve tried to make convenience a way of life here for our customers. Whether it is our expanded parking lot, a wide selection of pre-cut veggies and fruit or our large heat-and-serve entrees and sides, we’ve tried to create an environment where people can great great food, get in and out quickly, and not have it cost them a fortune.”
Also, “people seem to have really gravitated to our fresh mozzarella,” said Bruno. “We make it throughout the entire day and even hold classes every Monday at 7 p.m. that teaches people how to make what has become our signature product.”
“My wife, Alexis, has an extensive background in the catering business, and her passion for food has found its way into a lot of what we serve here on a daily basis. A lot of the credit goes to her!”
But business ownership hasn’t been without its challenges. Vine Ripe was originally owned as part of a four-person partnership, and sometimes, as the saying goes, “too many chefs spoil the broth.”
“We strayed too far away from what our primary goal was always supposed to be,” said Bruno. “A store like ours really needs to be first, all about the food. Since taking the store on solo in November 2017, I’ve really tried to have a food-centric attitude towards everything we do.”
Bruno added, “Even when things haven’t been perfect, my goal has always been to make sure our customers know that we are working towards that perfection and we won’t sleep until we get it right.”
Enter some reinforcements. In June 2017, Bruno’s father, John, retired after 25 years of service in the NYPD.
“I knew he’d be retired for about a week before he got bored and wanted to come to work,” joked Bruno.
“When you work in that fast-paced, stressful environment for so long, it’s almost incomprehensible that you can just stop. Luckily, I needed the help, and my dad was ready to jump in and get his hands dirty.”
There aren’t many moments where you won’t find either Bruno walking the floor of Vine Ripe, making sure everything it up to their level of perfect.“I thought I was a perfectionist until I spent a few days working with my dad,” said Bruno. “Now I know where I got it from!”
How does Vine Ripe Markets continue to survive and thrive in the current hyper-competitve grocery marketplace, which now also includes super big box operations like Wal-Mart and Amazon?
Bruno’s answer is a simple one. “People never get tired of eating great food and if we can give them great food, at a great price, in a convenient way, we’ll be just fine!”