Many, many years ago, I went to my first Wegmans. This was decades before I was a food writer, before I had become the full-fledged grocery-store obsessive that you see before you. But even then, I had heard of the special Wegmans glow and knew that I needed to see it for myself.
I was visiting a friend in the Rochester area (the birthplace of Wegmans) and can still remember gliding through the automatic doors and realizing I was in the presence of something great. Since then, Wegmans has continued to grow—in reputation, in store number, and in geographical footprint.
When I found out they were opening in Brooklyn (on Sunday, Oct. 27 at 7 a.m., by the way), marking their first store in my hometown of New York City, I got excited. So excited, in fact, that I couldn’t wait for it to open and so made a pilgrimage to one of their stores in Northborough, Massachusetts. (Okay, fine, I went to visit my in-laws for Rosh Hashanah weekend, but I’m not going to pretend that the proximity to Wegmans wasn’t part of the draw!) There, the cult-favorite grocery-store chain and I rekindled our love.
So why is Wegmans so beloved, and what should you know to be a smart shopper?
I decided to find out. And with 50,000 to 70,000 items in most of their humongous stores—not to mention a variety of services—I know I’m just scratching the tip of the iceberg (lettuce) with my list. (Which is why I’d love to hear what you love about the grocery chain in the comments below.)
Pizza lovers can rejoice in the very cool pizza offerings at Wegmans. On my recent visit to the hot foods area, the pies smelled amazing, including flavors like mushroom and truffle, Buffalo chicken, pesto cream chicken, tomato and basil, and spicy cup pepperoni bacon (!). In the frozen foods section, there were thin crust, cauliflower crust, and bake and rise varieties.
And should you want to make your own pizza, you can buy your own dough, choosing between regular white, whole wheat, and organic, or even a premade Boboli-type crust ready to be topped. Speaking of toppings, Wegmans knows what the people want. Next to the doughs and crusts is a selection of toppings for easy mixing and matching: shredded mozzarella, cubed Buffalo chicken, crumbled Italian sausage, pizza sauce, and more.
Food52 Account Executive Nicole Shuldiner is a devoted fan of their subs. As a student at the University of Buffalo (hometown turf for Wegmans), she and her friends were obsessed with their sub sandwiches. Nicole was a classicist—turkey, Swiss cheese, lettuce. "It's just the perfect sub," she told me, "on amazing store-baked bread."
The incredibly friendly cheesemonger behind the counter was happy to hand me slivers of cheese to try, and explained that a number they sell are actually finished by Wegmans (“green” cheeses, bathed in wine, for instance, and aged for another few weeks) or even made from scratch. They built state-of-the art 12,000-foot caves to age their cheeses, which shows how seriously they take this department.
An example of the from-scratch variety is the 1916 aged goat cheese (conceived in partnership with Vermont Creamery), the name commemorating the year the store was founded. My son pretty much ate the whole disk, and then was a little distressed when I told him this cheese was only available at Wegmans. Yes, they also carry upscale favorites like Cowgirl Creamery and many, many basics like all kinds of cheddars.
A select but bountiful selection of the produce is super local, and as such changes from store to store and from season to season. The displays were more reminiscent of a farm stand than any supermarket. On my latest visit, the summer squash, zucchini, cucumbers, corn, and eggplants were from Confreda Farms in Warwick, R.I. Perfect for making some early fall recipes.
Another impressive array of local items on offer here (now, let’s take a moment to recognize that the store I visited is near coastal Massachusetts): seafood. This means sea scallops, clams, oysters (from Welfleet, Standish Shore, and Thatch Island)—all wild-caught near their stores, the signage said. There were other non-local and farmed seafood offerings as well, but it's nice to know how close most of it was harvested. In the frozen section there were also a bunch of wild-caught offerings, like swordfish, yellowfin tuna, cod, sockeye salmon, haddock, and flounder. Keep them on hand in the freezer and you can whip up a quick dinner any night of the week.
Not only does Wegmans sell prepared sushi, they also sell large pieces of sushi-grade fish, such as king salmon for $35.00/pound and ahi tuna for $37.50/pound. So if you want to DIY your sashimi, they’ve got the components. There's also a significant poke bowl selection, as well as the usual rolls, pieces, and vegetarian offerings, all made there fresh daily. It looks a whole lot fresher and better than your average supermarket situation, no joke.
If you're looking to pull together a charcuterie platter or a graze board without breaking a sweat, Wegmans definitely has you covered. In this area of the store, there were containers filled with pristine charcuterie, sliced fresh daily, and other cured meats. Some of the meats are packaged on their own, like mortadella with pistachios, and several varieties of paper-thin prosciutto, including one from Parma. Some of the containers also had an assortment of cheeses, Marcona almonds, and other nibble-y bits.
Wegmans partners with family farmers to create their own line of top-quality meats, including an organic line. The prices are quite good for organic meat. So the barrier to organic entry is a bit lower than in other stores, or with other brands.
Wegmans seems to feel the way about marinades that I feel about grocery stores: You can never have too many. I was intrigued by a sign that said that they “tumble-marinate” their meat, which is a process they apparently devised to allow the marinades to infuse their meats with more flavor throughout. Marinades include: rosemary lemon, garlic Parmesan, teriyaki, basil pesto, and honey mustard. These marinades are mixed and matched with all kinds of meat, from pork to poultry to beef.
House brands abound throughout the store, from fresh foods to packaged foods to household items. My sister-in-law Lisa is a regular Wegmans shopper, and she says she never hesitates to buy the Wegmans house brand of anything. She's convinced that it will be as good, if not better, than other nationally branded products.
Lisa's husband Andy doesn’t hit the grocery stores nearly as often, but Wegmans has made a big impression on him. A customer-service stickler, to put it mildly, he says that theirs is far superior to other grocery-store chains. Andy maintains that “they have a different level of employee."
Shuldine remembers meeting one of the cheese managers at Wegmans, who was quite passionate about her work. This manager also told her told her that her dad had worked there, and her grandparents before him. And this isn’t just one story. This employee said that it’s not unusual for generations of families to work at Wegmans—that the company inspires great loyalty because care about their employees’ personal growth and career development.
In closing (for now! just for now!), I am a little devastated that I did not buy the "lobster pretzel," which is exactly what it sounds like: a big, soft pretzel topped with chunks of lobster in some sort of sauce. I’m still thinking about it. You would think by now I would have learned—but alas, my cart was full.
Until next time.