The new Wegman’s store will open in Germantown on Sunday! I met Jo Natale and Cynthia Glover, the PR folks in charge, for a guided tour. They were just as gracious as when they showed me around the Columbia store, and this Wegman’s promises to be just as fabulous as that one.
We pulled into the covered parking, and noticed that the aisles are marked with vegetable signs like those in Columbia. I got an arty shot of a reflection.
I asked Jo and Cynthia if there are any differences between the two stores. One big one is that this store is all on one level; the seating which Columbia has on the mezzanine is on one side of the main floor. This allows the new store to have a large patio with a pergola for outside dining. Altogether, this store will have seating for 200.
While we talked, there was suddenly a loud crowing noise from overhead. Above the gleaming counters and prep areas of the new store, there is a mural with a model of a barn; the barn doors had opened, and a wooden rooster was crowing to mark the hour. This clock is a replica of the barn at Wegman’s organic farm in New York – a symbol, to remember the source of the produce on offer in the store.
We walked through the store, noting the stocking and training activities going on. The sushi department was huddled around a sushi master, down the counter from a group which included Executive Chef Kevin Grenzig. He told me that the prepared foods section will feature Italian specialties for the grand opening.
That won’t mean other kinds of food will be slighted, however. Wegman’s usual array of choices will be present in all their wonderful variety. The store manager, Phil Quattrini, described a daily special bar featuring rotating regional offerings, such as crab cakes.
The cheerful bustle of preparation for opening day was all around us. From the seafood, to the housewares, to the food bars, to the sign guy, everyone was getting ready for the show.
The ethnic diversity of Germantown was reflected in the local people hired as staff. Maybe they will influence the selection of prepared food and groceries? One thing they have already installed is a kosher deli. And – another difference from Columbia, and only the third one in the chain – an affinage case. This is a specially-designed place to hold unwrapped (“naked:” I swear this is the term of art) ripened cheese at perfect temperature and humidity until it is sold.
Jo showed me the meat aging case, then mentioned that somehow Wegman’s has acquired a reputation for being expensive! But there’s a selection of merchandise at differing price points. Many of their staples are sold at prices 10-15 % lower than average supermarkets, on a par with club stores. I speculated that the sheer abundance and diversity of merchandise in the store might contribute to the impression of priceyness.
We walked towards the front, passing the fruit and vegetable cutting stations (cut to order on request, while you wait), the organic salad bar (the first in the Maryland stores), the pizza with the hand-stretched crust, the bakery (everything baked from scratch in the store), the bulk-food section (still there, when other stores have eliminated theirs as a passing fad), and other features too numerous to mention.
And just as we concluded the tour and were about to leave, a trolley full of food samples appeared before us and we were encouraged to try it all. It was the result of a morning’s training session run by representatives of Melissa’s World Variety Produce, Dave Blaich and Frank Afleck. They were spending a week showing the store employees what could be done with the exotic produce which will be for sale, so that the Wegman’s employees can pass ideas along to the customers.
There was watermelon, edamame, and feta salad; roast kaboucha squash; chocolate brownies with pomegranate arils; young coconuts drilled for their water; dragon fruit and mango salad; a dip made with Hatch chilies and Greek yoghurt; fingerling potatoes with truffle oil; a kimchi grilled cheese sandwich; and a new variety of green, seedless grapes called “cotton candy,” so sweet that they bore the same resemblance to ordinary grapes that super-sweet corn bears to field corn.
It was all good – a terrific way to end the tour!