The Essex Street Market is a Lower East Side staple when it comes to fresh food and prepared goods. Meet the vendors in this profile series and swing by the market all month long during May to celebrate 75 years of Essex Street Market.
Meet Essex Farm, a grocery store inside the market that offers a wide array of high-quality fresh produce including fruit, herbs, and…hot sauce!
Owners: Sang Chul Um and James Lee
Business name: Essex Farm
Market start: 1993
Products sold: Grocery items including fruits and vegetables, packaged groceries, a frozen section, and more
Why did you start Essex Farm in Essex Street Market?
I used to be a city employee in Korea. When I heard that the City of New York owned Essex Street Market, I thought it would be a good landlord. I trusted that I would be treated fairly and that if I worked diligently I would do well in the market. And I was right.
At the time, when NYCEDC had just taken over, the market was not a nice place. It wasn’t clean and the undercover police were in the market because of crime.
But because the area wasn’t very developed, I thought it would be a good place to grow. And it really has been. The neighborhood has gotten better and the market has gotten better. Sales started low, but then they doubled every year and continue to increase.
I started with a very small space, only 400 square feet. But over the years I’ve expanded so now I have more than four times than what I started with.
What is your favorite memory at the market?
At the beginning, since many of the customers were Hispanic, I brought in yucca, yams, and plantains in large quantities and sold them for a very good price. My customers appreciated it so much that they cooked what they bought from me and brought it back as a gift! I still see some of those customers in the market; they always wave and say hello.
What is Essex Farm’s specialty?
We have a lot of hot sauces, with all different flavors and from all different places. We have almost any hot sauce you could ever want.
We also have lots of gluten-free products and other special products. And if we don’t have something you want, tell us.
Do you source any products from within your market?
I buy my own food here in the market. And just today I had soup from Peasant Stock, it was delicious.
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