Portuguese pizzazz for the home

Six times a year, Casafina, a long-established Brewster wholesaler of upscale Portuguese kitchen and tableware, opens its doors to the public.

Business is booming at Brewster-based home-goods wholesaler Casafina. Established in Portugal in 1981, the company has a range of high-quality, sustainable products — comprising kitchenware, bakeware, tableware and gifts — all manufactured in Portugal, its beautiful stoneware, glass and other products still crafted by artisans. 

One of Casafina’s distinguishing features, from a business viewpoint at least, is that it actually owns its own factory in Portugal, so it can manufacture what it wants and what it knows will sell. This may sound obvious and redundant, but it does allow Casafina to offer a superb, European-made product to its American customers at competitive prices.

In 2017, Costa Nova, a younger sibling, arrived in the United States from Europe for the first time. If Casafina is the more traditional, kitchen-leaning of the two brands, with its mixing bowls, batter bowls and cruets, Costa Nova is a little more contemporary, a little trendier. The price point between the two brands is pretty much the same, says Matt Hullfish, Casafina’s affable general manager and vice president of sales, who welcomes WAG for a tour of the firm’s Brewster headquarters, and who promotes the brands as if they were much-loved children. “They’re even made from the same clay and fired in the same kiln,” he says. “Only the aesthetic and the end use separate the two.”

The warehouse where all this merchandise is stored, is huge — 20,000 square feet — and packing is done on-site. (As we pass through the packing bays, a large shipment is awaiting dispatch to a Williams Sonoma branch in the Midwest, while another is headed to an independent store in State College, Pennsylvania.) Casafina is also now in the third year of developing a hospitality arm, supplying hotels and restaurants with inventory.

But while wholesale is the mainstay of the business, it’s Casafina’s long-established, bimonthly warehouse sale in Brewster that has put the company name on the local map. For five days every other month, Casafina opens its doors to the public for a jumbo sale primarily of goods from the Casafina factory in Portugal. Made up largely of seconds (rejects from the ranges but with flaws so small they are often imperceptible to the naked eye), these bazaars are enhanced with specially brought-in items, (a premium Portuguese virgin olive oil or gorgeous scented candles), to bulk out the sale and give it additional appeal beyond kitchenware.

The warehouse sale model differs substantially from a typical retail store. “The pizza guy wants — make that needs — people in his shop every day,” Hullfish says. “But we just want a lot of people coming in over the course of five days, every couple of months.”

The company relies on its email database (7,000 names and counting) to notify past and existing customers about upcoming sales, although it is always looking to increase its foot traffic. These customers, or “end consumers” as Hullfish calls them, are strictly retail, “the Scarsdale (homeowner) looking for something for the home or just for gifts, that sort of thing.” 

A sneak peek at items slated for a recent sale gives a good idea of the variety of merchandise to be offered, first and foremost, tableware, dishes and casseroles, all manufactured at the factory, just north of Lisbon. But within a couple of hours’ drive of the factory, Hullfish adds, you can find everything from rugs, cork goods and placemats to candlesticks, tea towels, guest towels and even cosmetic kits, which are all good for supplementing the Brewster sales and keeping them interesting. Plus, the top-quality, extra-virgin olive oil, of course.

The company puts out a new catalog each year (the heavy 2022 edition runs to 190 super-glossy pages), which is another reason it’s important to liquidize older merchandise as new lines and inventory become available. 

The Portuguese design and artisanal element add kudos and value. European-made goods can compete with Chinese products, Hullfish says. So when people come to the Casafina sales looking for a deal, they find one. “It’s also a bit of a treasure hunt,” he adds. “You don’t necessarily go to HomeGoods to buy those white towels you’re used to buying. You go because you’re sure you’re going to find something that you need or that will be a bargain.” He says that going into a sale, customers don’t necessarily know what they need or want, but they invariably find something they do and that’s what keeps them coming back.

About 75% of Casafina’s retail business comes from Westchester County, 15% from Fairfield County and the rest from Putnam County or farther afield. Casafina also supports its home county through Putnam CAP (Community Action Partnership), donating kitchen essentials or helping needier community members who are moving into new accommodations. “We like to give back,” Hullfish says modestly.

Looking through the tantalizing goods being readied for the next sale, he proves himself as good a retailer as he is a wholesaler. He points out some dinnerware in beautiful patterns and confirms that it is all microwave- and oven-safe. In another stack of plates, labeled “seconds,” he conspicuously looks for flaws but is barely able to detect any. With a hand-sponged glaze, these small plates start at $6, the dinner plates at $10 — bargains indeed. “You see this covered casserole that sells for $50 retail?” says Hullfish, indicating yet another long table, full of casseroles, platters, bakers and pie dishes. “Come in and you’ll pay just 9 bucks for it.”

Which in all senses is really the bottom line and why you would do well to go to Casafina in Brewster to shop.

The next Casafina sale is slated for the end of August. For more, visit casafinagifts.com and costanova.pt/us/. 

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