Tag Archives: Stew Leonard’s

Friday Flashback #48

The news that Amazon is buying Whole Foods has everyone atwitter.

Perhaps the mammoth company that delivers nearly everything except babies will now make those pesky supermarket food runs obsolete too.

What could be better than, say, having fresh milk delivered right to your home?

Jeff Bezos, meet Marty McFly. And both you guys, meet the milkman.

(Photo copyright Paul Ehrismann)

Back in the day, Westport was awash in milkmen. Ferris (on North Morningside), Wade’s, Clover Farms* — they and many other local dairies brought milk straight to your doorstep. Sometimes, they’d even put it in your refrigerator icebox.

Sounds like a great idea whose time has come.

And gone.

And come again.

If that works, maybe we can also ask doctors to come to our homes too.

I’ve got just the name too. We could call them “house calls.”

*Never heard of Clover Farms? That’s because it turned into a slightly larger business called Stew Leonard’s. You know — “the worlds largest dairy store.” They don’t use an apostrophe — but they do sell cashmere.

Stew Leonard Jr.: Amazon Purchase Of Whole Foods “A Game-Changer”

Amazon’s proposed $13.4 billion purchase of Whole Foods has rocked the grocery and retail industries.

An hour ago, Stew Leonard Jr. was one of the experts CNBC called on for expert reaction.

Stew Leonard Jr. (Photo courtesy/Westchester Magazine)

The president and CEO of the small but influential chain called the deal — which includes a store on the Westport border just a mile from Stew’s Norwalk flagship location — “a game-changer in the industry.”

Amazon’s technological know-how “will revolutionize how people buy food and get it delivered,” he added.

Leonard — whose grandfather Charles Leo Leonard founded the store’s predecessor, Clover Farms Dairy, and personally delivered milk straight from the farm to local customers — saw today’s announcement as a return to those days.

“The cost of the last mile of delivery has been dropping,” he noted.

Leonard also cited the growing number of millennials as a factor. Using his 31-year-old daughter as an example, he said that her generation expects every purchase to be deliverable.

However, he continued, “retailers have to get snappier” about how they present the purchasing experience.

“We try to make it fun,” he said, with plenty of animation and the chance to see mozzarella balls being made fresh.

However, he acknowledged, buying cereal and water in a store is far less exciting.

(Click here for the full 4:42 interview.)

When Amazon gets into delivery of Whole Foods products, will the animals at Stew’s be less of a draw?

Stew’s Lucky Turkey

Alert “06880” photographer Lynn U. Miller was at Stew Leonard’s yesterday morning.

(“Don’t ask why anyone in their right mind would be at Stew’s the morning of Thanksgiving,” she says.)

She spotted this gigantic billboard:

Stew Leonard's 1

The lucky turkey is not — as at least one customer thought — the bird selected for dinner at Stew’s home.

No — the “lucky turkey’ is actually on display in an enclosure at the entrance to the World’s Largest Dairy Store.

(Photos/Lynn U. Miller)

(Photos/Lynn U. Miller)

The lucky turkey — which lives to celebrate another day — is named Madison. Someone at the front desk told Lynn she (the turkey) is named for Stew Jr.’s daughter.

Sure, President Obama can pardon a turkey. Far more impressive for Stew to do so — saving countless kids from asking their parents, “Is that our dinner?”

What Would You Do At Stew’s?

It’s a tough scenario.

You’re busily shopping at Stew Leonard’s. A little old lady comes up and asks you to read a label for her.

Then she has a question about “oxidants.” She wonders if you like mangoes. She warns you about sodium.

What would you do?

That’s the exact question posed by the ABC-TV show of the same name. “What Would You Do?” uses actors to portray difficult social problems, in public settings — a mother yells at her child for not getting an A; a boss sexually harasses a waitress; parents react negatively when their child comes out as gay.

ABC took hidden cameras to Stew’s — stashed behind the dancing cow, maybe? — and filmed shoppers as they were confronted by an actress playing a lonely grandmother.

Nearly all were polite. They took time, chatted, made her feel less alone. Who knew that we’d find our better angels in Stew’s produce aisle?

A Stew Leonard's shopper (left) is filmed by a hidden camera, patiently answering questions from an actress playing a chatty older shopper.

A Stew Leonard’s shopper (left) is filmed by a hidden camera, patiently answering questions from an actress playing a garrulous older shopper.

Then ABC upped the ante. Another actor pretended to be the woman’s embarrassed and irate son. He spoke sharply to his “mother,” and apologized for her behavior to the shoppers she was pestered.

Once again, most folks did the right thing. They said it was no bother. They took her side. One demanded, “Why are you talking to your mother like that?”

One of the kindest reactions of all came from Lou Curcio. A longtime Mario’s regular, he’s always been a stand-up guy. Now the entire nation — or at least those tuning in to “What Would You Do?” — saw his kind heart.

You can, too. Click here (you may have to sign in with your TV provider). Find the July 10, 2015 episode; then fast-forward to the 9:45 mark. Lou’s the guy in the Nado Paving shirt.

Would you be as nice as Lou if no one is watching — except hidden cameras at Stew’s?

Lou Curcio (left) confronts the

Lou Curcio (left) confronts the “son” (actually an actor) of a lonely, chatty old woman.

Stew Leonard Jr. Dishes On Lobsters

When your name is Stew Leonard Jr., it’s hard to imagine you won’t be part of the family business.

But Stew — a Westport native — tells the New York Times that, had it not been for a chance encounter with an airplane seatmate, he might not have taken the path he did.

In an interview in today’s Business section “Frequent Flier” column, the president and CEO of “The Worlds [sic] Largest Dairy Store” says:

I never thought I’d wind up in the business. I was the first person in my family to graduate from college and my dad asked me what I wanted as a graduation gift. I told him I wanted a ticket on Pan Am. I wanted to see the world.

I did, and actually during my see-the-world trip, the course of my life changed.

Stew Leonard Jr. (right) and friend.

Stew Leonard Jr. (right) and friend.

I was on a flight from Katmandu, Nepal, to New Delhi, and was seated next to a fellow in his 50s who was wearing all white. He even had on a turban. I thought he was very exotic. We started chatting. He told me he was the 16th generation to work in his family’s business. I told him that my father had a grocery store in Connecticut, and my dad wanted me to work with him, but I was set to do some training with a consulting firm and didn’t want to work in the food industry or the family business.

He was very kind, but he started asking me why I would want to take my energy away from my family. I told him I wanted to prove myself. He told me I already did. The gentleman was really nice, but kind of relentless. However, I couldn’t stop thinking about our conversation. When I got home, I did talk to my dad about joining the business, and here I am.

The interview centers on Stew’s frequent travels. Once, he says, he borrowed a private plane to fly 10 fish department managers to Prince Edward Island, for negotiations on lobster prices.

Stew Leonard and a lobsterman. (Photo/New York Times)

Stew Leonard and a lobsterman. (Photo/New York Times)

The flight saved them money, and a hotel room. But it backfired when the lobstermen couldn’t get over the fact that Stew arrived on a private plane.

“It was not one of my better decisions,” he tells the Times.

“I would have been better off flying commercial. In the long run, it would have been a lot cheaper.”

For the full “Frequent Flier” interview, click here.

Belta’s Farm: Bayberry’s Hidden Bounty

Bayberry Lane is like many Westport streets. There’s a mix of homes: handsome converted barns; stately Colonials; 1950s split-levels; modern, multi-gabled McMansions.

Nothing — not a sign or a peek through the trees — indicates that the driveway at #128 leads to a 28-acre farm.

It could be Westport’s best-kept secret: There’s a working farm a few yards from the intersection of Bayberry Lane and Cross Highway.

An aerial view of Belta's Farm from several years ago shows fields, greenhouses, a compost pile (near the top), and two homes (bottom).

An aerial view of Belta’s Farm from several years ago shows fields, nurseries, a compost pile (near the top), and two homes (bottom).

Four generations of Beltas — the farm’s founding family — live there. Dina is the widow of Jimmy Belta, who first farmed the land in 1946. Greg is her son. His children and grandchildren are there too.

How much longer, though, is uncertain.

The other day Greg took time out from his 7-days-a-week, 1-man farming operation to talk about Belta’s Farm. He was joined by his sister Connie. (There’s a 3rd brother, also named Jimmy; a 4th sibling died not long ago.)

Connie and Greg Belta, in the field.

Connie Caruso and Greg Belta, in the field.

Greg and Connie are very proud of the farm. It’s one of the few remaining in Westport. (Others include 10 acres owned by the Stahurskys on North Maple; the 12-acre Kowalsky farm on South Turkey Hill, and 17 acres not far away on Bayberry, formerly owned by the Pabst family and now worked by recent college grads.)

Jimmy Belta’s parents had a small truck farm in Norwalk. After being discharged from his World War II service, James found the Bayberry Lane site, thanks to Leo Nevas. The Westport attorney also helped Jimmy buy the place from Evelyn Gosnell, a silent film star who raised potatoes there.

For several decades, it thrived. Jimmy raised tens of thousands of chickens and turkeys. He had a slaughterhouse in back.

The greenhouse and outbuildings, today.

Nurseries and outbuildings, today.

In the 1960s he joined forces with Stew Leonard’s. Jimmy supplied the store with a ton of tomatoes — a day. They were prominently displayed, as the product of a local farmer.

“That consumed the farm,” Greg says.

Jimmy also grew basil, garlic and flowers. But in 2005 — slowing down a bit — he closed the wholesale business.

An easel tells CSA customers what to pick up each week.

An easel tells CSA customers what to pick up each week.

Today, Greg — who graduated from Staples in 1967, 2 years after Connie — runs the farm primarily as a CSA (community-supported agriculture). 80 families pay $500 a year for the right to pick up a variety of produce each week.

The crate is always different. Greg grows eggplant, cantaloupes, peppers, carrots, kale, lettuce, radishes, onions, beets, arugula, mint, basil and flowers — and much more. His 125 chickens lay plenty of eggs.

Greg’s daughters help run the CSA. But both are teachers — not full-time farmers.

The retail business continues, in a way. Every Friday and Saturday (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.), the Beltas pitch a tent on Bayberry Lane. They sell fresh vegetables, eggs, preserves and the like from Belta’s Farm Stand.

Belta's Farm Stand -- open Fridays and Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Belta’s Farm Stand — open Fridays and Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

As sustainable a farmer as Greg is though, he’s not sure how much longer he can sustain Belta’s Farm.

His father died in early 2012, age 88. He farmed to the end.

Greg is trying to make a go of it himself. It’s not easy.

The land includes 18 tillable acres. The soil is “fantastic,” Greg says. (When the Community Garden began near Long Lots School, Jimmy donated soil for it.) There is room for fruit trees, and animal pens.

“It’s rich in every bounty,” Greg says. “It has great potential.”

But, he adds, “Farming takes a lot of hard work.”

A few of the 125 chickens at Belta's Farm.

A few of the 125 chickens at Belta’s Farm.

Greg and Connie would hate to see the topsoil lost, the land plundered. It’s zoned for 2-acre housing; if it were sold as a farm, or for some other non-residential use, it would have to be as an entire piece.

The future of Belta’s Farm is uncertain.

Meanwhile, Greg puts his shovel in the ground every day. By himself.

On a farm that’s been here — and in his family — for nearly 70 years.

And which most Westporters have no idea even exists.

Sharing The Turkey Bounty With All

One good turn deserves another.

Two — well, read on.

A year ago this Sunday — 4 days before Thanksgiving — Saugatuck Congregational Church was nearly destroyed by fire.

Less than 3 weeks ago, Hurricane Sandy slammed Westport.

Either calamity might have pushed the church’s annual Thanksgiving feast to the back burner.

Instead, last year’s event was a spectacular success.

This year’s will be even bigger.

And better.

Twelve months after the blaze, the Saugatuck Church building is still unusable. So — for the 2nd straight year — Christ & Holy Trinity Church has opened its spacious Branson Hall to all.

Christ and Holy Trinity Church’s Branson Hall — site of the 41st annual Thanksgiving feast.

Saugatuck Church organizers are equally generous. This year — to honor the men who saved their building — they’ve invited all Westport firefighters to this Thursday’s feast.

And, in Sandy’s wake, they’re also inviting every Westport police officer, EMT member and Public Works employee.

Plus all CL&P crews and tree guys. Along with any out-of-state utility workers who might still be around.

“We want them all,” says Saugatuck Church mission board chairman Randy Christophersen.

“They can come join us. They can drive up and get a meal to go. We’ll even deliver it to their home or apartment.”

The guest list doesn’t end there. Anyone whose home is still uninhabitable — in Westport, Bridgeport, any port — is invited. So are seniors at the Westport Health Care Center.

Transportation a problem? No problem! Volunteers will pick anyone up, and bring them home.

And, of course, there’s the usual guest list: anyone alone, lonely, even entire fortunate families just looking to share a meal with others, is welcome.

Oh, yes: Bob Lasprogato’s jazz band will play.

This is a massive undertaking. And, Randy notes, Saugatuck and Christ & Holy Trinity could not do it alone.

Green’s Farms Congregational Church and Temple  Israel — Saugatuck’s post-fire home-away-from-home — are contributing 2 crucial elements: volunteers and food.

They’re not the only ones.

Stew Leonard’s has donated 25 turkeys; Brit Air is giving another 15 more. Oscar’s‘ refrigerators are storing them. Stop & Shop is providing all the produce. Juice comes from Newman’s Own Foundation. First County and Webster Banks are staunch supporters too.

The Boy Scouts are doing pots and pans. 100 chairs will come  from Assumption Church.

“This is a snap,” says Randy Christophersen, in between hectic preparations for the massive feast.

“Last year after the fire, we had only 3 days prepare.”

Turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, apple pie for hundreds of Westporters, neighboring residents, seniors, first responders, municipal and utility workers — piece of cake.

(The Saugatuck Congregational Church’s 41st annual Thanksgiving feast is set for Thursday, November 22, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., at Christ & Holy Trinity Church. For more information, or to request a delivered meal or ride, click here.)

Moshe’s Noshes

My friend Moshe Aelyon is a creative genius. A master of fashion, design and entertainment, there’s always something cool going on in his life.

Moshe Aelyon

One of his many sidelines is blogging about food. “A-la-mo” is filled with musings on memorable meals in Moshe’s native Turkey; hidden-gem restaurants in Dubai and Lebanon; stylized salmon croquettes — the blog subjects I fantasize about, if only I had grown up in the Middle East and knew everything there is to know about cooking and wine and entertaining, with culinary skills up the wazoo.

But I don’t.

So I was more than intimidated when Moshe asked me to contribute something to his blog.

I was petrified.

Yet Moshe is persistent. When he told me I could write about “anything” — so long as it had to do with food — I remembered what I always tell my writing students: Write about what you know best.

Here’s my post. It ran a few weeks ago. Bon appétit!

—————————————————

Moshe’s wonderful blog is filled with orgasmic descriptions of delectable dishes. There are stories of appetizers, entrees, desserts. I read about bok choy that “weeps a bit of water.” Emotions flow freely, for sure.

Everyone adds his or her favorite recipe.

Moshe asked me to do the same.

I have many talents. I write, I coach soccer, I walk to the planet Zork with my eyes closed.

But cooking is not one of my talents.

Still, in an effort to engage in this great conversation – and, perhaps, be asked to dine by people who can actually cook – I’ll share my favorite food story.

It’s a list of the top five places in and around Westport to score free samples.

Whole Foods’ food looks too good to eat. That’s why they have free samples.

First – that is, in fifth place – is Whole Foods. The selection is natural and organic, which of course makes me feel all kinds of virtuous about wandering around eating, but it’s skimpy. It’s like a highly regarded New York restaurant that brings you two sprigs of parsley, with some exotic sauce, and charges 24.95 (without the dollar sign). Everyone goes “oooooh, marvelous,” but you’re thinking “WTF?” You really have to dig to find samples at Whole Foods, but when you do they are good. Just not real filling.

Balducci’s is in fourth place, a drop from years past. In earlier incarnations – Hay Day, and something else that lasted 6 minutes – the place was filled with samples. Fruit slices, cheeses, entrees and sides right out of the oven, plus tons o’ pastries. Now they’ve throttled back, so like at Whole Foods, you’ve got to be a hunter/gatherer rather than a scarfer.

Sure, it’s weird eating mac-and-cheese out of a urine cup. But it’s free!

Fresh Market takes third place. I’ve had some fantastic half-sandwiches there – roast beef, pulled pork, great stuff. Yeah, it’s weird eating it out of a plastic urine specimen cup, but you can’t beat the price. Fresh Market also offers cookies and cheese platters, while every so often – random Saturdays and holidays – they turn the place into a banquet. Carving stations, steam tables, all manned by very friendly staff urging you to eat. One more Fresh Market note: There are samples at the checkout counter, but they’re hidden in little cardboard boxes you have to open. Don’t be shy!

In second place is Garelick & Herbs. Specializing in chips and dips, brownies and cookies – and lots of them — this upscale gourmet store gets bonus points for compactness. No need to wander aimlessly looking for free food; it’s all right there, between the counter and the register.

In first place – no surprise – is Stew Leonard’s. The sign calls it the “Worlds Largest Dairy Store” (no apostrophe), but it could also be the Worlds Largest Free Food Emporium. From the entrance (cookies, other pastries, and for some reason, usually spinach pie), through the winding aisles past rice cakes, pomegranate juice, and on and on and on, Stew’s is sample heaven. More often than not, there’s even something like jelly beans at the customer service counter after checkout.

What’s wrong with this picture? There are no other customers pushing the guy aside to get their free samples.

But that’s your normal, weekday, early morning and evening free fare at Stew’s. Saturday and Sunday afternoons make those offerings look like Oliver’s gruel. Weekends are when vendors pour in, handing out their wares in a free Norwalk version of an Arab souk. The latest yogurt bars, salsa dips and ice cream flavors – they’re all there. And more.

Saturdays and Sundays are also the days Stew’s sets out cheeses, salads – even shrimp – as samples. You can eat an entire meal at Stew’s.

And I often have.

Westport Country Playhouse Has A Cow

If you’ve seen “Into the Woods” — the current Westport Country Playhouse production — you know that Milky White is an udderly adorable cast member.

Okay, she’s a wooden cow. But she’s no different from any living, breathing actor or actress. On days off from performances, she wants to get out of the old Playhouse barn and moooove around Westport.

Playhouse associate director of marketing Beth Huisking snagged these photos of Milky White, out and about the town.

First, she spotted this truck. She’s asking, “Got milk?”

Then she wandered over to SunnyDaes. Looks like they’re just chewing the cud.

Finally — like anyone from out of town — she just had to see Stew Leonard’s. Milky White was very impressed with her first-ever chocolate milk.

“Into the  Woods” runs through May 26. Milky White still has time to visit Shake Shack.

Scarfing At Stew’s: The Sequel

A few days ago, I ranted about a segment of shoppers at Stew Leonard’s: the folks who — in addition to all the free samples — scarf down bagels, wings, ziti (and anything else) as if it too were “free.”

The story drew 30 comments. As expected, they ranged from “hey, everyone does it” to “those people are not only stealing from Stew’s, they’re stealing from me!” (higher prices, for you non-econ majors).

A few minutes ago, Stew Jr. (Himself) weighed in. But his comment is not what you might expect:

Scarfing at Stew’s — Dan, you make me laugh!

Stew Leonard Jr. (right) and a non-scarfing friend/customer.

There are some “scarfers” at Stew’s, but that day we also had about 10,000 really happy people and families because of all the free samples and “tastings.” When we have our demos of free food (100 a week). we get people from local businesses coming in for lunch! What do we do? We can’t let this very small percentage (less than 1%) of our customers dictate our policy.

This morning I watched a mom come in the store with her crying baby. She grabbed a bagel. The baby “teethed” on it and stopped crying. She spent over $300 on food. What’s a bagel?

If you want to go “nuts,” stand by our loose pistachio display. I find shells all over the store! When we package the pistachios, sales drop in half.

Let them scarf. My brother and I will smile! Happy New Year — and let me treat you to some of my mom’s lasagna next time you’re in the store!

Who knew?!

And a couple of lessons learned:

  1. Scarfing does not really hurt the bottom line.
  2. Stew Jr. owes me a lasagna dinner.