If you’re wondering what kind of grocery store develops a cult following, residents of Bushwick and Bedford–Stuyvesant would be the best people to ask. Culture Trip takes a peek into the beloved and mysterious Mr. Kiwi’s 24-hour grocery store at the intersection of Myrtle Broadway in Brooklyn.
Myrtle Broadway marks the border between Bushwick and Bed-Stuy, two of Brooklyn’s most culturally diverse neighborhoods on either side of the above-ground JMZ subway route that connects Manhattan and Brooklyn. The area is known for being the birthplace of The Notorious B.I.G. (on the Bed-Stuy side) and Jay-Z. While the latter’s stage name is derived from the childhood nickname “Jazzy,” an urban myth claims that the moniker was gleaned from the JZ trains which are so central to local residents.
Mr. Kiwi’s is a 24/7, family-owned business
With eight sibling stores across Brooklyn, Mr. Kiwi and its sibling stores are known affectionately to Brooklynites as the “Mr. Fruit” markets. Many don’t know that there is an umbrella name for the whole business—“KiCoPi”—derived from the names of the first three stores: Mr. Kiwi’s, Mr. Coco, and Mr. Piña. Mr. Kiwi’s customers love that the KiCoPi markets sell their produce, which often includes organic and hard-to-find items, at significantly cheaper prices than other grocery stores. Frankly put, in New York, there are few places you can find a box of organic blueberries for $2, and other grocery stores don’t sell fragrant pineapples for $1 each.
While this combination of factors is the perfect recipe for customer loyalty, many wonder how the store manages to offer goods for lower prices than its competitors. Here’s the secret: Operations at Mr. Kiwi’s begin every day with a 4 a.m. visit to Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market in the South Bronx. KiCoPi benefits from the close relationships they have built with sellers at the market over multiple decades.
Mr. Fruit markets also have a different approach to buying.
While most competing grocery stores purchase goods remotely, calculating necessary orders in longer cycles and making projections based on demand in previous years, KiCoPi market buyer John Yoo’s daily visits to Hunts Point means he buys the freshest and most abundant foodstuffs of the day.
At the heart of Mr. Fruit markets is the Yoon family, whose tagline “Good morning Brooklyn” emphasises their commitment to the local community, as does their insistence on treating all customers as if they were members of their own family. It’s a bit of a known secret that when you order a $4 large juice at KiCoPi, they’ll always try and find a way to make sure you get more than what you paid for. Their juicers make approximately 20% more than will fit in the glass, for example, so they’ll ask you to “try some” or encourage you to take a few giant sips before filling the glass with the rest of what they’ve made. It seems clear that this generous spirit is one of the reasons that customers keep coming back.
A Seller at Hunt’s Point Terminal Produce Market in The Bronx.
Despite the cost of produce increasing, the Yoons refuse to raise their prices, as it’s what their customers have come to know them for.
The business’ project manager, Ben Demytrk, has long-lasting ties at Hunts Point, which have also helped solidify the Yoons as a staple customer there. He first visited the market when he was a teenager and soon after began to work there; his father still owns a stall specializing in fresh greens and herbs. According to Demytrk, 20 years ago, the market was “the wild, wild west.” However, things have cleaned up since then.
KiCoPi’s next venture will be located off the Jefferson L train stop, where they’ll prepare fresh salads and sandwiches made and delivered daily to all other KiCoPi locations throughout Brooklyn. For a preview of what’s to come, check out their premier salad bar, run by Demytrk and John Lim in Mr. Mango, located at the border of Fort Greene and Downtown Brooklyn on Lafayette Avenue.