Kevin Varrasse Sr. took a risk when he purchased the well-known family market. It paid off.
Like many of us when we were children, Kevin Varrasse II liked to push buttons and hear bells. So, on Sundays, his father took him to Bachetti Bros. to “work” the cash register. In those days, the high-energy 8-year-old spent most of the time running down the aisles of the meat market, which his father managed and later owned.
“I probably did more harm than good, and it was more of entertainment than actual work,” Varrasse says. Things have changed. Today, Varrasse oversees the market and catering company in the Midway Plaza Shopping Center. Some of the employees who watched him race around the store still work there.
Since its founding, Bachetti Bros. has remained a family affair. It has withstood a change in ownership and survived the advance of supermarkets, online ordering and a global pandemic. If you ask Kevin P. Varrasse Sr. the secret behind the company’s success, he might cite his mission to uphold tradition — and his quest for excellence. “If we seek perfection, beauty will follow,” he told The News Journal in 2010.
But Bachetti Bros. also has a knack for giving customers what they want when they need it.
From Philly to Wilmington
Filippo Bachetti started F. Bachetti & Sons at 49th and Lancaster Avenue in West Philadelphia. (Some ads put the founding year as 1934, but Bachetti’s obituary puts it as 1932.) The shop later became Bachetti’s Food Market and moved to Broomall.
Bachetti, known as Phillip, retired in 1978 and died in 1984. Meanwhile, sons Albert, Louis, Alfred and Vincent opened Bachetti Brothers Meat Market in Delaware County, Pa., and the founder’s grandsons eventually entered the business. By 1980, there were four locations, including a site in the Beaver Valley Plaza shopping center on Route 202.
Meanwhile, Kevin Varrasse Sr.’s sister-in-law, Rose Mary, married into the Bachetti family. When Varrasse, an electrical engineer, realized he was getting paid less than the subordinates he’d trained, he took a job in the meat market in 1972. Not surprisingly, there was a learning curve, and he worked his way up. It took him nearly three years before he felt comfortable cutting meat to order, but he mastered the art. By 1979, Varrasse — then the meat manager at the Concord Pike store — could debone a whole chicken breast in 55 seconds, leaving only “enough meat on the ribs to feed a hungry mosquito,” wrote Henry F. Davidson, who covered a butchering demonstration for The News Journal.
Varrasse became the voice of the business. He was interviewed about easy holiday staples (baked ziti and lasagna) and grilling alternatives (turkey). He became a partner and, eventually, the owner. (In 2012, Vincent was the last of the original brothers to pass away.)
Why did Varrasse want to own Bachetti Bros.?
“I liked what I was doing and enjoyed working with people,” he recalls. “I felt I could be successful.”
He opened the Mill Creek store on Kirkwood Highway, which moved to Midway Plaza in 2000. When it became too challenging to oversee multiple sites, all but the Kirkwood Highway location closed. Founded in Philly, Bachetti Bros. became a distinctly Delaware icon.
New Family, New Emphasis
Varrasse and his wife, Joyce, had four children, but it was the youngest, Kevin Varrasse II, who entered the family business. The couple’s only son earned a degree in operations management from the University of Delaware and, in 2006, began working full time at Bachetti Bros. He was unsure if he would stay.
“I wanted to be an entrepreneur and do my own thing,” he recalls. “A friend said, ‘You can still be an entrepreneur but within the business.’”
The younger Varrasse knew how much time his father spent at the store — eight hours a day, seven days a week. In early 2010, Varrasse decided to go for it. Father and son signed a buy-and-sell agreement.
Unlike his pop, Varrasse is not a skilled butcher. “It takes a lot of time to learn the different cuts,” he explains. It’s not like he needs to know how to wield a knife. Gone are the days when butcher’s cutting rooms had cow carcasses on rails and sawdust-covered floors. In those days, a 1976 ad for the Brandywine Hundred store promoted “the finest selected USDA prime and choice beef,” including a quarter “hind,” cut to order.
“It was fascinating and fun,” says Varrasse, who darted in and out of his father’s coolers as a child. “But nowadays, everything comes in sub-primal cuts that are vacuum-packed.”
Moreover, meat is now only a portion of the company’s revenue. When caterers began buying an increasing number of products from Bachetti Bros., the market saw a niche and opened a catering division.
“I realized early on — even in college — that catering needed to be more of a focus,” Varrasse says. Too many of his peers waxed nostalgic about trips to Bachetti Bros. with parents or grandparents, but they were not current customers. Credit the supermarkets along Limestone Road, which had affected shopping habits.
Bachetti Bros.’ catering became a substantial income source. Workers, meanwhile, stopped in for creative to-go sandwiches from the deli counter. The concoctions — up to 100 — garnered press attention.
In 2009, Spark reporter Rob Kalesse was delighted with the menu. He wrote about the Sardinia (corned beef and coleslaw on grilled rye with melted Swiss) and the Sicily (a panini with tomato, mushroom, zucchini, basil oil and muenster). The Springfield (porketta and mozzarella and roasted red pepper on a garlic Kaiser roll) was so tempting that “we can already hear Homer Simpson salivating” over it, Kalesse wrote.
While new offerings attracted new customers, Bachetti Bros. faced its share of challenges. In 2011, for instance, weather and political unease boosted food and fuel prices. But nothing prepared father and son for the pandemic.
“It was chaotic,” Varrasse says of March 2020. “We needed to supply groceries, and suppliers didn’t have anything, and we didn’t have a diverse line of food.”
When items became available, Bachetti Bros. quickly increased its grocery offerings fivefold. The shop has always sold prepared foods that require reheating. During the early days of the pandemic, the demand increased.
“We gained a lot of new customers,’” Varrasse says. “We saw a lot of support from our community.” Many newcomers heard
about Bachetti Bros. on Facebook pages, such as “Delaware Restaurants That Offer Takeout & Delivery.”
Baked ziti and macaroni and cheese remain top sellers, but the cooks in the commercial kitchen upped the variety. As a result, Bachetti’s sales of prepared foods went from a 6-10% annual increase to 40-50%.
“It let me stay open, and I didn’t have to lay anybody off, which was awesome,” says Varrasse of the offering.
After a lull in 2020, catering orders are picking up again. “People are itching to celebrate,” he notes. Corporate business, however, has yet to bounce back. Regardless, most customers request in-store pickup or delivery and setup.
Varrasse Sr. is now semi-retired, which means he works from 8 a.m. to between noon and 4 p.m. — seven days a week. “That’s a significant reduction in time,” his son says. The men share more than a strong work ethic. The younger Varrasse enjoys learning about plumbing and electric; contractors are often surprised at his knowledge.
If he needed to ply a trade other than retail shop owner, he’d get licensed, he says. But Bachetti Bros. is not going anywhere anytime soon. It might be around when Varrasse’s 4-year-old son comes of age.
“He’s going to need to get a job.”