Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Wegman's Schmegman's

Recently, the largest Wegman's opened near where I live in the enclave of Hunt Valley. It opened to dramatic fanfare and ridiculous crowds. One of my good friends gushed about it's opening and had to be there for the 7am opening on the first day. Evidently, Wegman's fans from around the nation came to the first opening day too. It seems that there's some sort of fanaticism surrounding Wegman's. And I'm still trying to figure out why.

Okay, it's true that the staff is taken care of. Everyone that I've spoken to likes working there. They say that they'll open more registers when there's a line, and I've seen that happen - which is certainly a tremendous advantage over the other grocery stores that think they should charge you full price to ring your own items on their "automated" systems.

But to me, it's still a "grocery store."

Sure, it's pretty darn large, almost what you'd expect if Walt Disney made a grocery store. There are themed areas, seating areas and it looks very nice, but the crush of the ridiculously insane crowds demands a store this big - and it's still not big enough. So, after parking in Timbuk Two, fighting through Olympic sized (and frenzied) crowds and suffering through disappointment, it's just not worth it for that gallon of milk - even if you want that organic crap that costs six times more.

By now, the Wegman's devotees are planning an assault on my home to take me captive.

It's not all bad news. I absolutely love their subs from the sub shop. The Danny's Way, or whatever it's called, is really quite tasty because the bread just rocks. In fact, I tried a Wegman's baguette and it absolutely rocked. I'm sure the rest of the baked good rock too but I passed because they're just too damn expensive. Three cookies for ten bucks? There are places in Baltimore where sexual favors cost less.

So my friend has been after me since it's opening to change my tune from: "it's just a grocery store" to one that more suits the Wegman's fanaticism, and I really want to become a Wegman's die-hard. I mean really, it's the closest grocery store to my home, but everytime I go there looking for something, Wegman's never fails to disappoint.

Back in the Summer and Fall of 2005, with the impending arrival of the great Wegman's, everyone I knew held bated breath in anticipation. Here was the arrival of the greatest of all grocery stores. The one that would blow away all the competition. It would revolutionize the grocery store industry.

Uh, hello - all of that in an area who's main staple is Hot Pockets?

So, I've been to Wegman's. On many occasion. I went there the first Saturday and the place was SLAMMED. Wall-to-wall people, jostling, hustling and pushing their way about trying to get a taste of the Chinese food bar, or ogling the prepared food reefer case. I walked in, checked it out for about ten minutes and then decided to get the hell outta there. Too many people to fight just for a Coke.

The next time I went with my Wegman's Hardcore friend who wanted me to try the Sub Shop. Okay, I admit, the sub shop rocked and I've gone back a number of times and even sat around at work dreaming about the sub. It's damn good. But the place is usually packed so it's in, grab the sub and get the hell out. Oh, and those jalapeno potato chips are damn good too.

One morning before work, I decided to hit Wegman's at 6:30am to see what kind of pastries they offered and see what the hot bar had for breakfast. You know what the hot bar had? Jack. Not a damn thing except for steaming water. Later, I asked another friend who works in Wegman's produce what the deal was. His reply was that maybe I was expecting too much and that if Wegman's thought it would make money, they would have a breakfast bar. Hmmm, considering the local Super Fresh has a small breakfast bar, I'd say that's One Point for Super Fresh and Zero Points for Wegman's.

When it comes to baked goods, I'm pretty easy. I just want something tasty and reasonably priced. The stuff at Wegman's isn't what I would consider "reasonable" but that didn't matter, because at 6:45am, the bakery had the same thing the hot bar had: Jack. Well, if I really want some incredible pastry, I'll just call Hawthorne Bakery and get them at wholesale. And Hawthorne Rocks The House!

When it comes to meats, most grocery stores don't stock what I'm looking for. Even the specialty butchers don't have what I want. Ever tried looking for Caul Fat in your town and you'll know what I mean. Well, I can get get Caul Fat from the butcher or from my wholesale meat supplier - I just don't want it in 30 pound quantities.

So this weekend I decided that I must have French food and instead of making the trek down to Les Halles in Washington DC, I decided I would stay at home and make something for myself. First, I decided on a meat pate, some onion soup, steak and pasta au gratin (mac 'n cheese). The challenge was the pate, consisting of pork shoulder, pork fat and pork belly.

So I hustle down to Wegman's in the pouring rain. Up until now, everyone I know has been raving about the meat department - how they have "everything." Well, if they have what I'm looking for, perhaps I too can become a fan. First of all, it's a Saturday and probably the absolute worst time to visit Wegman's because this mother is packed to the gills. Ugh. After battling through the produce department, I make my way to the meat counter only to find that they neither carry the pork fat or the pork belly. Disappointment, scratch the pate.

Okay, I'll admit, chances are that no grocery store in Baltimore carries these two items, but they're just "grocery stores,"not the almightly Wegman's. I could have gone to Super Fresh, parked closer and had smaller crowds to deal with because there's nothing left on my shopping list that would qualify as "hard to find" - okay maybe with the exception of the ham.

So mosey on over to the deli case and it's a fifteen minute wait for my number to be called. Crap, what a waste of time. It's not the staff's fault, they're working six deep behind the counter and hustling, there's just a crush of people - mostly rude - who just have to have their half pound of Oscar Meyer Bologna from the classy Wegman's. They don't have the ham I'm looking for, so I select a quick substitute, it looks good. But no, they don't have slab bacon, but they have prepackaged in the cases.

I'm off with an 8z pack of Wegman's lean bacon, pre-sliced. While I was looking over the smaller-than-Super-Fresh selection, another shopper (a lady) makes a comment how she hasn't seen bacon this lean since she was in England. Lean bacon...and that's a good thing?

Emmenthaler and Gruyere. Those are the cheeses I needed for my meal. But how hard is it to find in a cheese department than boasts more than 80 types of cheeses. Not hard. But then again, these aren't hard cheeses to find. The cheese department looked pretty interesting, if you really like soft cheeses mixed with fruits, veggies and who-knows-what else. Me? I'm not much into that kind of thing.

Aside from battling the crowds, the rest of my shopping was uneventful. I found some Wegman's brand penne pasta that turned out to be pretty decent, some Wegman's cereal for the week's breakfast and some powdered chocolate (Hershey's) for dressing drinks at the shop.

I've tried. I've really tried to become a Wegman's convert. But, outside of the subs, it just hasn't swooned me. I want selection (of which Wegman's has a ton of over Super Fresh), but I also want convenience (and the Super Fresh five miles away has that in Spades over the Wegman's one mile away) and how ridiculous is it that it's more "convenient" to drive to a Super Fresh five miles away than the Wegman's? I can get in and buy everything I need and get home before I would ever finish half my shopping in Wegman's.

What a shame. And the coffee sucks.

At the least the register girl was cute.


Athos21 said...

wegmans sucks, the cheese isnt even good

Anonymous said...

ex-employee says: Boy, if you want to pay extra for assholes wearing toques and preparing food that they put out over and over again, then wegman's is the place. they recycle the prepared stuff till it reeks, uses "shrink" hamburger for their meatloaves, and treat their grinning part-time employees like shit. Their signature "cheese spreads" (garden veggie, garlic, etc...) are made from the shrink in the deli dept. I used to grind up all that crap and once found a very fresh wad of spearmint gum in the shrink tray, that could have wound up in the cuisinart. wegmans is all show. and i agree with athos21--the place sucks. just sign me as: Avoiding e-coli! Thanks.

weo said...

Have you tried the Charles Center Super Fresh. With only 14,000 sq ft, it is a wonderful place to find really good fresh food at honest, fair prices.

If you are ever near Rockville MD come November 2007, try the newest Super Fresh store there. From what I've heard, it will be amazing, with a super mezzanine level devote to fine food and coffees. It will honestly be better than Wegman's because it will be more compact, and therefore, less hectic. It will definitely be worth the wait and the drive.

Anonymous said...

i will agree as a current employee, Wegmans more than sucks! what load of dung about it beeing a family store, and how they care about their employees, what bs. I worked overnights for the first year and a half my store was open, and it sucked. we put in 75+ hours a week, since most people quit as soon as they started, cuz the management team is not fit to run a car wash, much less a wegmans. after a 12 hour shift the manager would always be like, "oh your leaving already?" what asses! i mean the only good thing, is the pay is reasonable for my area i guess. giant and superfresh dont pay their dairy employees $15.40 an hour, course if wegmans didnt i wouldnt be working there. the only thing wegmans takes care of,is making sure you no longer have a life, and never get to see your family, unless u wanna skip sleeping for 2 weeks straight

Anonymous said...

I am an employee. They screw the full timers and part timers all the time. Family friendly my ass! The only family that counts is the Wegmans family. Have kids? Need to be out to take care of them? oh well that is your problem, you have to take care of the "issuses" meaning your family so you can work at any given time. The mood at JC store sucks and some of us are worried that someone is going to snap and come back and start shooting up the store. There are so many that are so willing to quit working and flip burgers than stay at that place. I am one of many looking to get out. ANd really Some of us are hoping that we get hired at another place all at the sametime around christmas. Wall to wall people that is right and plain nuts. Its just a store and not the only store. Just remember the new motto for Wegmans " Every day you get boned"

Anonymous said...

I'm also an employee at God, er, I mean Wegmans. I've read what everyone else has said here, and agree 100%.

One "insider" topic that has yet to be mentioned is the "Wegmans Lifer". These are the employees that made Wegmans their very first job and have been there ever since. These people have the most insane mentality I've ever come across. Basically, they're still stuck in high school mode, but they've clocked 20 years in the company.

Man-Children. Gossip and dumbness abound.

And these people are the managers at every store, for every department.

You'd be amazed by how many department managers, who make $20 an hour, still live with their parents. But there's a new generation of Lifers... and they're just as dumbfounded as the rest of them. It really is mind-boggling talking to these people. Wegmans Is Their Life!

Anonymous said...

Something else you should know about Wegman's, especially the Hunt Valley store, is the fact that their security resembles the Gestapo. Sooner or later, they will have major legal problems if they continue their insane, overzealous practices. Obviously they have a shoplifting problem. But the experience of two friends indicates that they are overreacting and treating their customers like criminals.
Recently a friend made a mistake amounting to less than $5 at the self-service checkout. She was stopped in the parking lot and escorted to a private room where she was detained and interrogated for two and one-half hours by seven (!) security people. They intimated her and accused her of being a thief. Then they gave her some papers to sign forcing her to admit against her better judgment that she was a thief. They didn't even give her a copy of one of the documents.
They fined her double the value of the item allegedly stolen plus $50 and banned her from every Wegman's store everywhere for three years and from the local shopping center for two months. They threatened repeatedly to take her to a police station and book her. They implied that they would place criminal charges against her if she tried to do anything about it.
We later found out that they applied the same treatment to another customer who checked out with a cashier who failed to scan one item. Same treatment!
One of these individuals was a 30-year customer of Wegman's, a well-dressed professional in her early 50s.
Everyone should know that they are risking embarrassment, humiliation and interrogation that makes Guantanamo Bay look like kindergarten.
They know that challenging them legally would be very expensive. So, they obviously continue these incredibly unfair and extreme practices with the support of their corporate and regional offices.
I, for one, will NEVER go into a Wegman's store again. Look out for the Wegman's Gestapo!