A dozen years ago, the number of chefs in retail was small. Although the occasional cheese or specialty food shop might have a trained culinarian on staff,
it was supermarkets that recognized the beginnings of a trend. In the mid-1980s,
when the takeout food industry was growing rapidly, grocers wanted a piece of
it. In the decade that followed, they spruced up their deli counters and developed
home meal replacement programs. Many hired corporate chefs, in-store chefs and
other culinary professionals to get the job done.
Some chains, such as Rochester, New York-based Wegmans Food Markets,
which operates supermarkets in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland,
Massachusetts and Virginia, were quite successful. They are even more successful
today in using talented chefs to develop products, run in-store restaurants, teach
cooking classes and, most of all, increase sales and provide customer service.
Over the years, many other supermarket chains have joined Wegmans. So have
cheese shops, butcher shops and specialty markets. These smaller operations don’t
offer as large a selection as the supermarkets do, but they provide their customers
with inviting changes to cooking at home.
Twenty years ago, after working in hotel and casino kitchens, including a stint as
a regional executive chef for Hyatt Hotels, Jim Schaeffer joined Wegmans. “People
thought I was crazy,” he says. “But I wanted to be part of a pioneering team.”
After working in various capacities, today he is Wegmans’ vice president of deli
and prepared foods. As such, he has his finger on all areas, from charcuterie offerings
in the deli to ready-to-go meals and in-store restaurants. Those restaurants vary
from store to store and include everything from a pub to a restaurant specializing
in Italian delicacies. Depending on the state, some venues offer wine or wine and
cocktails. In addition to restaurants, Wegmans boasts hot bars and salad bars and
food courts in their stores.
IT MIGHT BE WHAT YOUR LOCAL
SUPERMARKET CHEF HAS ON THE MENU.
BY SUZANNE HALL