Steve Napoli opened Snap Top, a market specializing in carefully selected fresh produce and delectable, mostly local desserts and gourmet products, with two thoughts in mind: to offer busy Bostonians a place to shop daily for fresh meal fixings, and to strike out on his own, making a path for himself distinct from his family’s successful Idylwilde Farm in Acton. About the store’s curious name, Napoli explained, "In the business we have slang; we call carrots ’snap tops.’ It’s a play on my name and in the fresh produce world it means carrot." Located at 303 Columbus Avenue, next to the Urban Grape wine shop on the cusp of the Back Bay and South End, the store has gained an appreciative following since its September opening. A one-man show, Snap Top is owned and wholly operated by Napoli, who shops for the inventory, staffs the store by himself, and does all of his own carpentry, stocking and set-up.
Napoli, who personally selects produce for the market six days a week, puts the emphasis on taste rather than organic versus conventionally grown, or local versus out of state produce. "I look at organic items, but I buy what tastes good," Napoli said in an interview at the store. He continued, "There are two types of organic: Big Agriculture organic and small organic. I’m more likely to put out a conventional local apple than an organic apple from Washington State. If it were a Vermont organic grower doing it small scale, I might go with that. In the end, it’s about flavor. I’m about what eats good."
In the spirit of independence, Napoli is not shopping Idylwilde for his inventory, although he is considering carrying some of their product in the future. "I’m trying to make my own way. There will be a little bit of stuff, some heirloom tomatoes, some sweet corn next summer," Napoli said.
The small store is visually inviting, with big, beautiful fruit and vegetables that are as attractive to look at as to eat. Tables and shelves around the store are piled high with produce and baked goods that look ready for a photo shoot: huge, rosy red grapefruits; enticingly plump red and green grapes; big, shiny Pink Lady apples; deep, generous pies in sumptuous varieties such as chocolate crème and chocolate pecan as well as double crust fruit pies. Napoli aims to make meal preparation easier for his customers by providing hand-cut vegetables and crouton cubes, meal and dessert mixes such as T’art pie mix, and tasty appetizer options such as hummus with vegetables and herbs, spreadable flavored cheeses, and charcuterie. Many of the products come from local vendors such as Leo’s Bakery in South Boston and Brookline-based Amour Creations, maker of T’art. The inventory is rounded out with pantry staples including oils and vinegar, dried beans and grains and bottled sauces. Some of his produce and other products come from vendors he knows, while other entrepreneurs have approached him to carry their products, including Amour Creations.
At 26, Napoli seems young to be the owner of a business in a competitive, high-rent area such as the Back Bay and South End, but in fact, he has an extensive and wide-ranging background in the food industry. In addition to his invaluable preparation through working with his family at Idylwilde Farm, Napoli armed himself with a well-rounded education and helpful post-college experience. After graduating from the University of Connecticut with a degree in Agricultural Business, Entrepreneurship and Food Marketing, Napoli spent some time working at a winery in the Napa Valley and labored with a barn-building foreman in Montana. "It was beautiful," Napoli recalls of his Montana stay. "I lived on venison and potatoes. It was great." The idea for a shop of his own had been germinating in Napoli’s head for some time before he found his location. "I looked at different parts of town. I got a little discouraged because I couldn’t find something small. I went in waves, gave up for a while and revisited it. This is perfect for what I want," Napoli said with a smile. Napoli describes his new neighborhood as "Awesome. Great people, and they like local business. I had a buddy at 302 Columbus Avenue, and he told me the walk to buy food is not ideal. I did my homework. I wanted a place where people would appreciate [a fresh-food market]," Napoli added.
Describing his niche in the neighborhood food landscape, Napoli said, "I am supplementary to farmers markets. My packages are conducive to single servings. I am encouraging everyone to take what they need for the night. Everything you see here is me; I take pride in what I do, and I can take pride because I look at everything I buy instead of just picking up the phone and calling a wholesaler. The reason I don’t think people are always happy with their produce is because it wasn’t looked at."
Reflecting on his first few weeks in operation, Napoli said, "Business is great. People are popping in just for what they need. My goal is being accomplished. I think people are learning about my concept: just a few things at a time."
Snap Top Market, 303 Columbus Avenue between Clarendon and Dartmouth Streets, is open Monday-Saturday 10:00 AM-8:00 PM, and Sunday 11:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m. Phone number (857)250-2825