The owner wakes at 4 a.m. to select fresh veggies.
Photo by Joshua Kristal
Kiyol and Jimmy Kim
Jimmy Kim’s mom’s popular Kimchee (Korean spicy pickled cabbage)
Displays spill onto Court Street
You might say, why make such a glorious deal about a fruit and veggie market? Running big beautiful photos of one of NYC’s classic produce stands, what the heck?
People, I beg to differ. The K & Y Fruit and Veggie Market in Carroll Gardens, run by a father-son team that call themselves Boss Senior and Boss Junior, is one of many things to love about food shopping on Court Street. Where else do you find a cornucopia of fat fresh fruits and vegetables at bargain-basement prices? Where you will be hard pressed to find a wilted vegetable? Where employees buzz about picking out duds, rearranging displays, cleaning? Where management removed doors to allow strollers easy entry and exit, despite getting tickets from the city for doing so?
A produce market like the K & Y is something to hold dear. When I lived in inner-city Detroit in the early 2000s, I was shocked to discover what hunger activists call a “food desert,” one of thousands of urban areas in the United States that literally does not have access to fresh fruits and vegetables (if you want to read more about this, check out the non-profit Why-Hunger, http://www.whyhunger.org/index.php). Brooklyn’s low income areas, like Brownsville and East New York, lack access to fresh produce. Please visit South Brooklyn Post later this month to read more on this. But for now, let’s rejoice in our great fortune. Fresh, cheap produce in our midst.
For a while K & Y carried red peppers, not Holland, for 99 cents a pound.
Such deals are not by accident.
Every morning, Kiyol Kim, 67, wakes at 4 a.m. and heads to a massive food market in the Bronx to hand select the freshest produce for the K & Y, and for his Atlantic Food and Veggie Corp., on Atlantic Ave. near Clinton (formerly called the New Green Pea). Kim has run the Atlantic Food and Veggie for 35 years. In 2005, he and his son, Jimmy Kim, 35, opened up on Court St.
I talked to Kim Jr. about his family’s business. He calls his dad, “Boss Senior.”
“Boss Senior, he goes every morning and picks each item himself. He’s got a driver. Every day, four to nine is his hours. Around the holidays, he gets home at midnight.
“The farmers and distributers know him, and they let him taste the produce before buying,” Kim Jr. says. “He’s been doing this so many years they let him do what he wants. He knows the people around here want the food to look good and taste nice.
“He doesn’t want to charge ridiculous amounts of money. The competitors are coming and jack up the prices. People come in and ask why are we so much cheaper. The boss, off each case, he makes $5 or $6 the most. He’s fair to the customers. It’s not about quantity; it’s quality. If you get garbage in your system, you get sick. It’s doesn’t work.”
“The boss is a nice guy, never curses, always on time with paying people. Always fair with customers. He’s had employees for 10, 12 years.
“He’s a sweetheart. He knows what he’s doing.”
Kim Jr., who manages the K & Y, says he’s a bit of a “germ freak” and a stickler for the rules. His employees aren’t allowed to smoke or drink and “we are very strict about sexual harassment,” he says.
Kim Jr.’s mother makes homeade kimchee every Sunday for the two vegetable markets. Lately it’s been flying off the shelves, Kim Jr. says.
The Kims don’t carry many exotic items. Nor do they operate a fancy shop. But sometimes an unusual item pops up. Last Spring, the K & Y carried a special kind of onion, white and the size of a chestnut, with a green scallion-like top. The sweet, spicy little gems were around for two weeks, then disappeared. Items in season like this will show up for short periods.
“Some shops buy whatever veggies are left over after two weeks and try to sell it,” Kim Jr. says. “We won’t do that. It’s not sanitary. We are very, very clean. Everything has to be done the right way.”
The younger Kim wonders what will happen if his dad tires of work.
“He’s 67. It’s time for him to retire. But he says if he retires, he’ll die. He has that mentality. His generation is different. I can’t get up at 4 a.m. every day and come home every night late. He’s stressed out all the time. What are you going to do. The economy is bad.”
Kim Jr. works from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. He says he tells the kids in his family, “Do great in school, because you do not want to do this.”
But he’s proud.
“We haven’t closed our doors for 35 years. We don’t even have doors. We’re open every day. We are never closed.”
Some K&Y prices: Apples, 79 cents to 99 cents a pound, Barlett Pears, 99 cents, Spinach, $1.49 a pound.
K & Y Fruit and Veggie Inc.
291 Court St.