- Catena's Food Market is synonymous with Southampton. This small exclusive butcher shop and specialty food market has survived it all for three generations and still does business on a first name basis and handshake with loyal customers.
The market has kept its doors open through the Great Depression, World War II, the advent of super grocers such as Waldbaum's and King Kullen
, which continue to threatened the prosperity of many Mom and Pop operations, and even survived a fire that burned the store to the ground twenty five years ago yesterday.
A village favorite, Catena's secret to their longevity is changing with the times.
"It was just before Thanksgiving on this very day, November 20, 1982" recalled third generation owner Victor Finalborgo as he presided over this year's Thanksgiving preparations.
"I just delivered 125 turkeys this morning," Finalborgo said, as a steady stream of customers came into the store to order turkeys, or pick them up along with orders of Catena's famous sweet potato casserole with apples and cranberries, stuffing, homemade cranberry sauce, scalloped potatoes, green beans almondine, creamed spinach, turkey gravy and pies for desert.
Catena's market originally opened its doors in Hampton Bays then moved to their current location at 143 Main Street in Southampton Village
in the mid-1920s.
The family lived above the store and worked in a combination butcher shop and fish market run by Finalborgo's grandfather, Vincent Catena. His mother Eleanor, the family matriarch, still lives above the store and still works in the business along with her children, Victor, Vincent and Mary. Her son David is the family electrician. "He doesn't work here" Finalborgo said, "But he will do our electrical work."
Finalborgo lives a few blocks from the store and walks or bicycles to work. "I didn't go far," Finalborgo said.
The market has been open on this corner since the mid-1920s.
His mother Eleanor was working in the office until recently. "Then," laughed Finalborgo, "We got a computer a few months ago and my mother decided she wanted to work in the produce department instead of handling the billing. She said "I'm 85 years old. I'm too old to learn."
Until just a few months ago, all the invoices at Catena's were handwritten by Eleanor and one of her daughters.
During WWII, Eleanor and her sisters Marie and Rose worked in the store and kept the home fires burning. They filleted fish and served customers in the store.
"I found an old menu from the 1930s," Finalborgo said, "we used to serve a lobster dinner for $1.50, a spaghetti dinner for fifty cents and a fish dinner for fifty cents. We are going to make this into a tee-shirt," Finalborgo said as he displayed the impression of the menu that will be used on the tee-shirts. While the prices may be out of date, the slogan at the bottom of the old menu which reads "When you come from the beach, shop at Catena's" remains timeless.
"If you want to know why we have lasted so long," Victor said as he sat in the store surrounded by his daughter who was visiting for Thanksgiving, his mother and his aunt, as well as the rest of the family and employees who were all working calmly to keep up with the big holiday rush, "It's because we keep changing with the times."
Fresh veggies and fond memories.
"Years ago when my grandfather opened up there were ten butcher shops just like us in Town on Main Street," Finalborgo said. "They are gone but we are still here. We kept changing over the years. We started out as a butcher shop and fish market. Then we began to do a buffet lunch counter that provided a lunch time alternative to the delis around Town. We also cater and are doing a lot of cooking to order now," Finalborgo said.
"We have a lot of customers who want service and are willing to pay for it. In the summer we have 40 private chefs coming in on a daily basis. They are very well organized. They call and place an order then they come in and pick it up to make sure its right," Finalborgo said.
The store has legions of devoted patrons who like to shop in small specialty stores. "There are still people out there who like to go to the butcher for meat, the bakery for bread and the farm stand for vegetables," Finalborgo said. "Supermarket one-stop shoppers are not necessarily our customers."
Freshly roasted turkey Catena's style.
Catena's customers can walk in a few days before a big holiday weekend and order cooked shrimp and a pork roast without doing any paperwork at all because the butcher knows who they are. "We just add it to their tab and bill them at the end of the month," Finalborgo said. "We also have a lot of local people who come in to get their chop meat and cold cuts because our prices are competitive and our quality can't be beat."
It is clear the family business survived because of love, loyalty, hard work and top flight customer service for everyone for three generations. It's the perfect place to go to get an order of baked ziti to go or have a ham or a turkey cooked to order for a party.
No one knows how the fire started twenty-five years ago, but the blaze originated from one of the stoves in the fish market section of the store.
"The firemen figured it out," Finalborgo recalled. "They couldn't tell us how it happened but they were pretty sure that's where it started. We lost everything except some turkeys and we gave them to the firemen who came out to fight the blaze." The turkeys were not cooked, nor where they damaged by the fire.
This year, as every year for generations, the Finalborgos will close their doors on Thanksgiving Day, but they will be working Thursday morning.
"We come in and cook our extra turkeys and give them to needy people around Town," Finalborgo said. "At first we used to give away uncooked turkeys," he said, "But then we realized a person who couldn't afford a turkey didn't have the means to cook it either, so a lot of the uncooked turkeys were going to waste because these people were too embarrassed to tell us they didn't have a stove or their stove was turned off because they couldn't pay their gas bill."
This year, the tradition of giving back will continue, then the family will sit down to their own Thanksgiving Day Feast. "We are thankful for everything," Finalborgo said.