You’ve seen the big green trucks on the highway: Katsiroubas Bros. supplies produce, dairy, and more for many of your favorite Boston-area restaurants.
Needham’s Torry Katsiroubas Stamm, 41, is a fourth-generation co-owner. She’s also co-founder of online grocery store Morrissey Market; her great-grandfather was longtime city engineer William T. Morrissey, on whose namesake boulevard you might pass one of those trucks. The online retailer launched during the pandemic to connect families with fresh produce and other local goods — from Curio spices to Hi-Rise breads — from the comfort of home, while also providing nursing homes, hospitals, and other essential organizations with food. Each month, they partner with a different charity. In December, they’ll donate $1 of every order and $15 per produce box to hunger-prevention powerhouse Project Bread.
Talk to me about your family’s business. I know that when I’m biting into a tasty restaurant salad, it’s probably thanks to you guys.
When I say that I’m the owner of Katsiroubas, people are like: “Never heard of it!” And then I’ll say, “It’s that really long name on the green trucks with the cornucopia.” And people have seen that!
My brother Ted and I are the fourth-generation owners of the family business. It started with my great-grandfather coming over from Greece. He started a local corner store in Dorchester on Blue Hill Ave. called Jim’s Foodland, and my dad was born in the apartment above that.
After World War II, my grandfather came back and needed a job and didn’t want to be in the family corner store business. He wanted to innovate. My grandmother bought him the first truck, and he started to deliver food to restaurants out of the corner store. That was our earliest iteration.
My dad then went to Babson College and innovated the business. He got a warehouse space in Newmarket Square, which we were in for 40 years. The business grew out of my house and my grandmother’s house and then the warehouse. As a kid, I would spend weekends with my grandmother. As early as five, I remember on Friday nights, my grandfather would throw a cash bag at me on the bed, and I would have to organize all the cash from the day. I thought it was the coolest thing, because I was part of the business.
My mom would take orders from the chefs. They would call our landline: I remember Gordon Hamersley or Jasper White were the people back in the day who would call and leave orders on the voicemail for my mom. At one point, she would be handwriting them. When we got a computer, she would process them. She would do that until about two in the morning, and then my dad would take the orders into the warehouse and set them up on trucks and deliver them to the restaurants. I was very much aware of a business flow. Saturday mornings were rock, paper, scissors, shoot with my brother to see who got to go into the warehouse to watch all the action.
What happened next?
My dad ended up getting ALS and passing away very [quickly], so my brother and I took over the business about 15 years ago. We’re all through New England, and we were on a really great growth path until March 15, 2020.
And then what?
I feel like everyone remembers where they were on March 15, 2020. We had 80,000 square feet of refrigerated space in Hyde Park full of perishable products. I had trucks coming from the West Coast with lettuce, and the intention was to sell them to restaurants. I had a whole warehouse full of plants that were going to be dying. And so we went into this mode of being told we were essential workers. So we delivered food not only to restaurants, but to hospitals, assisted livings, and nursing homes. Our business was impacted at about 80 percent. We went into this mode: We need to help people, and we need to keep our employees as employed as possible. But we also have food, and right now it seems like it’s really hard for people to get food.
We immediately started partnering with Fresh Truck, which was a customer of ours before the pandemic. They’re a mobile market that visits food deserts with produce. They weren’t allowed to operate. … So we basically turned into a manufacturer of produce boxes. We partnered within probably the first four days of the shutdown to start getting food out to people. We were distributing produce boxes to people who needed food.
While we were making these boxes, I’d have all my mom friends — I’m a mom of three young kids — I would say to my friends on social media, “Does anyone want these produce boxes?” I could fit 15 in my car, and I would deliver them after work. It got to the point I couldn’t fit them. A good friend owns Hearth Pizzeria in Needham. He said I could just distribute them from the back of the restaurant. I had 100 cars the first week, and within three weeks, I had 800 cars that would meet me at my kids’ elementary school with produce boxes.
Everyone would say to us, “Why does your produce taste different than at the grocery store? Why is it so much fresher?” It started me thinking that people are used to how food moves throughout a grocery store chain, but not how it moves to a restaurant, which is what I’m used to. The quality control is very different, and that’s how Morrissey Market started.
What’s Morrissey Market?
My mom’s grandfather was William T. Morrissey, and Morrissey Boulevard was named after him. That’s a very general artery through Boston. My brother loves being creative with names. My mom is Debbie Morrissey. And so he said, “Let’s have Morrissey Market to honor our mom.” It’s a grocery delivery. We’re farm-fresh, family-first grocery delivery. We’re using Katsiroubas infrastructure: The food goes to a restaurant, we’re doing that for families’ homes. We’re really focused on local vendors. Thatcher Farm is where we get our milk. We use Hi-Rise bread. We’re trying to give families what they don’t have, which is time, convenience, quality, and dependability. We’re not a subscription program; you can pick what you want.
Perhaps this is an obvious question, but: Where do you get your produce?
Wards Berry Farm is a great partner of ours, and we will source locally as much as possible. But in terms of restaurants, we get produce direct from the West Coast or from Arizona, or throughout the country. We always prefer it to be domestic. We also use the New England Produce Center.
What fruits and veggies do people really love? What’s the best-seller?
Well, my dad used to joke that he only would buy one case of kale a week because people use it as a garnish. And then, by the time he couldn’t work anymore, he would have pallets. You could load a truck of kale. That would be a joke with us: “It used to be iceberg lettuce!”
Where do you eat when you’re not working?
I have three [favorite restaurants]: Sweet Basil, Hearth Pizzeria, and The James. At Hearth, we get buffalo wings, pizza, and salad usually on Friday. And that’s the kid favorite. I love Sweet Basil for their calamari and pesto. At The James, we love their mussels, their cheeseburger, and their Irish soda bread.
Are you a fruit and veggie eater? Do you eat your own product?
My dad really tried to show us when to eat produce. I only had pomegranates in November. November is when you would eat pomegranates because they were in season. Now, when I see pomegranates nine months out of the year at grocery stores, I’m always like: “That’s not when to eat pomegranates!” And my kids now know, you never eat a peach in January because it’s from Chile, and it just traveled here for two weeks, and it was picked too soon. My dad would try to teach us about seasonality of produce, so I try to eat that way.
Is there any fruit or vegetable that you cannot stand? Be honest.
Yes, there are limits. I don’t like any green beans unless they’re from Jim Ward at Wards Berry Farm. They have nailed growing green beans. Otherwise, I don’t like them.
Veggies aside: Do you have a food vice?
I could eat a whole Detroit-style Rehoboth [Baking Co.] pizza by myself. I just wouldn’t feel very good. Or Tiffany’s turtle brownies.