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BWW Interview: Anna Castellani Founder and Managing Partner of FORAGERS in NYC

Anna Castellani, the founder and managing partner of Foragers Market, is an ambitious and dedicated leader with a natural intuition for the craft grocery business. With over 15 years of experience, Castellani oversees a team of 110 employees, while also coordinating budgets and monitoring grocery trends that impact Foragers Market, with NYC locations in DUMBO and Chelsea.

Founding her first Foragers Market in 2005, Castellani navigated the challenges of sourcing and selling local, high-quality products at a time when the nation's primary concern was price - not quality. With the goal to change the way consumers think about groceries by bringing food shopping back to natural, farm-grown sources, Castellani expanded the Foragers vision in 2012 by opening a second market in Chelsea. Growing the Foragers brand, the second location features an organic wine shop, Foragers Wines, and an accompanying farm-to-table restaurant, Foragers Table - a neighborhood hotspot known for its fresh, locally-sourced, seasonal brunch and dinner dishes.

With Foragers, Castellani pursues a mission to provide urbanites with high-quality food they can't find at the corner bodega or chain grocery store. Refusing to put the Foragers stamp on anything that isn't up to brand standards for quality, clean food, Castellani purchased a small farm in Canaan, NY to grow a reliable supply of seasonal organic produce used in both the grocery and restaurant. She also cultivates personal relationships with domestic and European producers to source private label products from family businesses. Through her work, Castellani aims to provide shoppers with a clean, carefully curated mix of delicious groceries that customers can feel good eating.

Anna's unconventional path to founding a craft grocery began with a degree in Mandarin Studies and French Literature from New York University, followed by time spent as a camera assistant on various feature films. Working in the film industry and adapting to its demanding schedule prepared Castellani for her future in the food business and as an entrepreneur. After opening an art supply store in DUMBO, Castellani's childhood passion for delicious food and drink was reignited when she installed a commercial espresso machine for the shop. As the shop developed into a full-scale restaurant, Castellani often heard her customers discuss the struggles of finding quality food in the neighborhood. This was the spark that led to the very first Foragers location.

After building the Foragers business from original conception, Castellani hopes to expand the brand beyond New York City, continuing to sell the high-quality food customers expect. When Anna isn't at Foragers, she enjoys spending time with her two children and traveling, sampling all of the delicious culinary offerings the world has to offer.

Broadwayworld.com had the opportunity to interview Anna about her career, Foragers and her plans for the future of the business.

Tell us about your earliest interest in food.

"Like many, it was shopping and cooking with my mother. We drove all over Washington D.C and Virginia to find ingredients to create dishes inspired by her favorite French cuisine."

Tell us about the process of mentoring others in the food business.

"Well, it has been a long solo road. When I opened my restaurant in DUMBO, Brooklyn in 2000, I had zero experience besides waitressing. I opened the market at a time when people were more concerned with price as opposed to the quality of their purchases. Words like 'organic' and 'non-GMO' weren't used in relation to food the way they are today, and it wasn't as easy to source these products from vendors. While it wasn't easy, I hope that through my work, I've been able to change the way people think about the grocery shopping experience, and what exactly they're putting into their shopping carts."

What are some of your favorite foods?

"I could live forever on Italian and authentic Thai and Vietnamese Cuisine." (Note: Anna even makes a yearly tip to Sicily to source products from family-owned farms for her private label, Foragers Pantry!)

How are you affected by food trends?

"'Food trends affect me in the sense that they help Foragers stay relevant and interesting to our customers. We want to be able to provide our customers with the foods that fuel their tastes and dietary needs. Right now, we're living in an alkaline diet and Paleo moment."

You have a great team. How does their dedication affect the customer experience?

"I have really tried to create management teams who are, by nature, people who enjoy working with people. It seems simple, but those people are hard to find. It trickles down from there."

What would you like our readers to know about you?

"Very simply, food should be varied, simple in its ingredients, fresh, grown or raised without chemicals and drugs and without commercially processed oils."

For the future?

"I'd like a few more locations and to further develop our house brand of Foragers Pantry products. Featuring original artwork, (our stamp of approval) customers who shop Foragers Pantry can feel confident that they're purchasing high-quality food at reasonable prices."

Foragers markets are located in the Dumbo neighborhood of Brooklyn and the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. The restaurant is also located at the Chelsea location. Visit the Foragers web site at www.foragersmarket.com to learn more about the market, restaurant, farm and upcoming events.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Foragers



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