BY MAT CLOUSER
PITTSFORD — A Pittsford tradition since 1939, Kamuda’s Country Market is an indispensable institution to some. It seems like everyone who knows it has something good to say. And from the looks of the often-overflowing parking lot, it seems like not only does everybody know about it, but they might all be there too.
Volumes could be filled with the stories written about the little-grocery-store-that-could since its inception one Christmas Eve 83 years ago. Every new writer in the area seems to want to do a story on the longtime fixture, and with so many stories, it’s a challenge to say much about Kamuda’s that most folks don’t already know.
And yet, if you ask third-generation owner Brian Kamuda, he’ll tell you there’s a ton about Kamuda’s that not everyone knows. “The grocery business has expanded dramatically,” he said, discussing the variety of newer programs he’s implemented since taking over the business in 2017, initiatives which have brought him around 20% growth. “We’re sort of like a quasi-restaurant now.”
“In the last two years, we’ve added 10 employees, [going from] 24-34,” he said. “Our staff is like the secret in the sauce; they do take ownership. They go the extra mile for customers. They know our customers’ names.”
“Our standard is being the best—we’re in the ‘yes’ business,” he continued, talking about the relatively recent expansion into prepared meals, specialty goods, catering, and custom orders.
“I encourage my folks to think—people are coming in with a problem. I’m hungry tonight; I’d like to feed my family. I need something special tonight—that’s their problem. How can we be solution minded? How can we solve their problem?”
One problem that Kamuda’s has solved was Pittsford’s lack of a butcher or seafood market. Kamuda’s currently offers custom meat and seafood orders via an email and newsletter program that effectively allows the store to provide those services without the same amount of risk involved in bringing in meats and fish for a display case where it may not sell and go bad.
Customers can sign up via Facebook, email, phone, or in-person to get on a mailing list that will allow them to choose premium meats and seafood in any amount of their choosing and receive a $1-per-pound discount.
Kamuda is especially excited about the seafood program, which is done in partnership with Earth and Sea Fish Market in Manchester and allows customers to select from a list of items that are available via the Boston Fish Pier that’s then distributed at Kamuda’s starting at 7 a.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Currently, Kamuda says he has around 550 people on the mailing list and that the store brings in roughly 400 pounds of seafood a week.
Catering, family dinners, and prepared meals are other areas working well for the market, and they offer daily specials on weekdays. Mondays have a rotating special, Tuesdays are chicken pot pie, and Wednesdays also rotate among baked ham, lasagna, ribs, and other staples. Fridays are reserved for higher-end fare, with dishes like prime rib and shrimp linguine, but it’s Thursdays that Kamuda says are the biggest hit with their chicken parm.
Kamuda says behind what some have called “the best chicken parm they’ve ever had” is Andrea Tarvella, a Sicilian man whom Kamuda says was once a professional waiter who worked in Paris and Boston as well as at the critically acclaimed, long-shuttered Hemingway’s in Killington.
Kamuda, who has 12 years of sales and marketing experience working for the NBA and the Orlando Magic, says that some of his time there informs what he does with his business now. “Sales is built on trust,” he said, “How do we build trust with our customers?”
Kamuda says he preaches the three Cs to his staff: Comfortability, confidence, and competence. He wants his employees to have all three of those things and to have them in a harmonious balance—not too much of one or the other. “They need to be in line,” he said.
Flexibility is another means by which Kamuda says his business has been able to thrive, both in the ability to buy wholesale items that he can sell to his customers at a better price than some of the bigger stores but also in the way Kamuda’s can accommodate special requests. “Give me a recommendation,” he said. “If you’re looking for something, there’s probably a dozen other people that would want it too.”
Kamuda says his goal for the store is to be the best. “’[We] strive for excellence, being empathetic to the customer, asking good questions—bringing a consultative approach to a commodity,” he said.
“[If people say] I just know there’s gonna be good value at Kamuda’s—that’s a compliment to us if folks can really say I trust that you’re gonna take care of it,” he continued, discussing Kamuda’s almost symbiotic relationship with its customers. “We still gotta earn it.”