Wednesday 08 August, 2012

Wegman’s: Not Just Supermarket, but Ubermarket


Friends, I have seen some supermarkets in my day. I have visited many impressive indoor "Public markets," from Seattle to Toronto to Venice, Italy. I have wandered many beautiful farmer's markets. I have shopped the legendary Harrod's, Fauchon, and Eataly. I have shopped the original Whole Foods in Austin. Heck, I grew up at Stew Leonard's. But I have never seen anything quite as impressive as Wegman's.

For those who don't know the name, Wegman's is a small New York State chain founded in the Rochester suburb of Pittsford (I was founded there too, but can't take credit). Today there are 46 in NY, as well as 15 in Pennsylvania, 7 in New Jersey, 6 in Virginia, Five in Maryland and one in Massachusetts.

During my recent visit to Western New York, I visited the Pittsford anchor, reportedly the biggest Wegman's. Anyone who is serious about food service--any level of food service--needs to do the same. In terms of typical supermarket product presentation, yes, they have an excellent selection smartly presented. But it's in their specialty and service department where they really push things way over the edge. Produce is pretty and plentiful. The cheese section not only offers a big variety pre-packaged (not that unsual) but *also* a service counter that will sample some true rarities for you. The tea bar--no, not the coffee bar, that's somewhere else--offers dozens of varieties. The gluten-free section is like a store to itself. The hot food bar, in particular the Asian offerings, was the best quality I've ever seen. There were more varieties of marinated olives than I've seen anywhere (yes, anywhere, New York City, sorry!) The meat department--see for yourself. Fresh oysters. Whole fish. Kosher deli. Certainly the most creative and freshly-prepared supermarket sushi I've seen. I could go on and on and on.

There seems to be a minimum amount of rack-jobber influence (if any), and the majority of in-store marketing I noticed was geared toward making healthier choices more appealing. Make no mistake, there's plenty of decadence here, though--the candy section rivals a Sugar Factory store, and there is both a service bakery counter with a massive variety (vanilla meatballs? um, okay) and a self-service section with the likes of chocolate mousse, not far from the salads.

The only critique I can give is that the market seemed to be somewhat light in ethnic ingredients (I'm thinking Middle Eastern and Asian) as opposed to prepared foods. There could be good reasons for this--and its also possible I missed the section. The place is massive, but doesn't feel like a warehouse (warm lighting).

Apparently, it's also a great company to work for. Fancy that. As I said, anyone serious about food service needs to see what they're doing (though every store may not be this massive, any one of them would be worth seeing). Every station is clean and well-presented. If something is out of stock, there's a sign. Every single edible thing looks devourable.

I noticed one Yelp review that noted the Fayetteville (Suburban Syracuse) was better than the Pittsford one. I've been there too, and in terms of non-food items, they may be right. But that just makes it more like a slightly more human WalMart.

Did I mention the adjoining food bar restaurant? Did I mention the regular schedule of cooking classes (currently including several veggie courses, summer cookouts, Sushi 101, and even a Culinary Teen Camp). They also publish their own magazines (more than one) and the website link below offers some good original cooking videos, with plenty of focus on veggies.

I'm not a petition type of person, but if I was, I would petition Wegman's hard to open in Southern California. Despite California's "fruits and nuts" reputation, this Upstate New York supermarket is far more sensitive to alternative lifestyles than anything in LA. Or at least, it's much better at serving them.We have the best produce in the world, perhaps, but our markets are sadly inferior in so many ways, I can't even think about it.

Besides, if we got Wegman's, then maybe Alec Baldwin's mom would move! (Yes, this is a REAL commercial he made in 2010)


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