NEW YORK'S CITARELLA TO LAUNCH "TO-GO" CONCEPT

NEW YORK -- Citarella, the urbane purveyor of fresh seafood and upscale fresh foods with two retail stores in Manhattan, is opening a combination restaurant/to-go concept in busy Rockefeller Center this spring, the latest quasi-retail operator to join in the prepared-meals feeding frenzy.According to Joe Gurrera, owner of the company, the 1,500-square-foot Citarella To Go will focus more on building

NEW YORK -- Citarella, the urbane purveyor of fresh seafood and upscale fresh foods with two retail stores in Manhattan, is opening a combination restaurant/to-go concept in busy Rockefeller Center this spring, the latest quasi-retail operator to join in the prepared-meals feeding frenzy.

According to Joe Gurrera, owner of the company, the 1,500-square-foot Citarella To Go will focus more on building lunch daypart business, with a combination of self-service, counter and stand-up dining. A varied menu being finalized includes soups, salads and pastas; as well as panini and wrap sandwiches. And, the retailer's signature rotisserie chicken and fish -- a popular mainstay at the current full-service stores -- will also be on the menu here. Gurrera also plans to install a coffee bar and serve fresh juices, as he already does in his other two existing stores.

"We'll also be able to mix and match with the [adjacent] restaurant," he said. "One's going to feed off the other, and as the production catches up, there'll be a lot of trade-off between stores and concepts."

All the prepared foods sold in Citarella's existing stores are made in the retailer's central kitchen, located on 18th Street in Manhattan. Concurrent with the opening of the new venue, however, Gurrera said that the company is opening a new 100,000-square-foot commissary on 126th Street to accommodate the additional production requirements. It is more than twice the size of the older site. Managed by a chef and pastry chef, the facility is used to prepare all foods and baked goods from scratch, a system that will not change with the addition of new outlets. The restaurant will operate under a separate culinary staff, though some menu items may be pre-prepped at the commissary.

Citarella, with retail stores on Manhattan's Upper East and Upper West sides, was purchased by Gurrera in 1982, and has always been known locally for fresh seafood items, which can number more than 80 on some days, as well as operating a wholesale business in the Fulton Street Fish Market here.

After Gurrera acquired the company, he added a line of beef and poultry, including prime-cut beef that is aged by Citarella and sold fresh in its stores. These goods might be available in the restaurant, or included in a prepared dish sold out of the To Go store. Only the fresh fish will remain exclusive to the full-service Citarella stores, he said.

"Citarella has been building towards this point for the past five years," Gurrera noted. And he is not alone: the announcement came as Balducci's, another gourmet retailer owned by Bethesda, Md.-based Sutton Place Gourmet, announced it was opening a second Manhattan store on West 66th Street [see "Newswatch," SN, Jan. 10, 2000].

Another component that Gurrera hopes to expand with the Rockefeller Center project is corporate delivery. He believes that the midtown Manhattan block is home to numerous large corporations and media companies, all ripe for upscale catered events.

"There's people there who want something other than fast food," said Gurrera as he discussed the potential for strong off-site catering sales during business hours. While the food might be prepared at the commissary, it will be ordered from either the store or via Citarella's new Web site.