HIDDEN IN RED BANK, A CHEF’S PARADISE

Jimmy DiBartolo, below, orients his business toward the restaurant trade, but has draws the occasional individual shopper, too. (Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

In terms of kitchen provisions, it may be Red Bank’s best-kept secret.

Tucked behind the Colorest art supply store on Newman Springs Road, its odd name all but lost on the sign out front, DiBartolo’s Quick Stop Food & Paper sometimes elicits audible gasps when first-timers stumble into its parking lot. Not because of the menacing-looking electrical substation it faces, that is, but the unexpected bins of brightly colored fresh fruits and vegetables on display.

redbankgreen was present recently when a woman entered DiBartolo’s warehouse store through the wind curtain that covers the front door and cooed, to no one in particular, “I had no idea this place was back here.”

“We get that a lot,” says owner Jimmy DiBartolo.

A native of Staten Island native, DiBartolo said he started working in food stores in Brooklyn when he was 12 years old, and eventually spent 27 years running his own wholesale food operation. But by the time he was 50, he was living in Lincroft, and had grown tired of the crushing hours that commuting added to already long days.

“I didn’t want to work 15, 17 hours a day, seven days a week, anymore,” he said.

So in 2007, he sold the company and retired, spending more time on his beloved boat deep-sea fishing. But that didn’t last a year. Eventually, he got wind that a business-to-business supplier of paper products in Red Bank was for sale. So he bought it. And soon, he said, customers of his paper napkins and coffee stirrers, learning of his background, were asking for products one wouldn’t expect from a dry-goods supplier.

“Basically, the customers pushed me into this,” he said, with an accent that could not be mistaken for anything but Brooklyn. “‘Do you sell Pellegrino? Do you sell olive oil?’ In today’s world of full service, you’ve got to have everything. So I started bringing in food.”

Tailored to the restaurant industry but visited by the occasional individual consumer, Quick Stop now carries an inventory of 2,800 items, including giant cans of extra-virgin olive oil, Italian tomatoes, chicken stock, as well asĀ  seafood, meat, milk and eggs. Some in-the-know retirees in South Jersey are regular customers, buying wheels of cheese they split among themselves, DiBartolo said.

The business, which DiBartolo runs with his daughter, Christina Westphal, maintains a fleet of air-conditioned vans shuttling deliveries to a growing roster of restaurants and grocers. DiBartolo said he’s been able to grab clientele because he understands a restaurant owner’s need to match inventory with demand, and thus save money by reducing waste. He’s also able to get them their orders faster than suppliers based outside the area can, he said.

“If they call you before 11 and I have it, they get it that day,” he said. “If they’re stuck and need two boxes of Romaine at two o’clock, I deliver it to them. Same-day delivery. That’s your niche. We have what they want. My guys carry right into their refrigerators.”

But with 50 percent of his own inventory perishable, DiBartolo needs to be just as sharp-eyed. Tom Cappello, owner of Gaetano’s restaurant in Red Bank, said DiBartolo does that by keeping an eagle eye on wholesale prices.

“One of his biggest assets is he knows the produce market inside-out,” said Cappello, who also got his start working a Brooklyn food stand. “You could call him at three in the morning, and he could tell you what the price of squash will be in three days. He’s probably the sharpest guy I do business with.”

The food operation has grown so much that DiBartolo recently leased a second warehouse, in Shrewsbury, where he plans to move the paper goods operation. But what he doesn’t envision, he said, is running a supermarket. “That’s not our business,” he said.

The current business runs from 5:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. “And the key is that it’s five minutes from home,” he said.