Key Fresh, on Amsterdam, opened in August on site of former Saigon Grill
by mickey kramer
A sign on the front window read “50% off all groceries.” Inside the Key Fresh & Natural Marketplace on Amsterdam Avenue, near 90th Street, much of the produce was rotting, many of the few remaining refrigerated items listed expired sell-by dates, and most of the shelves were completely empty.
It was clear that after only eight months in operation, this member of the Key Food family would be closing soon.
And, last week, it did.
What happened? “Not a surprise... . It’s business, man, and it wasn’t meeting the owner’s expectations,” said Henry, a store manager who declined to give his last name.
Henry, who had worked at the store since day one, was told about a month ago that it would be closing.
Customers were alternately sad and surprised at the closure.
“I relied on, and loved this place,” said Joan Lavender, who considered the store was well-stocked, had promise and was a real addition to the neighborhood. She said other neighborhood supermarkets are poorly run.
Rimma Bitman, a bi-weekly shopper, shopped at the store because it “looked nice,” but expected more.
“They tried to do an ‘upscale’ appearance and with ‘Natural Marketplace’ in the name, I thought they’d have more organic and specialty items, but the selection was basically like any other Key Food or similar supermarket,” she said.
The store was part of Key Food Stores Co-operative, a chain of independently owned and operated supermarkets. Representatives at Key Foods’ cooperative headquarters on Staten Island did not reply to requests for comment.
On the store’s final days, shoppers found barrels of unsold coffee beans, bags of chips, canned soups and beans, health bars and some odd sights as the staff consolidated the inventory: one shelf featured large jars of Brooklyn-based McClure’s pickle brine sitting next to a box of organic raw blue agave packets.
Judith Wallach, 82, theorized that the popularity of Fresh Direct, Fairway, Whole Foods and Trader Joes might have cut into Key Fresh’s bottom line. There’s also a Key Food store four blocks south on Amsterdam Avenue.
Key Fresh opened in August. The location’s previous tenant, the Saigon Grill, closed in 2013 following years of picketing by the restaurant’s workers and their supporters who claimed its owners violated labor laws. The parties eventually settled for a reported $3 million. The restaurant’s closure, in early 2013, was just about celebrated. Key Fresh’s closing, however, has an altogether different flavor.
Shayna Rosenfeld, 20, worked the store’s final days and had been training for a hostess position at Han Dynasty, nearby on 85th Street. Key Fresh was the first job for Rosenfeld, 20, and she loved everything about it, calling it “the best experience.”