I just went to Wegmans for the first time, and now I see why the grocery chain has such a massive cult following
Irene JiangNov 2, 2019, 18:25 IST
Shoshy Ciment / Business Insider
Wegmans, a family-owned grocery store chain on the East Coast, has one of the most loyal followings in retail. Fans travel from far and wide to attend the grocery chain's store openings, and Wegmans was this year's most beloved brand according to The Harris Poll.
As a native of the Pacific Northwest, I'd never visited a Wegmans store or even heard of the chain.
After the 101st Wegmans store opened in New York, I went with Business Insider's Shoshy Ciment to grab some snacks and see what all the hype was about.
I am now a (non-certified) Wegmaniac. Everything about my visit felt extraordinary, from the quality to the quantity of produce, to the variety and affordability of products, to the kindness of the employees.
"What's so great about Wegmans?" I once asked a coworker. I was immediately met with shock and even a hint of disgust.
Apparently, Wegmans is the kind of grocery store that inspires fans so dedicated they'll fly in from states away just for a store opening. Privately owned by the Wegman family of Rochester, New York, Wegmans has ranked among the most beloved brands in America even though it's a regional chain.
But as a native of the Pacific Northwest, I'd never even heard of Wegmans until the store opening in Brooklyn, New York, started a social media frenzy. And even then, I didn't quite understand the buzz. After all, isn't Wegmans just a grocery store? And even though grocery stores are definitely not all equal, I couldn't imagine how a grocery store could inspire the kind of fervor and loyalty I was seeing from Wegmans fans.
I tagged along with Business Insider's Shoshy Ciment on a trip to the Brooklyn Wegmans, and boy, was I proven wrong.
Braving wind and rain, we walked from downtown Brooklyn to the Wegmans in Brooklyn Navy Yard. Upon entering, we were greeted by a spacious yet impeccable produce section.
The produce was colorful, fresh, and stacked high. The signs contained cute, homey descriptions that brought the flavors of each item to life.
I was astonished not just by how beautiful all the food was, but also by how much variety each section offered. The products ranged from affordable, everyday versions to local, organic produce of exceptional quality.
It felt like shopping at a high-end market, except the prices were much lower than you'd expect.
The produce was also displayed in creative ways that inspired the inner chef in me. Each kind of item had its home, and each home had personality.
A note for context: I get really, really excited about produce, especially produce like the kind I saw at Wegmans: colorful, consistent, and well-organized.
However, we were there to pick up a few snacks, so we moved past the produce section. I was stunned by this array of fresh flowers.
As we approached the back of the store, I heard a little whirring noise.
It was a toy train with little Wegmans boxcars! A shiny, compact track circled the dairy and plant-based sections.
There were all the products a millennial could possibly want, like this stand of "Winter Health Essentials" ...
... and this extensive collection of Wegmans brand kombucha.
A Wegmans employee handed out samples by the display. I tried the mint lemonade kombucha, and I was impressed by the light, fruity flavor.
There was an entire section full of various brands and flavors of hummus, including ...
... Wegmans' own brand of hummus.
And even though I'd known that Wegmans sells Impossible Burger grounds, I was so excited to see them on a shelf along with their plant-based protein buddies, Beyond Burger and tofu.
A pound of packaged Impossible grounds costs $9, so they're more of a splurge than an affordable everyday buy.
But other parts of the store felt like they catered more to the everyday shopper. The visual of tall shelves stocked with goods evoked the aisles of my favorite warehouse store, Costco.
Wegmans had house-brand versions of pantry staples like ketchup, coffee, and cake mix.
There were even Wegmans brand "Cheerios." Wegmans' version was made with a legume blend for that extra nutrition.
But there was also a remarkably complete selection of every kind of branded cereal a kid could dream up for a cartoon-filled Saturday morning.
When we entered the bulk goods aisle, I felt like a kid in a candy store ...
... and not just because of all the candy.
I mean, there WAS a lot of candy. And it was only $5 a pound!
As we looped back around, we passed the Wegmans toy train again. I later learned from a colleague that toy trains are an iconic feature of the Wegmans brand, although not all stores have them.
Shoshy stopped by the orange juice and milk fridge to pick up a bottle of Wegmans brand orange juice.
But there was another entire milk fridge filled with Darigold milk and Oatly oat milk — a prime example of how Wegmans has something for pretty much every dietary restriction.
In the "Italian" section, there was cauliflower gnocchi for keto dieters, as well as every kind of pasta imaginable — all Wegmans brand, of course.
There was also even a sizable kosher section, which Shoshy was excited to see.
However, she pointed out that not everything in the section was actually kosher, like these Hebrew National meat products.
I made the mistake of assuming that this country-style display was the extent of Wegmans' cheese section.
The actual cheese section was bigger than many New York apartments, and much of it was also Wegmans brand cheese.
And it wasn't just cheddar and Swiss. There was Wegmans brie, Wegmans chevre, Wegmans blue cheese, and many, many others. I'd never even heard of manchego cheese, but apparently it's a sheep's milk cheese made in La Mancha, Spain.
This was no quixotic journey, but it felt dreamlike nevertheless. I was stunned by this gorgeous case full of fresh oysters, all sourced from local family-owned farms.
As we entered the prepared-foods section, I paused to sample some pork fresh off the stove. It was delicious. The employee who handed me the sample was very nice, like everyone at Wegmans.
My jaw dropped yet again as we entered the prepared-foods section.
The deli case was piled high with delicious-looking food like latkes, rosemary lamb shanks, and sticky ribs.
These gorgeous, massive plates of food reminded Shoshy of the feast in an early scene from the animated film "Spirited Away."
We moved onto the soup bar, which has five different kinds of soup. We also took a peek at the sushi bar, which, as I later discovered, is pretty much restaurant-quality.
The sushi wasn't cheap — the more upscale boxes cost $22 — but it was remarkably fresh, generously portioned, and well-made. Shoshy told me that many of the Wegmans fans she'd spoken to on opening day mentioned the sushi as one of their favorite things about the store.
There was also a made-to-order salad bar, a made-to-order burger station, and a chicken wing bar.
The only section I found lackluster was the Asian section, which looked like a less appealing version of a Panda Express buffet.
The "Authentic Italian Pizza" counter sells slices of pizza, but it also sells fresh-baked custom pies in three sizes, including personal.
It also sold a variety of pizzas by the slice. I ended up buying as much food as Shoshy and I could carry. But that's a story for another day.
Our visit to Wegmans had been a dreamlike escape from the noise, chaos, and rudeness of the city. Wegmans is a fantasyland where all the produce is fresh, all the people are nice, everything is affordable, and all the products you could possibly want or need live together in kaleidoscopic harmony.
As our trip drew to a close, I found myself lamenting the fact that there isn't a Wegmans near where I live. After just one visit, I already felt bonded to the store and its employees. And sometimes, you wanna go where everybody knows your name.