Meet Charlie: Citarella’s Head Buyer and Original Butcher

More Than 4 Decades of Experience

 

 

charlieThe sun has yet to peek over the horizon and light the cobblestone streets of New York City’s historic Meatpacking District, but the blocks surrounding the lush High Line park (prominently situated atop an old rail line) echo with the hum of truck engines and spirited conversations. It is during these early morning hours that a man in a black, quilted jacket (the Citarella logo proudly embroidered on the front in bright orange) makes his rounds at the meat market — the same one he’s been frequenting for years.

Fast-forward a few hours and you’ll find this man seated at a desk (one that is piled high with printouts and product samples) busily tapping away at his computer’s keyboard. The red light on his phone flashes, signaling an incoming call; Citarella’s owner, Joe Gurrera is calling. “Charlie!” Joe says before launching a series of questions about the marbling of the beef in the dry-aging room.

Listen to the conversation for a moment and something becomes abundantly clear: Charlie is the person to talk to when you have a question about meat. Understandably so — his story begins more than 40 years ago, when he took his fist job in the food industry: working weekends and summers at a butcher shop owned by one of his family members. The days before packaged poultry, Charlie’s job at that time was to transfer pieces of chicken from ice-filled, wooden crates to the shop’s display case. Little by little he was given more responsibility. Charlie was shown how to use a knife to cut chicken, trim beef, and break down sides of beef. And, in time, he began helping customers at the counter.

After high school Charlie took a job at a meat market in Hell’s Kitchen. He met his mentor: a colleague named Luigi (whom he fondly called, Louie). “The customer was everything back then” Charlie recalls, citing the proliferation of foot traffic in the area. “Lots of people walked along 9th Avenue. I learned how to serve customers with grace, handle meat with care, and execute finer cuts that required more skill.” Most importantly, Charlie learned how to judge the quality of meat, the standards that he still uses to this day.

Eventually, Charlie’s aspirations led him to the original Balducci’s Market location, where he progressed to Assistant Store Manager, his work ethic and skill attracting the attention of one of Joe’s friends. This friend approached Charlie one day, asking him if he would be interested in a position at Citarella. Unfamiliar with the store, Charlie politely declined (recommending someone else for the position) — until he visited two years later.

“When I saw the layout of the store and the amount of passion that Joe put into everything he did, I could tell that he was all about quality”. That observation led Charlie to join the team at Joe’s newly opened Citarella Meats during the fall of 1992. (At that time, Citarella Meats was a separate storefront, located next door to Citarella Fish. It wasn’t until the fall of 1994 that the wall between the two stores came down, combining them into one.)

Understanding Joe’s vision from the very beginning, Charlie worked hard to apply his knowledge of meat and gourmet grocery and support Citarella’s growth. Little by little, the gourmet market evolved as he and Joe worked together. They tasted new items, adding their personal favorites to the store’s offerings (the first of which was a high-end olive oil) and hand-selecting the store’s special, private-label items. In Charlie’s words, everything they touched “turned to gold” — the result, no doubt, of their dedication in carefully choosing only the finest.

As Citarella has grown through the years, so has Charlie’s role; he’s now the head buyer. In addition to frequenting the meat market (watching the quartered steer come off the trailers so that he can inspect each piece and hand-select the very best) he visits local farms, developing relationships with our trusted farmers to bring organic, free-range chickens and turkeys to our markets. And, he works daily to bring new and interesting, best-quality products to Citarella’s shelves.

Charlie’s expertise inspires all that he does: leading and mentoring a team of discerning buyers, curating exceptional products, and masterfully selecting Citarella’s meat from only the top 3% of the wholesale market’s prime offerings. You’ll even find traces of this skill in his personal life; his three sons (all of whom have worked at Citarella at one point during their young adult lives) have been known to text Charlie pictures of what they are eating or drinking — just to make sure it is quality-approved!Charlie and 3 sons