Food, Glorious, Food! Guido’s Grows in Pittsfield
Matthew & Christopher Masiero photographed by Kevin Sprague.
As Tanglewood is to music, Guido’s Fresh Marketplace is to groceries. (Or, if you prefer, it’s to food what Jacob’s Pillow is to dance and MASS MoCA is to art.) Whichever analogy you like, it’s incontrovertible that the Masiero family’s grocery stores in Pittsfield and Great Barrington are essential to the Berkshires quality-of-life index (and vital to the quality of life for many residents of Columbia and Litchfied counties, too.) Since 1979, when brothers Christopher and Matthew Masiero first sold vegetables from a stand on the side of Route 7, the food world has evolved and so, too, has Guido’s. For the past 14 months, the brothers have been overseeing a soup-to-nuts renovation and expansion of the early 1980s Pittsfield shop, which they miraculously accomplished without ever shutting down the store for even a day. This week, they are hosting a Renovation Celebration at the bigger, brighter, easier-to-maeuver store with a symbolic “watermelon-cutting” and special deals and promotions.
Many people liken Guido’s to a locally-owned, smaller version of Whole Foods, but Guido’s is really sui generis. You practically need a genealogy map to understand the family dynamics that make the store unique. Indeed, Guido’s is several family-owned businesses operating under one roof. The Masieros are in charge of produce, dairy, health-and-beauty products, and most of the groceries (and they’ve been able to add 860 new items to the shelves and freezer cases with the expansion.) The Mazzeo brothers (whose cousins run the eponymous Italian restaurant up the road) own the butcher shop and seafood department. The Berger family (which traces its shopkeeping roots back half a century to Nejaime’s Market in Stockbridge) runs the deli counter and bakery. The Bella Flora gift and flower department is run by Chris Whalen and his wife, Annie (above). Annie is Chris and Matthew Masiero’s sister; Chris Whalen and Chris Masiero are brothers-in-law twice, because Chris Whalen’s sister Dawn is married to Chris Masiero.
The families are independent and co-dependent. “For us to be invididually successful, we have to be successful as a whole,” says John Berger (left), whose brother-in-laws are the Berkshires leading wine-and-cheese merchants and whose Lebanese grandfather-in-law ran the Stockbridge market, which explains why Berger’s boasts many Middle Eastern specialities like homemade hummus and kibbeh. “We have to feed off each other,” says Berger. “What we all have in common is that we’re owners, not managers, and we’re here in the store.”
As Guido’s has grown, the Masiero brothers are not quite as hand’s on as they were in the early years, though you will occasionally see one of them bagging groceries. “I used to get up every day at 4 a.m. to set up the produce department, but now I have someone else who does that,” says Chris. Matthew still occasionally does the thrice-weekly, midnight tractor-trailer run to the New England Produce Center outside Boston. The brothers micromanaged the renovation, which includes the addition (next month) of a sit-down cafe, but they are especially proud of what you cannot see: the all new electrical and HVAC systems. “We’d put a lot of Band-Aids on in the past,” says Chris. “We’ve installed a new closed loop system that recycles our energy, so it helps heat the store in the winter and cool it in the summer.”
The brothers’ earth-first philosophy made them groundbreaking grocers. “When you walk into the store, there is nothing that you don’t want to put in your body,” says Chris, explaining why Guido’s doesn’t carry Sprite or Coca-Cola. “I don’t drink that stuff. We try to avoid anything with high fructose corn syrup.” Now that the Pittsfield store has 40 feet more of dairy space, you can see the full breath of local milks, yogurts and eggs that Guido’s offers. In addition to the self-service bins of grains, rices, oats nuts, and herbs, you can now fill reusable glass bottles with safflower, canola and olive oils. “We couldn’t offer that before because the store was too claustrophobic,” says Chris. “The renovation has liberated us.”
At the butcher shop, however, you are (thankfully) waited on. The Mazzeo brothers—Mike, Mark and Rudy (left)—joined forces with the Masieros when they opened the Great Barrington store 16 years ago, and they pride themselves on their old-fashioned customer service, making sure every order is labeled, bagged and wrapped so it can be popped directly into the freezer if need be. “A lot of the guys who work behind the counter were restaurant chefs who prefer working daylight hours, so you can always get cooking instructions for anything,” says Mike. While they’ve recently expanded their grass-fed beef offerings, they still use old family recipes to make sweet and hot Italian sausages as well as their signature meatballs. “We’ve been selling meatballs since the 1950s when my grandfather had his grocery store on Fenn Street,” says Mike.
The department that has undergone the biggest change is Bella Flora. “We used to only have a small rack of flowers when you walked in, and everything else was hidden away in the back,” says Chris Whalen. Now the full-service flower shop (“We deliver from Sheffield to Williamstown”) has a big open workspace with a window overlooking the parking lot, where Bella Flora has a huge assortment of annuals and hanging baskets for sale under a temporary tent. Who’s that sprightly eighty-something woman in the Guido’s fleece jacket by the cash register under the Bella Flora tent? “That’s our mother,” says Chris Masiero. When he and Matthew first told Renie Masiero (above) 33 years ago that they were going to open a fruit-and-vegetable in the Berkshires, she told them they were “stupid, jackass jerks,” which, according to Chris, is her favorite term of endearment. Naturally, she’s Guido’s biggest fan (which is named after her late husband.) “I am very proud of my sons,” she says.
Guido’s Fresh Marketplace
1020 South Street, Pittsfield; 413.442.9912
760 South Main Street, Great Barrington; 413.528.9255
Monday - Saturday 9 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Sunday 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.