By JOHN T. WARD
Branded BFF Market, the shop is the creation of Tony Balderose, who expects his decade-plus experience in serving Manhattan’s finicky foodies have prepared him to compete with the likes of Brennan’s Deli in Rumson and Sickles Market in Little Silver.
Balderose, 52, grew up in Woodbridge. His mother died when he was in fourth grade and so his father, “being Italian,” did all the cooking, he said.
“I picked it up from him,” he said of his interest in food preparation.
Balderose was doing sales in the telecom industry when, at the age of 35, he decided to make a big change.
“I just had a passion for cooking, and couldn’t see myself doing sales for the rest of my life,” he tells redbankgreen. “So I threw caution to the wind and made the move.”
He enrolled in and graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, and then set off with his spatula, landing kitchen work at well-regarded restaurants Café Panache in Ramsey and Jocelyn’s in Maplewood.
One day, Balderose said, was walking near Lincoln Center in Manhattan, when he saw that Balducci’s was opening a new shop. He popped in, and landed a job as the catering chef. From a boss who was “super-meticulous about doing things the right way,” Balderose said his own habits became established.
“That’s kind of the only way I know how to do things: fresh ingredients, using the right stuff,” he said. “I don’t know any other way.”
After three years at Balducci’s, Balderose was recruited by Gourmet Garage to prepare food for its five stores in Manhattan. He spent a decade there before leaving to do catering closer to his home in Shrewsbury while looking for a shop of his own.
With partners Bill and Kathy Dodge and Marc and Laura Feaster, also of Shrewsbury, Balderose worked out a deal to take over the Gourmet Picnic space.
“I always kind of had my eye on the spot, and we were lucky that it became available,” he said.
BFF Market will offer grab-and-go and by-weight lunches and dinners, including salmon, snapper, and grilled marinated flank steak.. “There’s going to be a lot of seasonality to it,” Balderose said of his menu.
The corner shop also features a metro rack with grocery items, self-serve coffee and soups, a dessert fridge, and stand-and-eat tables, Manahattan style, with a few more on the ample sidewalk outside in nice weather.
Is he nervous about entering a market with established players?
“It’s a competitive area, for sure, and these guys all do a great job,” Balderose said. “But the same thing I’m doing here I’ve been doing the last 13, 15 years in Manhattan. So I think I have a pretty good handle on the retail aspect as well as catering. But I haven’t created a store before, so it’s nerve-racking and exciting at the same time.”
BFF Market is open from 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.