Is it Disney, or is it a grocery store?
Stew Leonard’s, the Connecticut-based market, opens it's second Long Island location in East Meadow on Aug. 23 with the same arsenal of amusements and proprietary foods that has earned it a devoted following since the first store opened in 1969. Folks dressed up as Holstein cows chat with your kids; giant animatronic farm animals perform Stew-themed ditties; a track of duck footprints leads to the restroom.
Here are 10 tips for making the most of your visit.
Follow the herd
Stew Leonard's, opening in Farmingdale on Jan. 20, has a distinctive layout -- one wide, aisle leads you through the entire store, from produce, to bakery, dairy, butcher shop, groceries, seafood, deli and prepared foods. President and CEO Stew Leonard Jr. said that the one-way aisle was a response to the first store's odd configuration. "When a restaurant next to our first store went out of business, we took over the space, so customers had to make a right turn to keep shopping. Since our dairy plant was right in the middle of the property, there was no way to make it a regular 'box' and we wound up with one big aisle. But customers loved it so we kept it and made it our signature."
Sample the wares
Pastrami, meat loaf, Bolognese sauce, macaroni and cheese, cookies... Stew Leonard's figures if you taste these, you'll buy them. So the samples come fast and furious as you make your way through the store.
Remember to look up
Above the food displays throughout the store are larger-than-life-size animatronic animals that sing and, sometimes, play instruments. The clucking you hear while you're deciding between chicken breasts and thighs emanates from robotic birds perched (in coops) above the poultry case. Leonard recalled, "My brother Tommy once saw this animatronic piano player at a Chuck E. Cheese. We ordered one, put it on top of the cheese case, plugged it in and it started playing Dixieland. Kids went nuts, and we started adding more 'shows' around the store. We really want families to walk out of here and say, 'We had fun at Stew Leonard's.' "
Watch the workers work
Watch the workers work. Butchers, fishmongers, produce fluffers, pineapple corers and bakers all perform their appointed tasks in full view of the customers. Pay special attention to the bakers because they are turning out some impressive products: brioche loaves and buns, Kalamata olive bread, chewy chocolate pecan cookies and buttery croissants are among the products we sampled and liked.
Don't expect too much grocery variety
Stew Leonard's is famous for its narrow grocery options, about 2,200 items as opposed to a standard supermarket's 50,000 to 60,000. That means 12 breakfast cereals, 10 salad dressings, five olive oils, four brands of pasta. And if you want laundry detergent, you'd better like Tide. Leonard freely admitted, "You absolutely cannot do all your shopping here; you will have to go to a supermarket." But when it comes to non-packaged food, he believes Stew Leonard's beats the competition. "Bakery, produce, meat, fish, dairy, deli, prepared food -- the stuff that needs refrigeration that usually goes around the perimeter of a supermarket -- that's where we focus."
The Leonard family has been dairy farmers since the 1600s. In 1923, Charles Leo Leonard, Stew Jr.'s grandfather, founded Clover Farms Dairy in Norwalk and up until 2008, the company pasteurized and bottled its own milk. Now the store relies on Byrne Dairy, a fourth-generation, family-owned dairy in Montgomery, New York. Stew Leonard's sells organic milk, but even the conventional milk is free of antibiotics and artificial growth hormones (including rBST). You'll also find butter, yogurt, cream and ice cream bearing the Stew Leonard's label.
Check out the 'naked' meat
In addition to its conventional meat, Stew Leonard's sells a line of "naked" beef, chicken, pork and turkey. These products are not organic -- they are not raised on certified exclusive feed -- but they have not been given antibiotics or hormones and are harvested humanely.
Buy bed linens
Among the food items at Stew Leonard's, there are always a few non-food wildcards. Winter coats and hats, for example, or six-piece sheet sets for full-, queen- and king-sized mattresses for only $24.99.
Try Stew's store brands
Leonard estimates that half of the grocery items on the shelves are private label. That means Stew Leonard's potato and tortilla chips, olive oil, frozen pizzas, dried pasta and more. "We think we can make a better product and sell it at a lower price," he said. "Our marinara sauce is made exactly to our recipe. " But don't worry -- you'll still find Oreos, Coke, King Arthur flour and Domino sugar. (In fact, in the baking section, all you'll find is five-pound bags of King Arthur all-purpose flour and four-pound bags of granulated Domino sugar.)
Let Stew do the cooking
Throughout the store are products designed to cut down on your time in the kitchen. In the produce department, squash, yams and turnips are already cubed; Asian vegetables are sliced and ready for a stir-fry. In the butcher shop, flank steaks have been stuffed, pork chops have been breaded. Too much work? There's also a station for barbecued and fried items, a sushi bar, pizza ovens and an immense serve-yourself hot buffet.