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On the Job

Corner grocery has a personal touch

Snap Top owner Steve Napoli arranged tomatoes for display inside his South End market. Napoli was raised on his family’s farm in Acton and has put his father’s advice to good use.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Snap Top owner Steve Napoli arranged tomatoes for display inside his South End market. Napoli was raised on his family’s farm in Acton and has put his father’s advice to good use.

Green grocer Steve Napoli believes he has created an urban produce mecca.

His new venture in the South End, Snap Top, is a throwback to the neighborhood corner grocery store, where the best, locally grown fruits and vegetables are displayed. Napoli, 28, who grew up working on his family’s farm in Acton, hand-selects all the seasonal produce he sells, whether blue hubbard squash or white peaches.

Along with sourcing from local farms, you go on predawn runs to the New England Produce Center in Chelsea, one of the largest wholesale markets in the country. How do you navigate this huge distribution center?

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There is a pulse there that is incomparable. The best adjective to describe it is “fast.” You need to know what to buy and where to look. Ten guys might be selling strawberries, but only one or two are peddling the best strawberries. Your eyes are your best asset.

Your dad taught you the ins and outs of picking produce while you grew up at Idylwilde Farm in Acton. What advice did he give you?

There are a lot of visual and smelling cues. Blueberries, for example, should be hard with a nice, powdery frost on them — in the industry we call it a “bloom.” You want flavor, so I’ll pop one in my mouth. If it’s soft and mushy with no sugar, it’s very underwhelming for consumers.

When it comes to produce, customers go mostly on appearance, but then take it home and it’s completely tasteless. How do you advise your customers to choose?

I always tell my customers that some of the ugliest fruits are the sweetest. Pears are a great example of appearance not translating to taste. You don’t want to buy a perfect looking pear. If you do, it needs to sit for a few days to become sweet. Citrus is similar. Some oranges with ugly knobs, like Florida Honeybells, are extremely juicy and tasty.

What are the health and safety regulations that you need to follow when handling raw agricultural commodities?

We wash everything that comes in the door and have the infrastructure in place from a Board of Health perspective, which includes proper sanitation facilities.

Is organic overrated?

Organic doesn’t always have the better flavor.

What’s in your refrigerator?

Berries, some leftover salmon, and green tea. I make my own cold-brewed coffee and do a lot of juicing with vegetable waste, whether it’s sweet potatoes, cucumbers, or beet greens. I grill up a ton of vegetables like eggplant. I like Caprese salad in the summer. And, of course, a lot of Pellegrino.

Cindy Atoji Keene can be reached at cindy@cindyatoji.com.
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