Ready, set, shop! A huge, Wegmans food market — just the second one in Virginia — will open for business Sunday, Feb. 13, at 11620 Monument Drive.
It's at the intersection of Monument and Route 29, near the Fairfax County Government Center, and east of the Fairfax Corner Shopping Center. And area residents can hardly wait to go there.
"The No. 1 question we've gotten in our Sterling store [which opened February 2004] is 'When is your Fairfax store opening?'" said Mike Gorski, manager of the new store here. "The interest and excitement has been building."
AND WITH good reason, according to Jo Natale, consumer services manager at Wegmans' corporate headquarters in Rochester, N.Y. "We try to help our customers make great meals easily," she said. "We start with the freshest produce, meat, seafood and bakery goods."
She said Wegmans works with suppliers from all over the world, as well as locally, and also offers "an incredible variety of prepared meals and side dishes." And in the Market Cafe in the Fairfax store, there's seating for 230 people to enjoy these dishes on the upper-level mezzanine.
A family-owned company, Wegmans was founded in 1916. Besides the two Virginia locations, it has 65 stores in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania and employs more than 30,000 people. "We've been expanding into the Mid-Atlantic region," said Natale. "We look at demographics, available sites for a store our size and an accessible location with a good road network leading to it."
And the demographics in Fairfax County, added Gorski, are "conducive to our type of business. [We cater to] people looking for great food, variety, one-stop shopping and menu ideas." Added Natale: "We think it's an ideal place for a Wegmans store and will be a shopping experience and level of service new to [this] county."
The new Fairfax store is 125,000 square feet, has 740 parking spaces and will be open daily from 6 a.m.-midnight. And of its more than 600 employees, all but 50 are from the local area. "I'm delighted with them," said Gorski. "They're nice and knowledgeable, and I'm excited to work with them. The staff we've assembled is the strength of the store."
Natale said what sets Wegmans apart is its outstanding staff — employees able to offer suggestions about the products and how to serve them. "We offer a very high level of service, so we employ more people than the average supermarket," she said. "Customers come not just because of our great products, but also because of our great people."
ONE PERSON eagerly anticipating the new food market is Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield). "Everyone who's had a Wegmans near them or been to one in the Northeastern part of the U.S. has said they're wonderful," she said. "Even the county executive's wife is excited."
"It looks like it's going to be a great asset for the county," continued McConnell. "It's a European-village design inside and has great merchandise. It's incredible, all the departments they have. I am so glad we're getting a Wegmans."
The store's exterior is brick and, said Natale, it will be "beautifully landscaped" with 2,780 shrubs, trees and plants. "We build lovely stores because we know that's important to communities," she said.
But it's the food and employees inside the store that will keep area residents coming back, said Gorski. Meal coaches will even create meals from the store's food magazine, explaining each step along the way, and there'll be food and product demonstrations.
"Each week, we feature a recipe developed by our culinary team," said Natale. It's prepared on the spot, and then customers may sample it, pick up the recipe and gather all the ingredients to make it — right next to the demonstration area. And nutrition information is included for all recipes.
Headed by executive chef John Leonardo, the Fairfax Wegmans boasts six sous chefs who've trained at top culinary schools, and customers may talk to them about food ingredients and preparation. They may also receive information from experts in, for example, seafood, meat, cheese, bakery items, etc.
"In our wine store, we can pair great food with great wine," said Gorski. "Our wine manager, Philippe Pierre, grew up in the Champagne region of France, so you can't ask for more authenticity. And he was even a chef at his own restaurant."
He said the store helps people maximize their time. Said Gorski: "Considering the food, wine, glasses and tableware we have, you should be able to walk out of here with all the food, information and accompaniments you need to create a meal — as simple or complicated as you want."
THOSE ENTERING through the parking garage will be on the lower level containing the wine store and may then take stairs or an elevator to the main level. But most customers will enter the ground-floor level through the fresh-produce department, which includes an organic section and seasonal, homegrown produce.
Or they may walk directly into the Market Cafe offering pizzas, subs, regular and gourmet coffee drinks, smoothies, coffee beans and sit-down meals from the prepared-food area.
Natale said the Market Cafe is a real hit with Wegmans' customers because it offers a fabulous variety of hot entrees, soups, gourmet sandwiches and side dishes. Entrees could include, for example, Salmon Primavera, Chicken Française, Broccoli and Sultana Raisin Salad, Shrimp Bisque or Jumbo Lump Crabcakes.
And they're ready to eat there or take home for the family. Said Natale: "Executive chefs in each store design the menu for their individual store."
But that's not all. Wegmans also offers a sushi section, seafood and meat departments, deli and Kosher deli, gourmet cheese section, olive bar and topping area, and bakery with French patisserie. And customers will be able to sample various foods.
"The store is light and airy and has the look and feel of an open-air market," said Natale. "We'll have up to 700 different varieties of produce on a given day, and seafood is delivered fresh daily. We'll also offer European and specialty breads, such as chocolate cherry, baked on site. Our stores have wood-fired, brick ovens."
Wegmans sells more than 400 varieties of cheese — such as Roquefort from France, montegrappa from Italy and farmhouse cheddar from England. And, said Natale, "We actually make fresh mozzarella cheese daily in the store."
In a department called Nature's Marketplace, people may purchase natural foods, supplements, herbal remedies, organic products and foods for those with special dietary needs. Or they may select foods from all over the world — Adobo seasonings from the Caribbean, Montsia brand rice from Spain, gobo root from Japan, etc.
"IT'S A FUN place to be because it captures the market atmosphere," said Gorski. "You can watch people creating bread, making sushi, cutting meat, etc. Plus there's a traditional grocery store with consistent low pricing — you don't have to wait for sales."
Natale said that's because "the high volume of business our stores do enables us to keep our prices low. And we do price checks every week to make sure our prices are lower than other supermarkets."
Besides catering to its customers, Wegmans also takes good care of its employees. It was just named No. 1 on Fortune magazine's 2005 list of the "100 Best Companies to Work For." It's made the list now, eight years in a row, and was even placed in Fortune's Hall of Fame as one of 22 companies on the list since its inception.
"We're passionate about food, service and what our customers' needs are," said Gorski. "To be voted No. 1 by your people and open this [Fairfax] facility with a great staff, you could not ask for anything more — and the customers benefit."