Wednesday, October 24, 2012

News 2012: Wegmans, What Did It Mean?

Cheese, glorious cheese!
The funniest food moment of 2012 was realizing that Mrs. HowChow was slightly disappointed as she walked around a supermarket.

Wegmans opened in Columbia, and it changed the scope of food in Howard County.  But, in my house, Wegmans did the impossible and turned Mrs. HowChow into someone excited to grocery shop.  What did it?  Variety, flavor, and samples, samples, samples.

Until this year, food was my job.  I cooked, so I shopped.  But then Wegmans arrived and started hitting on my wife.  Across the store, they'd scatter people with pickup lines like "Do you want to taste the mozzarella?"  Mrs. HowChow drove there alone for yogurt, and she came home with three loaves of bread, two cheeses, and a 12-inch apple pie.

That's why she actually felt disappointed when we shopped late on a Sunday night.  At 9 pm, they're restocking and cleaning up.  No crowds, but no samples.  No one offers to pair a slice of apple cider bread with the perfect soft brie.  Mrs. HowChow arrived in great spirits, but slowly deflated when she realized that she was just walking around a grocery store.

Of course, Wegmans is the big news of 2012 because it's more than a grocery store.  Detractors complain about price or size or employee pay, but no one can deny that the right half of the store is a revelation -- breads, bakery, prepared food, seafood, deli, cheeses and produce.  The food is delicious.  The offerings are vast and seasonal.  The people want to help.

It's Wegmans', so I'll try it.
These departments have pulled some of my shopping trips away from other stores.  Plus, they have created trips for Mrs. HowChow, like the Saturday that she really came home with those three loaves of bread -- a crusty loaf, a sweet loaf, and a savory artisan one that I didn't notice until I found it in the back of the fridge.  They were all unusual, all delicious.  Three loaves were a bit much, but they toasted back to life.

To me, the heart of Wegmans remains the cheeses, breads, deli and seafood.  I find myself going for one department, then rounding out the trip with the rest and some produce.  Just a few interesting supplies make weeknights easy to throw together.  All summer, we cooked around the CSA from Gorman Produce Farm, and little Wegmans treats like kalamata rolls, gouda, or thin-sliced speck rounded out the meals.

This food is fun.  Ten different rolls.  Hundreds of cheeses.  Fresh-squeezed orange juice.  Weird olives.  All kinds of different fish.  It's fun to discover stuff.  I bought Cheerwine soda.  I discovered burrata cheese.  I sampled roasted Hatch chiles.  I even tried a little of the $100/pound ham.  (Bottom line: I recommend the speck.)

None of this is cheap, but I choose what I grab for the cart.  Much of the time, exotic items pile up with Wegmans house brands -- tomatoes, beans, chips, that burrata, lemon sodas, rice for risotto.  They're cheaper, and they have been so regularly delicious that they color my view of the entire store.  Supermarket sushi has never grabbed me -- mostly because I'm cheap, not because I'm looking down at the fish.  But we bought Wegmans' sushi on the assumption it would be worth the price, and we really liked the rolls.

That balances out against all the gourmet sections.  Organic grains.  Exotic dried fruits.  A million kinds of soda, water and iced tea.  It's truly a series of stores within a store, and I hear people frustrated with the organization -- tomato sauce in one aisle, organic tomato sauce in another, tomato sauce from Italy all the way across the store.  Last weekend,  I hiked a quarter mile because Xochitl tortilla chips aren't in the chips aisle. I wandered the store like Magellan only to find them stocked near the cheese.

But again, that's my choice.  I could have hit the chip aisle and gone home.  The Xochitl just seemed important at the time.

(Update:  It's just after 7 am, and I stumbled on a plastic bag on the kitchen counter.  Last night, Mrs. HowChow went to Wegmans for dinner.  The bag holds a bread and a pie.  And there's a cheese that goes with the bread.)

This week, I'm posting a series of "best of" posts starting with best restaurants and best food experiences.  Then some posts about best food shopping.  You can click for all the "best of posts" going back.  Wegmans is just part of the improvements around Howard County -- for example part of the recent revolution in bread.

What have you thought about Wegmans?  This is all my posts.  I wish there more sausages.  They seem to go all over the map -- as long as the map is northern Europe.  I'm waiting for the Whole Foods to fill that gap in 2014.


travelinsnorkel said...

I'm not gonna lie, I wasn't thinking I'd shop much at Wegmans because i don't really cook. Well, what it has done for me is get me cooking! With their recipes that tell you exactly which of their items to buy along with telling you exactly how to prepare them, I'm becoming quite the cook. Also, with things like their marinated pork roast that gives detailed cooking instructions on, I seem like a real chef! Then, there is the lobster. Yeah, just get them to steam them for $8.99 a pound and you can't beat the feast you can have! So, yes, I'm a fan!!

Alicyn DelZoppo said...

I am a huge Wegman's fan but I still support my local Harris Teeter for produce, cheese, meats, etc. and stop in at Giant when I'm in an absolute emergency and need something in a can. I also shop at Trader Joe's and Costco. It is usually about time and convenience for me and who is going to have what I need.

Anonymous said...

I am so disappointed in the Columbia Wegmans! Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love the prepared foods, bakery, deli, salad bars, etc. but the actual supermarket part of the store has less variety than other Wegmans stores and even less than Giant or Safeway! Looked for several very common items that they just didn't stock (like Yoplait yogurt and Snackwells bars). Oh, and the bakery makes a bazilion kinds of bread but they only sell packaged challah!

Anonymous said...

Wegmans is the only place I shop now, and I am incredibly unhappy if I have to go to another store during the week, even just for one item. I spend less money, because Wegmans brands are quite good, and I'm eating better because of the variety. And this week I get free flour! WooHoo!

Interested Party said...

Wegman's sells Cheerwine? Elixir of the gods! A perfect pairing with their fresh-ground peanut butter.

nicole said...

I love Wegmans and shop there almost exclusively now. They're prices seem better to me than the closest grocery store to me, Safeway (technically David's is closer, but since it's a natural foods market not quite an apples to apples comparison). To make it convenient, I either shop there on my way home from work or after I go to yoga on the weekend (my studio is close by). I haven't tried much from the food market, but can vouch for the sushi, it was excellent. My only complaint is the parking situation, but I've managed to figure out where to park that makes for an easy escape, so it's not a big deal.

Dan said...

Besides all the stuff everyone has been mentioning, we've been especially enjoying the coupons they send pretty regularly that gets you two "free" items every week. I don't think we've missed getting our free stuff since it opened. Sure the items are only a buck or two but its a nice touch. WEGS4LIFE!

Amber said...

I love it, and we go fairly regularly for their prepared foods, but I don't do grocery shopping there. I'm sure it's great, but the crowds haven't died down yet compared to the HT I normally go to in Maple Lawn, and I find the size and layout imtimidating.

Marcia said...

I have the luxury of being able to grocery shop during weekdays, so Wegman's is where I go almost exclusively now. I don't buy the premade stuff much, but it's nice to know it's there if I want it. What I like is that the staff is friendly and with a couple exceptions very helpful. They aren't texting or yakking on the phone, they don't act like they're doing you a favor by helping you.

When I couldn't find barley a few weeks ago, I emailed Wegman's. Soon after I got a response and was told where to find it in the store.

I am enjoying a company that seems to want to keep me as a customer.

RecentTransplant from NoVA said...

Even when I get annoyed with them, I am also a fan still of Wegman's. I started loving them with the NoVA stores in Fairfax and Sterling. Last week I hiked back and forth across the Columbia store to find the fresh WW pizza dough that I had a coupon for but they had hidden in an odd corner in the ready-made stuff. I was so disappointed after I tracked them down when I could not find a sell by date. On fresh pizza dough. Right. Argh. But when I contacted them and discussed :<) I got a $5 coupon in the mail. So that is nice and responsive. They still had not put dates on the WW dough last time I checked - just on the white flour version - but I hope they will get around to it.
I love all of their WHOLE GRAIN options - even the ready-made Brown rice sushi rolls - Yummo. What a great tasty surprise!

N8tiveNYer said...

Have enjoyed Wegmans. A few things were not in stock at first, but they are slowly adding items. Also taking advantage of the 20$ coupon when I fill a RX. I still go to Costco for some things. On occasion- TJ's and Giant only if I have to.

emkenton said...

Recent transplant from NoVA, it's so funny that you mention the pizza dough dates because I had wondered the same thing. I was just there this morning, though, and there were handwritten numbers on all the bags of dough, both white and WW. I'm assuming since they ranged between "25" and "27" and today is Oct 24, that those were best by dates! Side note- that pizza dough is GOOOOD...and HUGE! (Related point: I inquired last time about the handwritten A on my rotisserie chicken and was told that means it was the first batch of the day. Wonder how far into the alphabet they go?!)

As luck/life would have it, after spending SIX years since the original announcement waiting with anticipation for the store to be located only 8 minutes from our house, we moved to MoCo a couple weeks before it opened. You better believe, however, that I'm still making weekly trips. It always boggles my mind how many staff members I see while I'm in the store, and they are always professional and courteous. I was lucky enough to move to Corning, NY at age 8 and experience the joy of growing up with a local Wegmans, aka "The Center of the Universe," and I am so thrilled that my own children now can experience the wonder that is Weggies!

Anonymous said...

I was in the store the other day and could not find the fresh pizza dough. Where is it?

bmorecupcake said...

*gasp* Bread in the fridge!?! Please don't tell the loaves were right next to the tomatoes! ;)

emkenton said...

The pizza dough had moved between last week and today but still in the same general area: the long refrigerated case across from the rotisserie chicken and prepared deli foods. Last week, it was at the end away from the food bars but this morning, it was at the extreme opposite end (so kinda behind the sushi station). It doesn't seem that they put a ton of packages out so they might be hiding but should be near all the other pizza fixins in that case.

(Which is not to be confused with the prepared pizzas in the small case across from the sub counter!!)

Alison said...

As a Western New York transplant, I've been shopping at Wegmans for 30 years or so, since I was a kid. I love the store and the variety it offers. I also really enjoy being able to get various Western New York products I grew up with now, locally at my Wegmans. And they do go above and beyond - I talked to an employee in the dairy department on opening day to ask for Bison brand dip (a Buffalo product I'd seen in NoVa Wegmans), and he said they weren't planning on carrying it but had gotten a lot of requests for it that day. Sure enough, they have it now. I also had a problem with a cookie cake I'd ordered for a birthday party (it was overdone and hard), and I came back the next day without the cake (we'd pitched it) or my receipt and they gave me a $20 gift card and told me to pick something else from the bakery, no questions asked whatsoever. I appreciate that even on the rare occasions there's a problem, they do their utmost to make it right. As far as Wegmans being more crowded than the Maple Lawn Harris Teeter, ANY grocery store is more crowded. You could shoot a cannon through that place even on the weekends...I've always wondered how they stay open!

RHfoodie said...

Wegmans has not changed my shopping habits

Frankly the produce is awful! It doesn't last once home, and the variety is pitiful (except for pre chopped veggies & fruit)

Food bar? Very expensive...Bakery? Some good items...Deli? High end salami are excellent but the day to day stuff? I'll stick to Giant or Harris Teeter

Sorry Wegmans but I really wanted to love ya

N8tivenyer said...

I have to agree with Allison about the Maple Lawn HT. I want to roller skate down the aisles.

Biketraveller22 said...

I live nearby but only go to the Maple Lawn HT if they have a sale on something I want or I need good imported Parmesan quickly. It's hugely expensive compared to competitors. Even if you have it, I can't imagine throwing money away by shopping there regularly.

tacitus said...

Based on the few times I have been there ... Generally Wegmans is overrated and overcrowded and the layout doesn't do anything for me. Costco and Giant are just fine for general use; although I would probably frequent the HT if is was more convenient.

SC said...

I go to Wegmans for their bakery products, and maybe produce if it's convenient, but it's still a little out of my way. I'm pretty happy to have the bakery and various pastries that I've been craving since I moved to Howard County. (I've considered going to the other bakeries mentioned, but those are *truly* out of my way, as opposed to Wegmans being about 5-10 minutes detour vs a 20-30 min detour.)

I do most of my grocery shopping at Trader Joes, Frank's Produce, and Food Lion (because all 3 are on my way to/from work and home) and Giant or Target if I need specific canned items or frozen meat.

@GwynethJones - The Daring Librarian said...

I live SO close to Wegmans and I anticipated it's opening it's a scandal that I haven't been there yet.

Month to month & week to week I do Peapod. I find I actually spend less $$ because I can plan meals ahead and only buy for those meals - no impulse buying! I also go to Trader Joe's & Harris Tweeter.

The parking situation also at Wegman's looks congested & crowded - that's kept me away. I will have to give it a whirl, I do like brown rice sushi!