The ownership group of Island Food Products closed on a deal to purchase historic Tony’s Market in Oak Bluffs Wednesday, according to land records and individuals familiar with the sale, marking a first foray into the retail market for the Island food distribution company.
The Tony’s Market building, parking lot and land, situated at 119 Dukes County avenue on a quarter-acre parcel, was bought from longtime owners Dave and Ellen Richardson for $1.375 million, land records show.
Island Food Products partner Adam Bresnick said that the Tony’s Market business is also part of the sale, but did not disclose a sale price. The market, a do-everything neighborhood deli and workingman’s general store, as well as one of IFP’s longtime distribution clients, will remain open and fully operational, with no changes in management, Mr. Bresnick said.
“It’s exciting,” Mr. Bresnick said in an interview Wednesday, noting that IFP leases property to a handful of restaurants on the Island but has never owned a food service outright. “We’ve owned property, but it’s the first time we’ve owned what’s inside the building…It’s our first foray beyond the immediate business for the past 30 years.”
For many on the Island, that immediate business may be something of a mystery.
“Like I said, we’re the biggest little business nobody knows about,” Mr. Bresnick said. “But I think that pretty much everyone who comes over and lives here, probably has something that has been on our truck.”
A broadline food distributor based just off the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven road in Tisbury, IFP dates back to 1987, when founder John Roberts purchased an ice cream distribution company and quickly expanded it beyond frozen desserts, developing relationships with vendors in Boston and bringing products to Martha’s Vineyard that weren’t previously available.
At the time, national food distributors like Sysco and Alliant were the only trucks making the ferry trip, selling a limited assortment of products out of a warehouse. Island Food Products saw an opportunity, buying directly from vendors, like Baldor Specialty Foods, Polar Beverages, Boston Salads and the Paul W. Marks Co., expanding offerings and focusing exclusively on Island businesses.
Today, their clients include Island grocery stores, as well as a handful of restaurants and other retailers — like Tony’s — stocking shelves with everything from tuna to tea to plastics to paper products. The company has approximately 13 full-time, year-round employees. In the offseason, they generally make two trips per week off-Island, with that number doubling to four in the summer. They also keep a stock of food products in their warehouse on-Island, for shorter turnarounds.
“I sort of refer to us as a super broadliner,” Mr. Bresnick said. “When you order today, for tomorrow, we go and pick up every one of those orders, take it back to our warehouse, and then deliver tomorrow.”
The senior Mr. Roberts was bought out of the business in the late nineties, and current partners include his son, John Roberts 3rd, Mr. Bresnick, Mr. Bresnick’s father and the Marks family in Boston. They also have an ownership stake in the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks summer collegiate baseball team. The business remains familial, despite a diverse range of backgrounds that include almost everything other than broadline food distribution.
“I’m an English major,” Mr. Bresnick said with a laugh.
Mr. Bresnick credited relationships, service and value — not necessarily being the cheapest, but providing quality — with the business’s success.
“That’s why we frustrate these much larger, billion dollar national or multinational competitors,” Mr. Bresnick said. “They can’t figure out how we do it.”
Relationships and value were what drew IFP to a different Vineyard family business. A client of IFP’s for almost 30 years, Tony’s Market has been owned by Mr. and Ms. Richardson since 1992, when they bought the one-room business from former owners Bill and Gerry Correllus and expanded it into a 3,000 square foot grocery — packed with the inventory of a 30,000 square foot grocery.
After decades of stocking those shelves, IFP was immediately interested when they heard the retail business was on the market. Everything worked out after that.
“Tony’s has been for many years one of our top customers, our relationship has been great,” Mr. Bresnick said. “That’s what made it such an easy decision to try to acquire it.”
Mr. Richardson is now 80 and plans to retire full time to Bristol, R.I. He said Tony’s was love at first sight, from the moment he drove by while riding around in Oak Bluffs businessman Anthony (Tubby) Rebello’s car.
“I told Tubby I wanted to open a small hamburger and sandwich joint. Nothing was working out, and he said, ‘you cock-a-roach, get in the car, I’ll show you something.’ And we ended up right outside Tony’s. And I bought it the next afternoon.”
Mr. Richardson ran the business for the next 30 years, forming relationships with staff that have worked behind the counter or managed the store for decades. He described the store as the kind of place where people go in for 10 minutes and leave their car running outside.
“It is kind of a neighborhood spot. And it’s been the longest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Mr. Richardson said. “It’s just something, that on a small scale, seems to work in New England.”
Howard Miller, the same lawyer and former state representative who originally helped transfer the Correllus liquor license to Mr. Richardson, represented IFP in the transaction yesterday, Mr. Richardson said, noting the relationships and memories between the businesses. He was thrilled that IFP was taking over.
“I’m tickled that we were able to sell to people that we knew, and people that were on the Island,” Mr. Richardson said. “There will be good things that IFP can do because of their wholesale status. And they are just good people themselves.”
Mr. Bresnick said IFP doesn’t plan any big changes for Tony’s, despite the fact that the Island’s biggest little business now owns its biggest little grocery store.
“Our goal, since day one, is that the day after we close the sale, everyone comes in, turns on the lights, and goes to work,” Mr. Bresnick said.