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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Shawn Ranks the Gourmet Supermarkets in New York City

When I’m not writing, publishing or pursuing one of my other hobbies I’m a foodie. And being a foodie I travel to different supermarkets to see what unique products are on the shelf and to try these exotic gourmet delicacies.

From my journeys I’ve visited several of the top gourmet chain supermarkets in the city and I thought I’d rank them. Please understand this is my opinion based on my shopping experiences at these stores and your experience may vary based on the day you visit there.

My criteria for this critique are:
Product selection
Baked goods/prepared food
Customer service

Each category is 20 points, with 100 being the highest overall score a store can get. A 60 is a failing grade and a store you should avoid.

110th Street and Broadway
Environment: A delight. Westside Market is small, but it’s a place that invites the customer in to explore, smell and taste. But what WestsideMarket lacks in elbow room they make up for in style. I The Black Metal wire racks make the product stand out and the displays are easy to access. could stay here for hours perusing the shelves; it’s that relaxing.

Selection: The selection of products here is pretty solid. You can find a lot of unique products here in addition to the household staples. I’d have to say they have the best fresh Cheese selection on the West Side of Manhattan. The frozen food section has a nice variety of high-end products such as Van’s waffles and Amy’s organic pizza in addition to the household staples like Kellogg’s Eggo.

Produce: The produce here looks great. I’ve been here several times and I haven’t seen a bruised fruit or a wilted vegetable on display outside or inside. The produce looks clean and there’s a wonderful selection of fruits and vegetables. A little pricey, but I’d say it was worth it in terms of quality.

Baked goods/prepared food: The baked goods looked fresh, and they have a spectacular variety of cookies, cakes, pies, scones bagels and cheesecake! A little on the pricey side, but worth it if you want to treat yourself.

This small store even has a nice selection of beverages such as coffee, lemonade and tea self-serve.
Prepared foods have a various selection of hot food behind the deli counter. From what I saw in the prepared foods, a working person on the go could get a nice lunch or dinner in a hurry.

Customer service: Pretty solid. When I visited around lunchtime, I got in and out no problems.
Whenever me and my sister visit Columbia University I always make a connection to the Westside Market. While this place is the priciest of all the gourmet markets, a trip here is always worth it.
Overall score 90/100

Multiple locations across the city, but I visited the 110th Street and Broadway location across the street from the WestSide Market.

Environment: BLAND. This market was renovated a few years ago and it STILL looks like the 80’s threw 
up in hepre. And WTF was up with the lighting? This place was so dark I felt like I was in a nightclub.

Selection: LAME. Every product here is at my local Associated. And a good deal less. Everything here is overpriced, and under quality.

Produce: Not great. Produce section is tightly packed. Fruits looked tired and veggies looked wilted. Wasn’t impressed with the selection either.

Baked goods/Prepared foods. Crappy, the worst I’ve seen in 10 years of going to markets like this. Even the Associated in my neighborhood is better than this wreck. Baked goods like bagels and rolls looked stale. And there were some turkey burgers on display at the deli that looked like hockey pucks.

Customer service: I didn’t care to buy anything. This place offered me no reason to.
Dag this store was a drag. Not coming back here EVER.
 Overall Score 0/100

22nd and Sixth (Chelsea) Manhattan

Environment Trader Joe’s has a big open sales floor which makes there stores look cavernous. While it makes walking around easy, you realize how limited a shopping experience is when you get a good look at the product selection.

Product selection: Very limited. Most of what Trader Joe’stocks are their own brands. They say they do this to highlight their lower prices, but the selection is LIMITED, which defeats the purpose of shopping gourmet. While there are some interesting frozen items like Shrimp fried rice and dumplings, there aren’t enough household staples here to make me shop here regularly. They need to take a page from Whole Foods whose 365 Brand is in just about everything.

Baked goods/prepared food: No fresh anything/no deli. Everything is prepackaged. Scones are small, hard and dry. A package of lemon turnovers I bought were a huge disappointment. They had more crust than filling. In the prepared foods section everything is refrigerated and cold, so a person will have to heat up anyting they buy in the microwave. Sorry, but gourmet does not get cooked in a microwave. Defeats the whole purpose.

Produce: A very limited selection, no exotic stuff here like blood oranges. I’ve seen Korean grocers with a bigger selection and better quality fruits and vegetables in their stores. Fruits here were dried out looking and bruised and the vegetables looked JACKED UP. And I didn’t see any misting equipment anywhere

Customer service: The best part of Trader JoeThings move fast here, A long line was thinned out in just a few minutes at the register. And the cashier I had was very friendly.
Trader Joe’s says it’s a Bargain gourmet market and promotes its brands over big names. While it has solid customer service, a lack of depth on the aisles may keep it from competing in the NYC area. The management of Trader Joes needs to understand if it’s not in the store, money walks out the door. I wanted to buy more from here, but I didn’t see much that grabbed me. 

This was a disappointing shopping experience for me. Instead of Trader Joe’s it felt like Trader Blows. I wasn’t impressed by the store with the Hula shirts.
Overall Score  60/100

59th Street and Broadway
14th Street and Broadway

Environment: Very inviting. Walk into a Whole Foods store and you’ll want to spend a day here, It’s that comfortable. I’d say Whole Foods on Columbus Circle is a place where a customer will want to spend a few hours just walking around. The place has warm lighting, easy to get around aisles without a lot of clutter and merchandise is easy-to find.

Product selection: A lot of unique brands here, but a lot of stuff here is pricey. However Whole Foods 365 Brand makes shopping here a bit more affordable for the consumer who is looking to eat gourmet on a budget.

Produce: One of the best selections of fruits and vegetables in New York City. You can find just about anything here. The quality here is usually top notch, however, I have seen wilted vegetable or bruised fruit on occasion. But with staff running around, usually this stuff is taken off the shelf quickly and replaced.

Baked goods/prepared foods: The Hot food is prepared fresh; When I walk in I see the steamer trays being replaced regularly, so food is constantly moving. The service counters at the Columbus Circle location are always busy. There’s a great selection of hot food for an on-the go person to make a meal out of at the Columbus Circle

Baked goods like scones and Bagels aren’t as good as they could be though. I’ve purchased a stale bagel or two and the Scones are on the dry side lately. But most of the other baked goods seem fresh from touch and samples.

Customer Service Checking out at Whole Foods feels like a George Orwell novel waiting standing on a colored line and waiting for a computerized voice to tell you what register to go to. Worse, pretentious register system is SLOW. When it gets crowded you’re not going anywhere for a while. If they sold Snickers there I would have grabbed one.

Whole Foods is a shopping experience with inviting stores and a great selection of products, but the way they check customers in and out could be much better.

Overall score 80/100

86th Street and Second Avenue

Environment: Very spartan and minimalist on style, but inviting. The two levels of fairway are laid out so the customer can easily find things on their own without asking for help. The sales floor is very clean, and a customer can get comfortable here perusing the shelves
Product selection: The selection here is very strong. I found Silver Palate Grain Berry and McCann’s Irish Oatmeal here along with Van’s waffles and Amy’s organic. All the top brands are here. And I’d have to say Fairway has the best prices on gourmet groceries in New York City. Some things here are a good twenty to thirty percent cheaper than competitors.
Produce: Fairway has the one of the best selection of produce in the city. Displays look fresh, fruits look beautiful and veggies look alive.

Customer service: Very friendly, very professional, and extremely efficient. I get in and get out.
Baked goods/prepared foods: Top notch. I’d have to say Fairway has the best scones in New York City. The Hot food is a limited selection, but Everything always looks fresh. Meats and cheeses have a nice selection of items.

I love this store. Great prices, great selection of products, very inviting environment and fast customer service.
Overall score 100/100

Multiple locations in the New York area, but I visited the one on 68Th Street and Third Avenue
Environment: The retail floor in the basement is well-organized and efficient, but still feels like the 1980’s in terms of style. A customer can walk in and walk out. But the Second floor of gourmet products is modern and just a delight to shop in. Up there a customer will want to spend an hour or two just perusing the displays.

Product selection: Pretty solid. The Original gourmet market in NYC has held its own against competitiors like Whole Foods and Fairway and looks like It’s ready to competing with the newcomers for the next twenty years. From Silver Palate to Carr’s crackers to Van’s waffles and San Peligrino water, if it’s gourmet grocery customers are going to find it here at a competitive price.

Baked goods/prepared food. The Baked goods are prepared fresh on premises, I’ve been happy with the scones, pretzels and rolls I’ve bought here. There’s also a solid selection of meats and cheeses There’s always a delicious aroma on the second floor, a customer will be tempted to buy something on a visit here.
Customer Service: Rock solid. Fast, friendly and well-organized. Customers go in and out like a breeze.
A&P’s long standing gourmet brand is still a delight to shop at. Whenever I’m in the Hunter College area I make a visit at the Food Emporium at the Trump Palace on 68th and Third. If you’re in the NYC area you need to check this supermarket out too.

Overall score 90/100

So if you’re in the New York area, take a moment to stop in a gourmet supermarket in between visiting the tourist attractions like the Empire State Building and Broadway. The smells and tastes you’ll experience in between the aisles are just as exciting as the sights on the streets.

1 comment:

  1. Okay. Now that you've done your bit for New Yorkers, come to D.C. and do the same for us. We're just full of what's good to eat and you'd be a hero for months:)