A Fresh New Market

It takes more than a humongous rat to keep Westporters away from a fresh new store.

blog - Fresh MarketThat’s the lesson learned from the opening of The Fresh Market.  The North Carolina-based, family owned (and, we now know, non-union) “specialty grocery shop” opened its 1st store in the Northeast — appropriately, in Martha Stewart’s former home town — on Wednesday.

Judging from the packed parking lot and crammed interior, you’d think they were giving away free coffee and hot samples a bazillion dollars.

Braving the traffic and bucking the picketers (am I still a card-carrying Democrat?), I did my “06880” duty this weekend and checked out The Fresh Market.

My conclusion:  It ain’t Shaw’s.

Cinnamon — the aroma — hits you in the parking lot, before you even step inside.  I have no idea how much an odor-wafting machine costs, but The Fresh Market definitely bought the high-end version.

They spent big buck$ on flooring too — and ceilings, lighting, display cases, you name it.  (Apparently not on salaries though, to hear the rat and picketers tell it.)

Where Shaw’s was all tall shelves and narrow aisles, The Fresh Market oozes openness.  You can see clear across the store, from one end to the other.  (Theoretically, that is — the press of people made that difficult.)

The first thing you see is produce.  Nearly a third of the store is devoted to fruits and vegetables, and if the current display is any indication, appearance counts.  The apples, for example, teetered on the edge between appealing and plastic.  I checked dozens of apples for any mark or blemish; I found none.  If fruit were teenagers, kids with even 1 zit would be banned from The Fresh Market.

The produce section also includes an olive bar.  Call me sheltered, but I was unaware such things exist in the actual world.

Snack mixes take up a very long area — about the size Shaw’s once devoted to soda and cereal.  Each bin has an appallingly cute name:  “Berry Good,” “Banana Split” and “Country Club” were 3 I wrote down before retching.  The price is also berry expensive:  $9.99 a pound.

The Fresh Market offers “European sodas.”  I didn’t check, but they could be bottled in North Carolina.  Whatever.  Flavors include blood orange, Sicilian lemon and peach lemon.  I thought about trying to discern the difference between Sicilian and peach lemons, but my attention was diverted by “international beer boxes”:  10 beers from different countries.  Now you’re talkin’.

The meat counter — filled witih filet mignon kabobs, blue cheese burgers, lamb shanks — was impressive.  Everything looked good enough to eat.  Though I’m sure many vegans would disagree.

The enormous rat outside The Fresh Market draws attention to the store's use of non-union labor.

The enormous rat outside The Fresh Market draws attention to the store's use of non-union labor.

A sign by the bread section said:  “Bread sliced by request.”  I wondered what circumstance could possibly compel someone to ask a market worker to slice bread, before remembering that I was, after all, in Westport.  Perhaps during the next union negotiations, employees can ask to be paid more for extra tasks, such as bread slicing.

What’s that you say about union negotiations?  Sorry.  My bad.

The checkout line demonstrated that, although you can take the Shaw’s out of Shaw’s Plaza, you can’t necessarily change everything.  The wait was interminable — as before — despite a battalion of baggers.  But The Fresh Market does not even offer an express lane, for people with 10 (or 11) (or 14) (or a bazillion) items.

Welcome to Westport, The Fresh Market.  It’s nice to see the once-moribund parking lot buzzing with life.

Based on the early crowds, you have single-handedly ended the recession.

At least in this town.

9 responses to “A Fresh New Market

  1. Clearly, Dan, you are NOT a shopper.
    Olive bars are commonplace now, even in Stop &S hop, and fresh bread is better UNSLICED, hence the request….
    Still, what is the difference betweeen this place and WHole Foods???

  2. Dan as your food professional caterer and general shopper they did an awesome job at FM. WF is much more costly in certain areas, but FM really has done a great job… At least now all of Westport can be served from East to West in the area of what is felt to be high quality foods… The union thing i am not touching… But look how many people are now emplyed and more tax dollars are being generated for our fair burg.

  3. You made me feel guilty: I did get my bread sliced. Indeed, they bagged the bread in two halves so I could freeze one. I thought it was a nice place.

  4. Look closely at those “imported” beers: Japanese beer imported from Japan is not quite the same as Japanese beer bottled under license in Canada and imported.

  5. Remember the non-union fate of Wild Oats on the Post Road just over the Norwalk Line? Pickets for months and months. Never went in there because of Food for Thought being trampled. And I remember when Food For Thought was tiny Leonard’s Eco Farms. But anyway, Thanks for posting that picture of the rat. You couldn’t have paid me enough money to cross that picket line. Here where we live, in Western Mass, progressive people are boycotting Whole Foods because of remarks against healthcare reform made by their CEO. We have plenty of local farmers and farmers markets to buy from — don’t like paying the extra bucks for “eyewash” like them apples you saw. Somebody’s got to poop on the party — guess it’s my job!

    • Wendy… Just an FYI food for thought was owned by Wild Oats…. They let them operate the store for whatever reason and then obsorbed it into Wild Oats… They then were bought out by Qhole Foods. And no one disagrees that the CEO of WF is a moron and putz, but the people there working are trying to make a living and there product is a pretty good one, avoiding or boycotting the store is admirable but hurtful to the people you are trying to help. If they have no job or the store closes who does it help or hurt… Try getting the board of directors to remove him that is a better campaign

  6. I was there again yesterday and love it even more.

    As far as the Whole Foods controversy, it all stems from the CEO offering a different opinion on Health Care (one that works for all involved very well). And aren’t the progressives on the left always clamoring for diversity?

    Wendy from Mass. check out this link and get another perspective (and informed).

    http://michellemalkin.com/2009/08/24/the-union-behind-the-whole-foods-boycott/

    http://michellemalkin.com/2009/08/24/the-union-behind-the-whole-foods-boycott/

  7. Greens Farmer

    I think the bigger controversy about the Whole Foods CEO is that he was anonymously (and deceivingly) bashing Wild Oats on the financial boards (like Marketwatch) to attempt to drive down the price in order to buy them cheaper.

    That has nothing to do with his opinions on health care – or anything the comely right-winger Michele Malkin might say.

    Can’t remember what happened for that activity though – maybe a fine, but he kept his job and they took over Wild Oats.

    But on topic, IMHO Fresh Market is smaller and marginally cheaper than Whole Paycheck. And it’s closer to me, so I’ll be there more often.

  8. Catherine Burnett

    Its a great review and I look forward to checking out the store offerings.

    And what I am most hoping for is the season-appropriate, locally grown food options.

    I have become increasing concerned about food manufacturing and the excessive distances “cheap” food comes from. Yet appreciate modern conveniences of a grocery store (its hard to get to the limited hours/days of a farmer’s markets — especially as a NY commuter).

    My fingers are crossed that FM finds this balance!