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Pataki hails FreshDirect as pioneer

Pin it on an Internet-era need to be coddled or the overburdened lifestyles of the modern urban family.

No matter the reason, the simple idea behind FreshDirect — to get food delivered to your doorstep with the push of a button — has apparently put the Long Island City company on the vanguard of the 21st century economy.

Just ask the governor.

“The concept of what FreshDirect is doing right here in Long Island City is the future,” Gov. George Pataki said Tuesday afternoon at a news conference on Borden Avenue, where his head was framed by the enormous animated billboard advertising the company’s food services to drivers cruising the Long Island Expressway.

If the idea is the wave of the future, the company’s presence in Long Island City is very much a reality of today.

FreshDirect currently employs 148 people, a figure that should skyrocket to 652 jobs as its food-delivery service is deployed across the city and the metropolitan area.

Conceived in 1999 by Fairway Market Uptown co-founder Joe Fedele and business partner Jason Ackerman, FreshDirect delivers food from its new 300,000-square-foot manufacturing and distributing facility on Borden Avenue to customers who place orders by phone or via the Internet. The warehouse was purchased in 2000 and renovated over the past two years.

The company was courted by state and city officials who encouraged it to settle down in Long Island City, where it is expected to invest $100 million.

“I was trying to be helpful to New York,” Fedele said of his decision to settle in Queens rather than New Jersey, which Pataki said had been another contender for the headquarters.

FreshDirect will be eligible to apply for a $500,000 training grant from the Empire State Development Corporation because it plans to create at least 300 new permanent, full-time private-sector jobs in the state.

“This is not just jobs here, it’s not just vision — it’s going to improve how New York City consumers are treated,” Pataki said.

The 15,000 products are billed as the freshest top-quality food at prices as much as 35 percent below conventional grocery stores.

The company launched delivery in Bayside, Bay Terrace and Whitestone as well as the Hunters Point section of Long Island City over the past month and is scheduled to begin delivering food to select Manhattan neighborhoods starting Sept. 2. The service will gradually expand through Queens, Manhattan and Brooklyn until it becomes available citywide by the end of the year. Within the next five years the company plans to target at least 10 metropolitan areas nationwide.

The food delivery service was first rolled out in July with a pilot program on Roosevelt Island.

“We’re having a tremendous response,” FreshDirect spokesman John Boris said of the company’s reception at the City Lights and Avalon Riverview buildings in Hunters Point, luxury waterfront residences with no nearby grocery stores. “They’ve been very excited and enthusiastic about that.”

Borough President Helen Marshall, who dubbed FreshDirect “the takeout food of the future,” said the placement of the company’s warehouse “proves that Long Island City is a strategic location for business.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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