For years, customers at Eastern Meat Farms would ask the owners to ship their delicious sweet sausages, hard-to-get Crotonese cheese, and semolina bread to relatives across the country. But the owners of the Franklin Square (N.Y.) Italian market didn't think there was enough volume to justify the effort.

Then along came the Internet, and was born. Last January, owners Richard Lodico and Vinny Barbieri put up a Web site from which they offered to ship fresh pastas, cheeses, meats, and breads anywhere. ``The parking is easy, there are no checkout lines, we are open 24 hours a day, and we deliver right to your door,'' reads their pitch at's site.

TOKYO PACKAGE. You couldn't call it an overnight sensation. The first order didn't arrive until February, and it was from Japan. The $69 in shipping costs nearly rivaled the $87 order for pasta. ``We almost died,'' says Lodico. But the customer let them know it was no problem. He was saving about $150 not buying the Italian delicacies locally.

But Lodico and Barbieri stuck with it. Today they do $8,000 a month online--a fraction of the $6 million volume at the supermarket but a part of the business that's growing and profitable. Monthly Web costs are $1,800, mostly in fees to an Internet service provider. ``It's a real moneymaker,'' says Lodico. ``It's really catching on.''

They credit much of their Web success to using the same principle they do in their brick-and-mortar business: First-class customer service. When shoppers place orders, the store immediately E-mails back confirmations. If an item is out of stock, someone telephones the customers to let them know. Each box is carefully packed with styrofoam and ice packs, and sometimes the owners even slip in gifts of balsamic vinegar and Italian cookies with personalized notes. Says Lodico: ``We talk to people all over the world now. We get thank-you cards. I like it. It's the future.'' Buon appetito.

By Kathy Rebello


Updated June 14, 1997 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1996, Bloomberg L.P.
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