FRESH TAKE

Written By: Robert Cocuzzo | Photography By: Kit Noble

One of Nantucket’s favorite downtown shops serves up much more than sandwiches.

Charlie Merritt knows a thing or two about baptism under fire. When he bought an ownership stake in Fresh Nantucket back in 2016, the then twenty-six-year-old had to hit the ground running learning how to operate a popular deli in the bustling heart of downtown Nantucket. Now a bit older and wiser, Merritt has used his experience to effectively pivot his business amid this summer’s new normal.

To start, Merritt hustled throughout the spring to launch a new website that made every item in Fresh—from sandwiches to salads, sweets, alcohol, merchandise and so much more—available on-demand for delivery or curbside pickup. Beyond singlehandedly designing the site and uploading hundreds of products, the biggest challenge Merritt faced this summer has been far more philosophical.

“We have always done business with a smile, a positive attitude and an emphasis on hospitality,” Merritt explained. “COVID-19 has made it much more difficult for us to communicate that hospitality, so we’ve had to create new ways to connect with our customers.” In an effort to serve up the same carefree vibe folks have enjoyed when walking into Fresh in the past, Merritt has loaded freshnantucket.com with a daily music playlist as well as a “Fresh Feed” blog that dishes out laughs and updates. While these new digital offerings might be Fresh’s philosophical special sauce, there’s still plenty of meat to the operation.

New this season, Merritt has brought on Chef Michelle Padovano to his team. Trained at the Institute of Culinary Education, Chef Padovano worked at a number of premiere restaurants in Boston and New York before coming to Nantucket to become an executive pastry chef. “She has the most culinary prowess in the shop by a mile,” said Merritt. “Part of her interest in working with Fresh was for us to create a brand around her pastries.” So this summer, Fresh will be serving up #SweetsbyMichelle, a line of finger-licking good pastries like double-fudge brownies and brown-butter cookies with sea salt. Having formerly worked under the likes of Michael Schlow at Radius in Boston as well as at the Mandarin Oriental in both Boston and New York City, Chef Padovano has also unleashed her culinary skills with new offerings like overnight oats, granola and bake-at-home-cookie-dough kits while also whipping up Fresh’s staples like sandwiches, salads and smoothies.

In addition to bringing on Chef Padovano, Merritt has locked in two strategic partnerships that should prove fruitful this summer. On the alcohol front, he teamed up with ACK EATS to make Fresh the exclusive alcohol provider for all of its at-home deliveries. “We have a truly vast wine selection, made up of both high-end wines as well as more casual-drinking bottles,” Merritt said. “We can deliver that quality of wine directly to wherever you are on the island.” Meanwhile on the food front, Merritt has partnered with Sid Wainer & Son, a specialty grocer that enables Fresh to deliver high-quality fruits, veggies and artisanal meats and cheeses. “You can order it up on the ferry and we’ll have a charcuterie board delivered to you the next day for your sunset cocktails.”

Complementing Merritt’s creative entrepreneurial mind is an eye for branding that has made Fresh’s merchandise an industry all its own. With the help of social media superstars like Barstool Sports’ Dave Portnoy wearing their designs on Instagram, Fresh Nantucket’s hats, T-shirts and sweatshirts sell like hotcakes the moment they hit the internet. “People from as far away as San Francisco are buying our merch,” Merritt said. “Sometimes I wonder if they even know we’re a deli.”

And that’s really the magic behind this local business. While on paper Fresh might appear to be just another deli or liquor store, Merritt and his team are committed to serving up the fun-loving flavors of island living. And in a year like this one, this spirit might just be the most important item on their menu.

Place your order by logging on to freshnantucket.com, calling 508-825-2100, or ordering in-person at their location at 5 Salem Street. For updates on menu items and special offerings, follow @freshnantucket on Instagram.

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