Why is everyone obsessed with Wegmans? Here are 9 possible reasons.
NAVY YARD — Brooklynites are about to learn a new word: Wegmaniacs.
Wegmans, the Rochester-based supermarket chain with a cult-like following, opened its very first New York City location on Sunday at 21 Flushing Ave., a publicly accessible site at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
The store is 74,000 square feet in size. How big is that? Big enough to fit a cocktail lounge on the mezzanine, a coffee shop inside the front entrance and an army of sushi chefs turning $40-per-pound ahi tuna into spicy tuna volcano rolls.
To help you visualize, consider this: The Whole Foods on Third Avenue in Gowanus is a 56,000-square-foot store.
Many Brooklyn residents, including me, have never shopped at a Wegmans. On Thursday, I got a personal tour of the brand-new Navy Yard store and scouted out cool stuff.
Here’s what I found:
1. Your own personal lobster steamer
If you love lobster but can’t bring yourself to toss live creatures into boiling water, the folks in the seafood department will steam them for you at no extra charge.
You estimate how long it’s going to take you to shop, and your shellfish will be packed up for you to take home when you’re ready to hit the checkout counter.
2. A make-your-own-six-pack station
You can put different kinds of craft beer into a six-pack carton and pay $11.99 no matter what combination you came up with.
A refrigerated beverage display case will be stocked with many different beers you can choose from, arranged on shelves marked with descriptions such as “hoppy and bitter” and “malty and rich.”
Craft Your Own Pack, as it’s called, is helpful if you’re bringing beer to a party or want to do some taste-testing at home.
The Navy Yard store will sell more than 750 kinds of domestic, imported and craft brews.
3. A place to get sloshed while you shop
When you need a break from shopping, you can slip upstairs and sip a spicy margarita or an Italian old fashioned at the bar.
The old fashioned is the world’s best-selling classic cocktail this year. Wegmans’ version is made with bourbon, blood-orange liqueur, orange bitters and mint-flavored Fernet Branca.
4. A cheese mister
Most grocery stores have misting systems in their produce aisles. The Navy Yard Wegmans also has one in its cheese display case.
It emits “dry mist,” as it’s called, which keeps the fromage moist without forming puddles. The conditions in this cheese case mimic those in the cheese caves Wegmans built in Rochester several years ago, said Chris Gorz, the manager of the Navy Yard supermarket’s cheese shop.
Cheesemakers who are partnering with Wegmans supply the unripe cheeses that Wegmans ages in its caves.
The supermarket chain has “been at the forefront of cheese, and particularly American cheese, for a long time,” cookbook author Laura Werlin told the Washington Post in a 2014 interview about the caves.
5. Italian pizza, New York style
Wegmans, which is a big pizza purveyor, uses imported Italian flour to make its pizza dough and lets it ferment for 48 hours.
“Fermenting the dough builds flavor,” said Mike DeBole, a Wegmans pizza expert who came down from Rochester to help open the Navy Yard store.
The baking process is fast, though. It takes about four minutes thanks to a rotating oven.
6. A coffee college
Wegmans has an in-house training program for its baristas called “Coffee University.” They’re taught not to burn the milk for your latte.
Steamed milk is naturally sweet if you keep the temperature lower than 130 degrees, said Wegmans staffer Michelle Nemitz, who developed a system for certifying the baristas.
If you want a little something to go with that coffee, the Navy Yard Wegmans bakery will sell more than 30 different types of cookies.
You can go up to the mezzanine to do your noshing. There’s a seating area that’s separate from the bar. Down on ground level, the coffee shop has outdoor seating.
7. Big, big blueberries
The produce department will sell jumbo blueberries that are almost as big as cherries. A 9.8-ounce box is priced at $5.99.
Produce is a major focus for Wegmans. The company owns an organic farm and orchard in upstate Canandaigua where it researches organic growing methods that work in the Northeastern United States, then shares its findings with farmers who sell their produce to Wegmans.
8. A field of frozen food
The store is stocked with ready-to-cook meals you put right into the oven. If you’ve got enough chutzpah, you could pretend you made them from scratch.
There are traditional dishes like meatloaf and Game Day goodies like soft pretzels smothered with crab stuffing and sprinkled with cheese.
There are also hot and cold food bars with a wide selection of ready-to-eat dishes. And the frozen-food cases are filled with enticing entrees, savory snacks and lots of ice cream.
9. Bargains, bargains, bargains
Many of Wegmans’ house-brand products are bargains.
We’re talking about 18-ounce jars of peanut butter priced at $1.99 and five-pound bags of flour for $1.49.
Bonus: fast facts
And finally, some fast facts about the Navy Yard Wegmans:
- It has more than 540 newly hired employees.
- It is the 101st store in the chain.
- It is the anchor of a retail and industrial complex Doug Steiner is building on the site of Admiral’s Row.
Four years ago, the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corp. chose him to do the project. The decision followed a decade of controversy about whether to demolish the crumbling historic Admiral’s Row houses, which were constructed between the 1860s and 1901.
One of the houses was not torn down. It’s in the process of being renovated.
Steiner Studios, the developer’s film and TV production facility, is located in another part of the 300-acre Navy Yard. The famous former shipbuilding facility, which was founded in 1801, is now a hub for manufacturing, artisanal and tech businesses.
For those grammar nerds among you: Yes, the name of the family who owns the supermarket chain is Wegman without an “s.” But no, there is no apostrophe in “Wegmans.”
The supermarket’s front entrance is on Flushing Avenue between Navy Street and North Elliott Place. There are nearly 700 parking spaces.
If you’re a subway rider, the F train’s York Street station in DUMBO is a 12-minute walk from the store. If you’re a bus rider, the B67, B48, B57, B62 and B69 lines have stops that are nearby. If you want to take the NYC Ferry from Manhattan or Queens, the boats on the Astoria route stop at the Navy Yard’s Dock 72. You can also bike there.
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