Perhaps it was inevitable that a man named Strawberry would become involved with the supermarket industry.
Last week, Darryl Strawberry, the iconic slugger in the 1980s and 1990s for New York’s two baseball teams, the Mets and the Yankees (he also played for New York’s two ex-baseball teams, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants), was the star attraction at the official opening of a new Western Beef store in New York’s South Bronx, just north of Yankee Stadium.
The new Western Beef is the first supermarket to open under the Food Retail Expansion to Support Health (FRESH) program, an initiative of Mayor Michael Bloomberg to promote the establishment and retention of neighborhood grocery stores in underserved communities – known as food deserts – by providing zoning and financial incentives.
Currently a part-time Mets analyst for SportsNet New York and the author of a memoir, "Straw: Finding My Way," Strawberry, accompanied by his wife, Tracy, found himself mobbed by autograph- and photo-seekers before joining Western Beef executives and New York state and city officials in a brief grand opening ceremony.
Western Beef originally reached out to Strawberry because of their mutual interest in autism. “One of our vice presidents has an autistic child,” said Cris Italia, director of marketing for Western Beef, a Ridgewood, N.Y.-based chain that operates 26 stores in New York and two in Florida. “We met Darryl and knew of the work he is doing with autism and we wanted to partner up with him.”
Following his initial appearance at the grand opening (for which he received an undisclosed fee), Strawberry will co-host a benefit gala on Nov. 18 with Western Beef, all proceeds going to the Darryl Strawberry Foundation to fight autism.
Autism also has a nutritional component – autistic children may benefit from eating a gluten-free and casein-free diet and certainly benefit from a fruit-rich diet. Western Beef’s new Bronx store is replete with fresh and affordable produce, which can often be lacking in food desert communities. At the store opening, Strawberry, who has had well-documented struggles with addiction and cancer, drew the connection to healthy eating. "This is great what Western Beef is doing, promoting fresh for young people," he said. “Understand this,” he added, referring to the many young people at the grand opening, “this is for you guys, the next generation. I know some of us older now wish we would have been healthy eaters."
Strawberry also praised Western Beef for making fresh food available in the South Bronx at affordable prices. “When you look at the times, the recession, people need to be able to afford to eat healthy. This store is a great opportunity for people that don’t have the income to be able to come to the grocery store and afford the food.”
Strawberry’s other foray into the food business is Strawberry’s Sports Grill, a burgers-and-wings restaurant he opened a year ago in Douglaston, N.Y. Asked about the health quotient of the food at his restaurant, he observed, “It’s good food, but if you eat too much of it, you’ll be unhealthy. You’ve got to be careful with that.”