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Fat Guy

Keeping tabs on: Stew Leonard's

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Stew Leonard's, which has four farm-themed grocery stores in the Southern Connecticut and Westchester area, is a store I find myself returning to often, for various reasons. For one thing, we live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and thus have very good car access via the Madison Avenue Bridge to the Major Deegan Expressway and 87, which if you stay on course goes straight into Stew Leonard's parking lot (the exit, 6A, is called Stew Leonard Dr.). For another thing, Stew Leonard's shares a gigantic hillside shopping complex with Costco and Home Depot, so just about any imaginable product (and then some) can be acquired in that one location. Finally, both our two-year-old son and our six-year-old dog love the place.

Stew Leonard's is not like a normal grocery store. It's not really like anything else. Out front and to the left of the store is a gigantic covered area that houses, among other things, a little farm ("Stew's Little Farm") with goats, turkeys, etc.; a garden center; an ice cream stand; and a food service operation where you can get a New England-style lobster dinner for $14.99 (a 1.25-pound lobster, fries, corn and a drink). The interior layout of the store is not the typical aisle layout of a supermarket. Rather, you enter in one place and weave through the entire store along a single path. Along the way, in addition to things like dry-aged beef, Stew's private-label dairy products, a bagel bakery, the photo-cake department and a lot of fresh produce, you're treated to songs and chants from animatronic displays such as "The Holstein Family Singers" and a dancing Chiquita banana (yes, singing that song).

Stew's has a limited inventory compared to a supermarket. There's typically just one or two brand and size choices of a product (e.g. ketchup). Some of the products are average supermarket quality, and others are on par with the best available in this region.

Last weekend we were up at Stew's in the afternoon and the parking lot was jammed. It turned out Lidia Bastianich was there for a demonstration and dinner. When we approached the store there was a huge display of apples out front, all from a local orchard called Fix Bros. I bought several Macouns -- the first of the season that I've seen -- and they were amazing, some of the best apples I've ever had and I'm extremely picky about apples. Also got some bagels -- you can watch them boiling and baking right there -- and a few pieces of Stew's very good fried chicken, which we ate at the picnic tables back by the farm with our bulldog at our feet.

Anyway, so, in the spirit of the "Keeping tabs on: Fairway" topic, going forward I'm going to post various notes and observations gleaned from my occasional trips to Stew Leonard's in Yonkers. And I hope those of you who also go to Stew Leonard's will contribute too. Thus, together, we will be keeping tabs on Stew Leonard's.

I was also thinking that we all have favorite places that we frequent, where we know the lay of the land better than the average person ever will. So why not start a "Keeping tabs on:" topic of your own?


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Although its been 10 years since moving from CT to the bay area, I still have fond memories of Stew Leonards in Norwalk, and in particular, their Sour Dough bread. I'd be curious if it is still as good, and how it would compare now that I get to sample the best the bay area has to offer.

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Having grown up in southern CT, have always been a Stew Leonards fan, and often find myself there, either on the way back from visiting my family, or the occasional special trip.

It is truly enjoyable shopping, and while always busy, it is never as chaotic as Fairway. Amazingly, not matter how busy the parking lot, or crowded the aisles are, the check out lines are always short and move quickly.

I find their meat counter to be very good (when they have their Porterhouse on sale for 6.99 a lb (usually once a month or so), it's an unbelievablely good bargain. At that price, it's choice, but a very good quality choice.

Produce is generally very fresh and better than what I can get at most groceries, and significantly cheaper than Garden of Eden.

The fish counter is also very good and reasonably priced.

I'm not sure if they still have it, but they had a homemade potato chip station going last time I was there, which was decadent.

Also of note is a pretty decent wine store and garden center on premises.

FYI, here's a link to their weekly specials:

http://www.stewleonards.com/html/specials.cfm

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Jon, the potato chips are a regular feature at the Yonkers store. They make two varieties: regular and sweet potato. Turnover is pretty high and there's actually a chance you'll get them still warm if you buy them from the display by the fried chicken counter, so you can run out to the picnic tables and gorge yourself on warm potato chips (whereas if you buy them from the other potato-chip display, by the ice cream section, they'll be cooler).

Ijfri, I know they sell several thousand loaves of that all-natural sourdough a week -- I think I saw a sign that said 3,000 or something amazing like that -- however I'm not sure I've ever purchased a loaf. I guess I should.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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At the Stew Leonard's in Danbury, CT we like the mozzarella, which they make fresh in front of you, the parmigiana reggiano, milk, butter and dairy products, aforementioned sour dough bread, and yes the fresh made potato chips.

We find the fried chicken too dry, but like some of the other hot foods.

The porterhouse is very good when it is on sale, and the pork is quite good. When I want some nice fresh rack of lambs frenched, the butcher goes into the back and accommodates me. Of course you pay dearly for that, but the quality is very good. The fresh orange juice and herbs are good also.

You have to be careful with the pricing. If an item is marked 2 for $5 do not assume that one of those items will be $2.50. Often if you only buy one of a sale item you pay the full amount it would normally be. I think this practice is lousy. It encourages me to over purchase.

At Thanksgiving time, the turkeys are put out so early and they are often rough housed and pawed over quite a bit. But they have a terrific selection of almost every kind of turkey - frozen, fresh, all natural, kosher, brined...

The in-house pastries in the refrigerated case (cannoli, creme horns, napoleons) are usually old and stale looking.

At the ice cream counter, the soft serve strawberry is ultra pink and chemical tasting. But the vanilla is fine.

At Christmastime they often have sale prices on their gift boxes that aren't selling that well. Some good deals to be had.

Also, as far as their online catalog is concerned, the quality of stuff is very good. I send my daughter an occasional college care package from it.


Edited by TrishCT (log)

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Stew Leonard's can be fun. It can also be daunting, the crowding and the flow of people through the store can be slow. You need a lot of time there.

I don't know who invented it first, but they use the same merchandising system as IKEA. You MUST go through the entire store, even if you are looking for one or two items. They flow you through every department, and force you to look at every item of merchandise that they sell. Stews is not the place to pick up a couple of items quickly.

A while back we were at the Norwalk store and they had at their outside food bar some whole steamed lobsters for $4.99/each!! It was quite a bargain, and we slobbered through one each. But I haven't been back since, and the Westchester store doesn't weem to do such things...

Didn't Stew have some legal troubles a few years ago?

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Stew Leonard's can be fun.  It can also be daunting, the crowding and the flow of people through the store can be slow. You need a lot of time there.

I don't know who invented it first, but they use the same merchandising system as IKEA.  You MUST go through the entire store, even if you are looking for one or two items.  They flow you through every department, and force you to look at every item of merchandise that they sell.  Stews is not the place to pick up a couple of items quickly. 

A while back we were at the Norwalk store and they had at their outside food bar some whole steamed lobsters for $4.99/each!!  It was quite a bargain, and we slobbered through one each.  But I haven't been back since, and the Westchester store doesn't weem to do such things...

Didn't Stew have some legal troubles a few years ago?

After you get used to a store you learn the shortcuts you can take to get out of the "snaking maze" as I call it. I've got the Danbury one down pretty well.

The Danbury store has "Stew's Hoedown" an outdoor grill and dining area that sells burgers, dogs, grilled chicken and cheap lobster meals. Very much a crowd favorite in summer. The Norwalk store didn't originally plan for outdoor dining and put up a makeshift tent in the parking lot which makes for horrendous parking nightmares.

The Danbury store also has a seasonal garden/Christmas tree and ornament shop. They get their cut trees very very early...I avoid.

Stew and his sons have had skirmishes with the law. Stew was arrested and served time when it was discovered that one cash register at the Norwalk store was bypassing normal accounting procedures and the money was going directly into the basement.

They were also found guilty of shortweighting — charging more for a container of something than the actual weight.

Also, I can't remember if it was Stew Jr. or Tom but one of them pulled a bizarre stunt by landing a helicopter on the roof of the Danbury store so he could fly it to Southbury for lunch. The landing actually caused damage to the roof and ceiling below.

I think it was the same Leonard that was arrested when he refused to cooperate with police and threatened the cop saying he was a police officer or commissioner (or something like that), but it wasn't quite true, and so he got in trouble for that...

You might think that some of their antics would hurt business....but every time they had a "problem" with the law, the company would put a coupon in the local paper good for a free half gallon of milk.... that seemed to solve their PR dilemma.

My husband doesn't like the store or its accounting practices...and he won't go there, but he never complains when he gets his rack of lamb roasted medium rare with garlic and fresh rosemary...

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Speaking of milk, I've long been a fan of their milk--the best in the area that I've tried (that is, without spending a gazillion dollars for Ronnybrook, WHEN I can find it). But I recently got a disturbing report from some friends that are regulars of Stew Leonard's--namely that they have done something to their milk so that it is now as bad or worse than the New York mafia milk (Elmhurst/Tuscan/any-number-of-other-monikers-for-the-exact-same-liquid) that has an almost total lock on the Manhattan market. They say the flavor pretty much disappeared and it would no longer froth when making cappuccinos.

Any scoop?


My restaurant blog: Mahlzeit!

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I can't remember the last time we bought Stew Leonard's milk, however Stew's house label is my preferred for a few other dairy products: cream (a quart of cream at Stew's cost about as much as an 8-ounce container in Manhattan), butter for baking (incredibly cheap if you catch it on special) and yogurt (better than any of the upscale brands like Stonyfield).

Stew's has also recently been introducing various "natural" foods under the code name "naked," as in "Cage Free Naked Eggs" and "Naked Beef."


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Here's what Stew's says about its milk (this is from a press release earlier this year, when they opened the Newington store):

You understand how Stew Leonard’s came up with the slogan, “You’d have to own a cow to get fresher milk,” since they truly do own their own cows, on a dairy farm in Ellington, Connecticut, and their milk is processed and packaged in the heart of Stew Leonard’s Norwalk store. Customers can literally buy milk that has gone from farm to shelf in as little as six hours, at a $1.59 for a half gallon of low fat milk.

A few other interesting tidbits from the marketing literature:

Unlike traditional grocery stores that sell an average 30,000 items, each Stew Leonard's store carries only 2,000 items, chosen specifically for their freshness, quality and value.
In order to create happy customers, Stew Leonard's is also recognized for their management philosophy: "Take good care of your people and they in turn will take good care of your customers." It is this philosophy that has helped earn Stew Leonard's ranking on FORTUNE Magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work For in America" list for the past six consecutive years.
In 1992, Stew Leonard's earned an entry into The Guinness Book of World Records for having "the greatest sales per unit area of any single food store in the United States."

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Here's an interesting article from Money Mag--- chronicling the stupidity of Stew Sr.'s tax skimming evasion scheme. (He wasn't rich enough?)

http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fsb/fsb_arc...31999/index.htm

I con't find any report, though, of the short-weighing somebody reported above. To me, this would be far more despicable than his tax evasion attempt...

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I love Stew Leonard's. I used to go to the Yonkers store every so often when I lived in Manhattan. It was always fun and a change of scenery from the usual stores and even Fresh Direct.

Now I live in Westchester and I'm 15 minutes from Stew's. I go on a somewhat regular basis, maybe every other week. During the summer, we will all go -- my husband and I and our 2 kids -- and make an outing of it. We will get there around 10:30, shop and then have lunch at the outdoor grill. I have made the mistake of getting there too late (in the afternoon) on a weekend, and I won't do that again, particularly not with a 3 year old and a 1 year old in tow. So we go early -- we're up anyway.

It is somewhat annoying that you can't buy "everything" there, but then again, when I go to the Food Emporium/A&P right near me (a nice, clean store), I'm always annoyed at the produce, so I can't really get "everything" there either. And I still order Fresh Direct once in a while, but I still can't get "everything" there either.

With regard to the milk, my husband drinks an enormous amount of skim milk (as does my daughter), and he claims that Stew's milk is "the best". I can't vouch for it, since I don't drink enough to know good milk.

Another thing that I often get is the roast chicken. Way better than the Costco chickens, and better than the Whole Foods chickens. We've tried them all and Stew's are the best around (and the cheapest at $5.99).

Soda at Stew's is often on sale -- 89 cents for a 2 liter bottle of Diet Coke -- can't beat that. And Rao's marinara sauce is often on sale for 2 for $10. I can never pass that up, which is why I now have 3 jars in my cabinet!

For many years I lived near Fairway on Broadway & 74th and shopped there regularly. But I was single at the time, so my needs were different. Then we moved downtown and Fairway in Red Hook opened -- it became my new love. And now we're close to Stew's, which is certainly nice.

I think for me, the key to to mix it up since I get a little sick of a place when I go for too many weeks in a row. I'm suddenly longing for Fairway, so a trip to the Harlem store might be in order...

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I don't know about the Ct stores, but at the Yonkers emporium beginning about a month before Chrismas you can get 100 percent cashmere sweaters for fifty dollars each. Its an incredible price for a decent quality product. They have them for both mens and women in quite a few colors.

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This week Stew's had Macoun apples from Blue Hills Orchard in Connecticut. Excellent specimens. Unwaxed, in great shape -- just like what you'd get at a farmer's market but cheaper.

There's also a ton of Halloween stuff there.

I had wanted to go on October 13 to see the baby water buffalo from Woodstock Water Buffalo -- they make actual buffalo mozzarella domestically. But I couldn't pull it off.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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This week Stew's had Macoun apples from Blue Hills Orchard in Connecticut. Excellent specimens. Unwaxed, in great shape -- just like what you'd get at a farmer's market but cheaper.

Do you remember the price?


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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It was some ridiculously low loss-leader price like 98 cents a pound, for any of about six different varieties of apples from this orchard. I don't have the receipt but I should be back Tuesday so I can check.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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It was some ridiculously low loss-leader price like 98 cents a pound, for any of about six different varieties of apples from this orchard. I don't have the receipt but I should be back Tuesday so I can check.

That's pretty cheap...prices at the Union Square green market range from 75 cents a pound at one vendor (for varieties like golden delicious and macintosh), $1 a pound at other vendors for most varieties, up to $2 a pound for honey crisps. One or two of the vendors also sell some bagged varieties (either smaller or less "perfect" apples) for 3 pounds for $1 - great for juicing or sauce.


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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At the Stew Leonard's in Danbury, CT we like the mozzarella, which they make fresh in front of you

I've been meaning to circle back to this comment. I think Stew Leonard's may very well produce the best cow's-milk mozzarella in the region. Or, at least, it's on par with what you get at Casa Della Mozzarella near Arthur Avenue and Alleva in Little Italy. It's certainly better than Fairway and the various other NYC gourmet markets. The guy in Yonkers who does the mozzarella is amazing. He pulls it to a beautiful texture, especially the small knots. That seems to be the fundamental point of differentiation among mozzarella specimens: the technique. Because the underlying ingredients are pretty much uniform. Most everybody gets ready-made mozzarella curds from one of a few large commercial suppliers (I'm not aware of any retail establishment that makes mozzarella from actual milk) and fabricates the mozzarella from there forward.

Although its been 10 years since moving from CT to the bay area, I still have fond memories of Stew Leonards in Norwalk, and in particular, their Sour Dough bread.  I'd be curious if it is still as good, and how it would compare now that I get to sample the best the bay area has to offer.

I finally had a chance to sit down with loaves of Stew's sourdough and "9 Whole Grain" breads and really check them out and taste carefully. They're not as good as good artisan bakery bread, but they're quite good. Certainly, a cut above what you can get at supermarket bakeries.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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It''s true, they were found guilty of tax evasion, mislabeling products and short weighing. In 1993, the founder was sentenced to 52 months in prison for tax evasion. Do a Google search, its in Wikipedia and I am sure the Hartford Courant has lots of archieve articles available. Needless to say, I don't shop there.

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I guess the fact that 15 years ago the owner did some jail time doesn't really bother me given that all my present-day experiences with Stew Leonard's have been so positive. He paid his debt to society and all that.

Last week (well about 10 days ago now) we went up to Stew Leonard's in Yonkers for the lighting of the 21-food menorah. We figured our son would get a kick out of it, and he did. From the press release on the event:

Stew Leonard’s invites the community to celebrate Chanukah on Thursday, December 6 at the Yonkers store with a giant menorah lighting and party for family and friends. Scarsdale Synagogue - Tremont Temple's Cantor Chanin Becker will lead children in traditional songs.

After the lighting, everyone is invited to the upstairs conference room for pizza and hot chocolate.

Upstairs conference room? I had never before noticed that, to the left of the bathrooms, there's a staircase leading up. When you climb that staircase, as I did after the menorah lighting (which was very nice -- the kids sang a bunch of songs while the cantor played guitar), you're in a whole world of Stew Leonard's that I didn't know existed. There are offices, locker rooms, all sorts of facilities. And there's a big room with dozens of cafeteria-style tables where, I guess, they have conferences and such (which must be why it's called the conference room).

Every chair at every table had blue and white balloons tied to it, and up front Stew Leonard's had set up several buffet tables bearing box upon box of pizza (from Stew Leonard's ovens), pretzels and potato chips, plus all sorts of juices and hot beverages. It was really nice. I want to have my birthday party there.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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