Here are a few things I wanted to share with you this week. I love hearing from you. Let me know what you think! - Stew
April 10, 2021
WE’RE SETTING VACCINE RECORDS!
We did several fun videos at Stew’s to create excitement for our Team Members and to assist them with getting their vaccine shots. Over 64% have had their first shot and another 20% have it scheduled. More than 80% of our Team Members will be vaccinated with their second shot shortly. I told Senator Blumenthal (a great friend and customer) about this, and we did a press conference at our Newington store to encourage other companies in Connecticut to help their employees get the vaccine!
EASTER OF HOPE
Our customers had a sparkle in their eye this past Easter weekend. The anticipation of celebrating had been building for months. Last year, Easter celebrations looked a lot different because we were asked to stay home amid the spread of Covid 19. But this Easter, the theme for the holiday was HOPE! It seems we’re all seeing the light at the end of the tunnel regarding Covid.
THE TV STATIONS WERE ALL OVER US FOR EASTER.
How did Easter this year compare to last year? We had Inside Edition (2.7 million viewers!), WNBC-TV, WCBS-TV, and News 12 stop by our stores to talk to our shoppers, chefs, and Team Members about the holiday. What I’m seeing as the big difference between this Easter and last Easter is that there’s hope in the air this year. Seeing kids in the store again, watching the flowers bloom in our garden centers, and knowing that our Team Members and customers are starting to get vaccinated makes me feel like we’re at a real turning point.
THE RESULTS ARE IN
The holiday weekend was also a celebration of ham and lamb dinners. Ham beat out lamb in poundage (60,000 lbs. vs. 40,000 lbs.) but lamb is growing. But wait a minute … Filet Mignon did 70,000 lbs. and topped them both! And we’re finding that you’re more likely to buy the trimmed filet. Long Islanders’ LOVE lamb and gobbled that up. Yonkers wasn’t far behind. We also introduced the Oven Ready Filet and Leg of Lamb (marinated and ready to pop in the oven). It was a home run. Wow! You kept us busy!
A LITTLE CHILLY FOR GARDENING?
Customers are more excited than ever about planting their yards, even with our chilly nights and mornings. We traveled to DeFrancesco Farm in Northford, Connecticut, to see Joe and his family and got an inside look at all the beautiful flowers they supply to Stew’s. An old friend of Stew’s, Joe has been our major plant supplier for over 35 years – and his family business is now fourth generation, just like Stew Leonard’s! Stay tuned over the coming weeks. I’ll have a bunch of videos with Joe and family to share with great growing tips to get you started, how to keep your plants healthy, and which of our flowers at Stew’s are our top sellers and why!
HOW AM I LOSING WEIGHT?
As you may have read previously, I went to the Structure House in North Carolina for a week to kick start my weight loss. I have my daughter Ryann’s wedding coming up in August and need to lose 25 lbs. She wants “Dad to look good walking down the aisle!” I have trimmed down my eating and found some great low-fat recipes. One is Turkey Chili (I took our Slow Cooker Beef Chili and subbed in ground chicken and chicken broth). I also make tuna fish salad, which I LOVE, but instead of using mayo, I sub in non-fat yogurt mixed with a packet of Splenda. Here’s the recipe for the chili. Feel free to add or swap out ingredients to give it your own spin!
March 27, 2021
GETTING SERIOUS ABOUT
I just returned from the Structure House in Durham, North Carolina (a wellness retreat) with two of my daughters. Ryann was with me and is getting married in August. While there, I asked Dr. Katie Rickel how to lose 25 lbs. so I’ll look good walking Ryann down the aisle. Here are Dr. Rickel’s thoughts on the 3 main triggers for weight gain, why we typically “go to food”, and how to create healthy habits.
My mom is Jewish and we’re going to make a couple of traditional recipes this year for Passover. Check out a couple of recipes for Matzo Stuffing that we’ll serve with our slowly braised brisket, plus a recipe for how to make matzo balls for Matzo Ball Soup. To all our customers who are celebrating, I wish you Zissen Pesach!!
2 boxes of matzo
2 cups chicken stock
1 large onion, chopped fine
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
1 Tbsp. dried parsley
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
Preheat oven to 350°F. Break matzo into small pieces and combine with the chicken stock in a medium bowl. Sauté the vegetables in a little vegetable oil and allow to cool. Add cooled veggies, herbs, salt, and pepper to matzo mixture and mix to combine. Transfer to a baking dish, cover, and bake for 30 minutes.
Matzah Balls for Matzah Ball Soup
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup matzah meal
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup oil
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
A pinch of salt and pepper
The key to fluffy, light, and delicious matzah balls is not in the matzah – it’s in the eggs!
Beat the eggs in a mixing bowl with a hand mixer for a few minutes. Turn off the mixer; add the rest of the ingredients to the beaten eggs and stir with a fork. The mixture will fall a bit; this is fine.
Cover the mixture and refrigerate for an hour or overnight. Form mixture into golf ball sized balls and drop into salted boiling water for 15 minutes. Add balls to chicken soup and serve.
Had a successful Easter egg hunt for the kids at our stores. There was a big smile on my face when I saw all the kids coming into Stew’s with their candy baskets. We had to cancel last year due to Covid but this year, we organized the event with our costume characters and had strict social spacing requirements. The kids loved it. Thousands showed up between all our stores. Not as many as prior years but I’ll take it as a win!
WOW YOUR GUESTS
Why did my wife tell me that I needed to change clothes in the garage? We visited the Hummel Bros in New Haven, Connecticut, and they smoke our hams. We’ve been doing business together for about 25 years. They brought me into one of their large smoking chambers and my clothes absorbed all that hickory smoke! You’ll LOVE the flavor of our Stew Leonard’s hams for Easter. They use a slow smoking process with real hickory wood that gives the ham an old-fashioned flavor. They’re pre-cooked and spiral cut so all you have to do is heat and serve. They come with a simple-to-make brown sugar with honey seasonings glaze, too. Yum.
Here’s how to heat up the ham: Preheat your oven to 350°F. Place ham face side down in a shallow pan. Heat for 1 hour or approximately 7 minutes per pound. Super easy.
DON’T FORGET TO VOTE
I mentioned last week that Stew Leonard’s is nominated for “Best Supermarket” in USA Today’s 10Best Readers’ Choice 2021 Awards. We’re up against some real heavy hitters from around the country! If you could take a moment to vote for Stew’s, you’d be making me, our family, and all of our Team Members really happy. Stew Leonard’s has been hovering around #4 all week and we’d love to crack the top 3! You can vote once a day up until April 12.
I’m excited to share that our Garden Shops are opening next week! Look for Garden Shop offers in the Stew Leonard’s APP that will get you GROWING!
BLAKE'S WINE CORNER
Three wines you can’t go wrong with for Easter!
A CRISP WHITE - SANTA GIADA My dad and I first met Peter Zemmer in 2012 when we visited his family’s third generation winery all the way at the tippity top of Italy. He started making a delicious Pinot Grigio for us that is now our #1 seller!
BUBBLES - FANTINEL PROSECCO For every bottle of Champagne sold, we sell three bottles of Prosecco. It is so easy to enjoy and a great option for when you have a lot of flavors on the table. My family has been friends with the Fantinel’s for a long time now. They make this extra dry Prosecco for us!
PAIRS WELL WITH EVERYTHING! - WESTMOUNT PINOT NOIR If every wine entered a popularity contest, Pinot Noir would win, hands down! It is juicy and fruity with low tannins. Plus, it tastes delish with so many foods! I’ll be drinking this award-winner this year.
March 19, 2021
VISITED MIAMI AND A FEW
We ate at the new Carbone’s restaurant in South Beach. (Love the one in NYC, too!) I was able to join Mario Carbone in the kitchen and we talked about his marinara sauce. Yum. It’ll be hitting Stew’s at the end of the month. It all began with my mother’s “simply” marinara sauce. Then, Paul Newman asked us to carry his sauce (how can you say no to Paul Newman!), then Frankie at Rao’s restaurant asked if we’d help launch his new sauce (again, how can you say no?), then Beau Dietl introduced me to “Joey Pots and Pans,” who wanted us to carry his sauce and wore blue sunglasses to our first meeting (I definitely couldn’t say “NO!”). Then our friend Steve Schirripa inquired…then Lidia Bastianich…the list goes on. To stay on the shelf at Stew’s a product needs to perform with strong sales. Otherwise, it’s gone. One of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do was tell “Joey Pots and Pans” that we were discontinuing his sauce!
MAKE ME HAPPY & VOTE FOR STEW’S!
Stew Leonard’s is nominated for “Best Supermarket” in USA Today’s 10Best Readers’ Choice 2021 Awards. We’re up against some real heavy hitters from around the country – I won’t mention them here, but I bet you can guess! If you could take a moment to vote for Stew’s, you’d be making me, our family, and all of our Team Members really happy!
TASTE TEST OF THE WEEK
Excited about our Bunny Milk. My grandfather had a small dairy and bottled all his milk from the farms. It was in glass half gallons and since then, we’ve eliminated glass except for certain holidays like Easter. We like to bring a little nostalgia back with the glass jugs that have become a collector’s item. Mike McManus has 500 cows up in Homer, NY (near the Finger Lakes) and sends the milk to us from his family farm. No added hormones or antibiotics, just lots of creamy milk and chocolate!
STRATEGY MEETINGS AT STEW’S
Every year we have each department talk about what worked and what didn’t over the course of the past year. The year was crazy due to Covid, but here’s a recap from our Dairy and Bakery departments that we discussed this week. Trending are organic milk and almond milk. Butter, eggs, and cream showed big jumps due to more people baking at home. Bakery saw a jump in pizza dough and bread, especially thin sliced bread. Also, we saw more demand for nutritional labeling with all our grain breads (like my sister’s freshly baked Bethy’s Killer Bread with 21 grains). The Bakery is coming up on its 40-year anniversary, too! Something to celebrate.
BON VOYAGE TOMMY ANRICO AFTER 43 YEARS
All my friends at Stew’s are hitting their sixties and retiring. We all grew up in the business together – the stories we could tell! Tommy is currently running the Danbury store and will be handing over the reins to Jamie Distefano (a 25-year Stew’s vet). We wish Tommy the very best. He will be missed.
GOOD MORNING AMERICA WEEKEND IS COMING UP
This is a biggie. Just in time for March Madness, I’m going to make two of our best-selling gameday appetizers on Good Morning America Weekend – Buffalo Chicken Stuffed Loaves and Buffalo Chicken Dip. You can catch the segment at 10:50 a.m. on WABC-TV or 9:50 a.m. on WTNH-TV.
March 13, 2021
DID YOU KNOW?
The Leonard family’s roots can be traced back to 1888 when Patrick Joseph Leonard emigrated from Ireland to Danbury, Conn. He supported his wife and 12 children as a hat maker! Happy St. Patrick’s Day and be sure to pick up a loaf of Irish Soda Bread from the Bakery. Here’s a quick video of what goes into making the recipe:
OUR FIRST IN-STORE EVENT IN A YEAR!
Our annual Egg Hunt was canceled last year due to Covid-19. It was a tough decision to make, but we knew we had to do it for the safety of our Team Members and our shoppers. A year later, I’m excited to say that our Egg Hunts are back on the calendar for March 24 & 25 at all seven of our stores! We can’t wait to see the kids’ smiling faces. We’re putting plenty of safety measures in place. Plus, to make this a real community event, we’re asking our shoppers to bring a non-perishable food item to support food pantries and the Egg Hunt winners will get gift cards to a locally owned toy store.
FROM GOLD CARD TO APP
Forty years ago I remember my dad saying, “Let’s give all our customers that spend over $5000 a GOLD CHECK CASHING CARD." We did, and what did they get? A personal “thank you” by name when you checked out and a gift now and then. We found that customers loved being Gold Card members. Fast forward to today, our customers are using different apps and credit cards to pay on a regular basis. So… we launched an APP, which gets you 1 point on every dollar. Reach 100 points and get a free ice cream cone or coffee. The APP is also allowing us to keep track of our best customers' points. Better than the Gold Card, we are offering you these FREE items this week if you use the APP. Here are this weeks deals:
- Free garlic bread with purchases of $40 or more
- Buy 2 Stew Leonard’s organic broths and get one free
- Spindrift 8 Pack Sparkling Water for $3.99
MY CNBC SEGMENT
This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and CNBC asked me to be a guest on their World Wide Exchange program early Friday morning to discuss what’s changed here at Stew Leonard’s. I’ve never had another job and I’ve NEVER seen the changes that occurred in 2020. We’ve closed our self-service bars, installed two football fields’ worth of Plexi-glass, and sales of immunity-boosting foods like citrus and garlic have skyrocketed. If you’d like to watch the interview,
I’M GIVING OUR COVID-19 WARRIOR AWARDS
to some of Stew Leonard’s team members. We’ve worked EVERY DAY since the pandemic hit a year ago. There is a group of people here that CHARGED forward in light of all the tragic global news. Stew’s fed MILLIONS of customers last year in our communities and supplied food banks much needed food. There were supply issues, but shelves needed to be full. This group of people made it happen! This award will be shared with their families now and in the future. 2020 was a historic, global event that will go down in history. It’s like my grandfather talking to me about the depression in 1929 or my Jewish Mom talking about fleeing Germany in the early 1930’s. There are many people that shine in the face of adversity, and I’m proud to say many are here at Stew’s. Here’s where we were about a year ago!
ASK ME ANYTHING
I received a question from a customer who read that I was on Weight Watchers in the last newsletter. She asked if it was possible to have nutritional information on our packaged food, with a focus on the bakery and breads especially. I thought this was a great idea so I’m meeting with the bakery team this week and nutritional labeling in the bakery is on the top of our list!
BLAKE'S WINE CORNER
One of my favorite wines to serve with hearty Easter meals of rich and smoky flavored ham or fresh herbed-stuffed leg of lamb is a full-bodied and robust red like a 2017 Carious-Cairanne Côtes du Rhône Villages. Such a great value at under $15, this wine is known for its nuances of sunbaked earth, herbs, and minerals that all come together beautifully. Rated at 91 Points from Wine Advocate, you can taste the sunshine here – just in time for celebrating the holiday and warmer weather to come!
Send Stew your questions or comments for him to answer in our next Around The Store With Stew!
March 6, 2021
Last week I mentioned that Martha Stewart and I were chatting and she suggested making a cocktail using Snoop Dogg’s new gin, Indoggo, and our sweet Cara Cara oranges! So my daughter Blake and I mixed one up. Watch us make a SNOOP DOGG MARTINI. Cheers!
CHILI RECIPE - I’M ADDICTED!
I thought I’d try our new “beef” chili recipe at home. Instead of beef, I used ground turkey. Really simple and we made in a crockpot. Turkey, beans, tomatoes, onions, scallions, garlic, a few spices (it even adds a bit of cinnamon) and voilà! Really delicious. It’s also minimal points on Weight Watchers (I’m trying to shed a few pounds!) Here’s a quick video of how to make the chili:
OUR VERY OWN TIKTOK STAR!
We have a great family friend named Cam Sweedler. Recently, he’s become a TikTok sensation and is getting millions, yes MILLIONS, of “likes.” He even did a couple of tastings with Stew Leonard’s products and the videos garnered 270K “likes”! Check him out at ChefCam1.
BLAKE’S WINE CORNER
If you’re looking for a great wine to pair with spicy chili (like the one my dad mentions above), your best bet is to aim for a juicy, fruity red like the Estrella Del Sur Malbec from Argentina. At under $14, it has a super smooth and balanced finish and can handle a hearty dish that includes chili powder, cumin, and hot jalapeños.
February 25, 2021
MARTHA STEWART IDEA
I just hired one of Martha Stewart’s social media gurus to work for us here at Stew’s and Martha herself called to give me a hard time. She was happy for her to be at Stew’s. While we were talking, I complimented her on her recent Tostitos commercial with Snoop Dogg and told her that we just started carrying Snoop’s Indoggo Gin. I also mentioned our super sweet Cara Cara oranges and Martha said, “Why not make a cocktail with Snoop’s gin and the oranges?” Great idea. My daughter Blake is working on it. More to come soon!
FOR THOSE OF YOU OBSERVING LENT
We’ve doubled down on our fish and seafood purchases. Our buyers have found some great catches like Frozen at Sea Cod Fillets and Cod Tenderloin. There are also our everyday winners like Maryland-Style Crab Cakes and our grilled shrimp. Our lobster rolls also see a bump during Lent.
EASY HOMEMADE PIZZA
I took home a few ingredients and made a quick, easy pizza. The family loved it red hot out of the oven. Talk about a crispy crust and ooey-gooey cheese! It doesn’t get much better than this. Check out how quickly it comes together
SAY “HI” TO OUR SALMON GROWER
I was amazed the first time I visited a “farm raised” salmon farm in the Gulf of Maine. You won’t believe it! Stew’s vets the farms and only picks the best so you never have to hesitate about buying farm-raised salmon in the future. Here’s a fun clip from my visit:
TASTE TEST OF THE WEEK
Pineapples are on a roll right now. We have our regular fresh pineapple chunks ($5.99 for 18 oz.), fresh Honey Gold pineapple chunks ($7.99 for 18 oz.) and now, the long awaited Del Monte’s fresh Honey Gold Pink pineapple chunks ($8.99 for 12 oz.). Here’s my taste test of the three:
MADE ME SMILE
When I was making my double-shot cappuccino one morning at the store, a young Team Member was working the coffee bar and an elderly man wanted a free large coffee. He was only supposed to get a small coffee, but the Team Member smiled and said, “It’s okay, you can get a large.” Made me smile, too.
WHAT'S IT LIKE TO BE STEW JR.?
FATHER KNOWS BEST!
At age 91, my dad Stew Sr. is always on top of things. At one point, we sent him a sample of our Chicken Marsala and he said it was “off.” He thought the chicken was too thick, the coating was too thick, and there wasn’t enough sauce or flavor. So, the chefs got to work and changed the dish. They sliced the chicken thinner, made sure it was lightly coated before sauteing, and added A LOT more Marsala wine and mushrooms. The final result? A dish my dad now loves.
BLAKE’S WINE CORNER
Looking for the ultimate pizza wine to go with this Friday night favorite? I’d suggest aCastelgreve Chianti Classico. This easy-drinking red is made from Sangiovese and has an elegant, bright finish. Rated 90 points from James Suckling, it’s under $18 and makes pizza even better than on its own.
February 12, 2021
GRUMPY MONDAY MORNING RANCHERS IN KC
I was rooting for the Kansas City Chiefs last Sunday and thinking about our ranchers in Kansas and Missouri. After all, they are keeping our shelves full! The bad news is that the Chiefs lost. The good news? We sold A LOT of our ranchers’ Porterhouse steaks!
THOUGHT OF THE WEEK
My daughter Madison is at USC Film School and told me about an author named David Foster Wallace. I watched one of his commencement speeches on YouTube and it made me think. It goes something like this: two young fish are swimming along and happen to meet an older fish, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” The two fish swim away, look at each other and say, “What the heck is water?” My takeaway? In this difficult pandemic environment that we all are living in, you have to remind yourself what’s in plain sight all the time and to be grateful.
CHICKEN WINGS WERE OUR SUPER BOWL WINNER!
Chicken Wings were our #1 gameday item and you picked the Buc’s Cannonball BBQ sauce as the winner (2-1) in our Instagram poll. Good pick! Want to hear a crazy thing? Our chefs make fresh guacamole in our kitchen every day, but some of our South American Team Members told me that they could make a better one. So, we let ‘em loose! Now we have TWO guacamoles: one sold in our produce department and the other in the kitchen. For Super Bowl, the guacamole in produce sold better! What do I do now? How about you voting?
BANG, BANG, SUPER BOWL, AND SNOW
We had a “double punch” this past weekend: first, the Super Bowl and then the snowstorm! Saturday was extra busy, but sales and customer traffic died off at about 2 p.m. on Sunday. Looks like we’ll be getting more snow soon. We’ll be fully stocked with everything you need to get through the next storm – including fresh produce, meat, eggs, and milk! Be sure to stop by before those first flakes fall.
AND NOW THERE’S VALENTINE’S DAY
It’s all about Surf & Turf, chocolate, and roses for Valentine’s Day. We have filet mignon and lobster tails on sale this week. Check out a video I did about creating an amazing surf and turf dinner for two, and I’ll show you how easy it is to sear off filet mignon in a cast-iron skillet and steam lobster tails in a little white wine – all topped with a little bit of herb-flavored butter. Really good. WATCH THE VIDEO
PRESS EVENT OF THE WEEK
Good Day New York interviewed me live from our Norwalk store this morning! We set up a table in the store with Stew Leonard’s Valentine’s Day favorites. My wife of 37 years, Kim, even joined me! We dipped jumbo strawberries in Belgian Chocolate, showed off our “hot chocolate bombs” for hot cocoa, and of course, we included lots of beautiful roses. I even asked co-anchors Rosanna Scotto and Lori Stokes to be my Valentines … but don’t worry, I checked with Kim, first!
MAKING OUR APP SIZZLE
We have over 200,000 subscribers to our Stew Leonard’s app and it’s growing. Last week we gave EVERYONE that used the app a FREE BAG OF TORTILLA CHIPS (the only catch is that you had to spend at least $50). We ordered an extra trailer load! They are made by a family in Pennsylvania and are a great chip for our guacamole. DOWNLOAD OUR APP
TASTE TEST OF THE WEEK
Norma Gardella (a long-time customer) called and said that our High-Top Chicken Pot Pie was “dry.” She stopped buying it. I tasted one and agreed. Our chefs went to work. They added more “chunky” chicken, fewer potatoes, and eliminated the filo dough on the bottom of the pie. I made two deliveries to Norma’s house, we tweaked it some more, and now she’s happy! She told me, “I’m going to tell all my friends!” My father built the business on “Word of Mouth” advertising. I’m sure we’ll see sales go up.
I can’t get enough of Cara Cara oranges this week. WOW! Sweetest navel orange I have EVER tasted! They are “brixing” (sweetness measurement) at a 23. Regular oranges are at a 12!
Congrats to our team in Yonkers! They were recognized as the BEST of the BEST in Westchester Magazine’s “Best of” list spanning the past two decades. WOW!
TEAM MEMBER STORY
One of our Team Members was seen walking out of the store with 2 boxes of chocolate chip cookies. At first glance, it looked like he was stealing. Security was on it, but stopped immediately when they realized what was going on. He saw a mom with two kids in the parking lot and 2 boxes of broken chocolate chip cookies on the ground. It put a smile on my face.
FAVORITE RESTAURANT MEAL
I love eating at Bryant & Cooper in Roslyn, Long Island. You can’t beat their butcher shop, the steaks are the best, and I always feel welcome! Plus, they’re a family business, just like Stew’s! I love that I see brothers (and owners!) Gilles or George Poll there often. I also love their restaurant on Route 100, The Bryant! We even sell their steak sauce at Stew’s.
NEW! BLAKE’S WINE CORNER
What’s hot for Valentine’s Day? Red wine blends! One of my favorites is Friendship Fado from Portugal. It’s easy to enjoy and a great gift for anyone who likes trying something new. For Valentine’s Day this year, I’ll be giving my husband a bottle of Hidden Vines Cabernet – Cabernet is our best-selling varietal and it’s made by an A-list Napa winemaker. And, if you’re celebrating with friends and want to shake things up, try a chocolate martini. All you need is a bottle of Godiva chocolate liqueur and your favorite vodka to shake up an utterly delicious martini.
February 2, 2021
FUNNY COMMENT OF THE WEEK
I called one of our ranchers in Kansas City and asked him for his favorite KC Chicken Wing recipe. His response ...”We don’t eat chicken in Kansas City!”
The trend continues! Our chefs and I are seeing more events with smaller gatherings. Even the spectators at the Super Bowl in Tampa will be limited with a third of the fans as normal. We have also downsized many of our platters to accommodate and call them “Stew Jr.’s”.
Saturday and Sunday will be a very busy Super Bowl weekend. Stew’s is at 50% capacity, has double wide aisles, and tremendous air flow in our building (due to all the exhaust hoods, ovens, smokers, etc.). If you can shop more on Friday, you’ll help flatten the curve. Also, it is busiest between 11a.m. and 2 p.m. Shopping earlier or later is best.
My Super Bowl picks with items that will light up the scoreboard:
- CHICKEN WINGS – Sales jump from 10,000 lbs. a week to nearly 50,000 lbs. We’re offering a Tampa Bay Cannonball sauce (spicy) and a Kansas City BBQ (sweeter). Nick Mangold, who used to play for the N.J. Jets, visited Stew’s with his new Southern-style sauce. Yum. We’ll have all three at our wing bars in the store where we’ll mix your favorite sauces before your eyes (and behind Plexi!).
- PIGS IN A BLANKET – My sister Beth wraps a small hot dog in her French croissant dough for an amazing hors d’oeuvre (can never spell this one right!). Made fresh at the store. When you get home, they’re ready after just 5 min in the oven at 350 degrees.
- GUACOMOLE – This is a centerpiece at all Super Bowl gatherings. We make it fresh at the store and sales jump 300% for the Big Game.
- 7 LAYER DIP – My wife Kim’s family is rooted in California and many were farmers. Every time I’d visit, they would make this 7-layer dip with chili, cheese, guacamole, sour cream, fresh salsa, lettuce and black beans. You need strong chips for this one! We’ll sell 5,000 lbs. for the Super Bowl.
- PIZZA, PIZZA, PIZZA – Who doesn’t like pizza? Freshly made and the cauliflower crust has overtaken the traditional. A new up and comer are the flatbread pizzas – you can fit three different kinds in your oven at once since they are rectangular. Also, the stuffed loaves are popular too (basically a wrapped-up pizza). Cut these in small pieces and you have the perfect appetizer.
- A HEALTHY OPTION: GRILLED SHRIMP - We are taking our Florida gulf shrimp, brushing them with olive oil, and grilling them. You can eat these throughout the game and not feel guilty.
- WINE, BEER, AND MARGARITAS - Want to have some fun on gameday? Get some Jai Alai IPA (from Cigar City brewery in Tampa), some Tank 7 (from Boulevard Brewery in Kansas City), a 90 point Sauvignon Blanc or a Paso Robles Cabernet called Standing Goat. It will knock your socks off. Of course, margaritas have been the #1 selling cocktail all year.
HOT PRODUCTS OF THE WEEK
My daughter Blake just showed me the new Keurig cocktail maker. Instead of a coffee pod, it’s a mixed drink pod! My wine store in Farmingdale is selling them because prepared cocktails have been trending. Also, we added these giant pretzels with a dipping sauce. Doing 500 pretzels a week and it is trending up, up, up.
TASTE TEST OF THE WEEK
Stopped in Philadelphia and did a taste test of the best Philly Cheese Steak subs. They were better than Stew’s! Why? More Velveeta cheese and sauteed onions. Returned to the store, met with Chef Bob and Chef Mike, and WE NOW HAVE THE BEST. Not great for my diet!
MY WEEKLY PRODUCT ADDICTION
I tried our Sumo oranges from California. WOW! Like drinking a glass of fresh-squeezed OJ. Navel oranges are running about an 11 brix (measure of sweetness) and these Sumos are testing at an 18+! Only a three-month window. I’m eating 2 a day!
My nephews Will and Andrew Hollis were having a lunch recently at a small local Mexican restaurant called Los Poblanos. They were blown away by the food and asked the owner Juan if he could deliver fresh burritos daily to Stew’s. Now, we’re doing 250 burrito’s a week! Juan’s happy but his wife says he is working too much now!
CUSTOMER COMMENT OF THE WEEK: “NICE BLUE JACKET”
A good friend, John Wood, came to visit me at the store. He was looking for me near the coffee bar. He asked a butcher for directions. When we caught up, John said, “How do you teach your team at Stew’s to be so nice?” I said, “Come with me.” We walked into the butcher shop and John pointed out Henry Gordon who has worked at Stew’s for 35 years. All the butchers huddled around as John told his blue jacket story. Now, I’m even writing about it!
10 CHANGES THAT HAPPENED AT STEW LEONARD’S IN 2020
Stew Leonard’s opened in 1969 and, at 15-years-old, I was there stocking shelves. I’ve never had another job and I’ve NEVER seen the changes that have occurred in 2020. Here’s what I see are the biggies:
Clean, clean, clean.
We have tripled our cleaning efforts. Triple cleaning at night (soap, bleach, and sanitizing) of our kitchens, meat room, registers, etc. Every night. Plus, cleaning blitzes during the day for high touch customer areas.
Two football fields of plexiglass!
It’s everywhere. At the registers, between you and the butchers cutting your steaks, at the deli service counter, in the fruit platter production area, bakery, pizza, BBQ, and even in our Team Members’ cafeteria. Sometimes it is hard to hear our Team Members when they help you due to the plexiglass barricades!
Plastic bags are out, reusable bags are in.
For the first time ever, we’ve seen a 30% decrease in our Stew Leonard’s plastic bags. So, what are shoppers using instead? Sales of our reusable bags have almost doubled and shoppers have used quadruple the number of paper bags this year over last!
Cash is out, credit cards are in.
Our credit card usage has jumped to nearly 95%. In 2019, only 4 out of every 100 customers were using a contactless payment like Apple Pay; this year, 12 out of 100 are using it! You want to leave the store without handling cash.
Curbside (cow side) pick up and delivery has exploded.
Last year, every week, we had about 100 customers use Cow-Side pickup, but this year we’ve had more than 1,000. Home delivery (shopstews.com) was about 800 orders per week in 2019; now it is about 5,000 orders per week. It is still growing like a weed.
Goodbye product sampling
and “pick your own.”
Bagels, loose pistachio nut bins, scoop your own coffee beans, olive bars, and product samples have all changed.
Our customers have gone digital.
Our paper circulars have been eliminated and all our specials are distributed digitally via email, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Tik Tok. Even our popular FREE ICE CREAM CONE with $100 purchase has been converted to points on our Stew Leonard’s mobile app. Showing a paper receipt at the ice cream window is no more… it’s now on your cell phone!
“Healthy” foods have skyrocketed.
I never would have thought that turmeric would be a great seller among our fruits and vegetables, but sales have tripled. It helps build your immune system! We’ve also seen a big increase the sales of our citrus fruits, spinach, almonds, sunflower seeds, chicken, and shellfish (you love our lobster tails). Plus, our organic and “Stew’s Naked” sales have doubled.
Everyone is wearing a mask … customers and team members.
Who could have imagined masks would be the next big essential accessory? We’ve sold over 100,000 masks since March and have become accustomed to wearing them.
My father visited the store once all year!
God bless my Dad who just turned 91 and would LOVE to visit Stew’s regularly. He especially loved busy days and would sit by the Rock at the front entrance and greet customers. But, at his age, he stayed home with my Mom and we delivered their food. That has NEVER happened in my 50+ years at Stew’s!
The big news in the food industry is…
That there may be an uptick in the virus this Fall. The WSJ published an article that has sent shock waves through the food industry. Will there be some panic buying again? I’ve been called by CNN and The New York Times. Just in case, we have been beefing up our inventories at Stew’s about 20% and, as in the past, I promise Stew’s shelves will be full. Stay calm!
How can you promise supply?
Most food stores buy through distributors but, here at Stew’s we buy most of our products direct from the farmer, fisherman, rancher, etc. We’ve been doing business with many of these suppliers (mostly families) for generations. They have promised me, “Stew, I have your back!”
Speaking of families...
We just spent the day at our 3rd generation family turkey farmers in Lehigh Valley, PA. Turkeys look terrific this year and we really look for those white feathers which means that they are keeping their barns clean. We inspected their entire operation. The turkeys are free range and we “hung out” with them for about an hour. The grains are grown on their farms, they are award winners for sustainability, and the turkeys are humanely treated (access to outdoors, clean barns, extra space, all natural feed and local). My definition of “local” is if can drive to the farm in the morning and, be home for dinner at night. I did that yesterday with 9 of our managers, my nephew TJ, and my daughter Chase.
How have YOU changed in the COVID environment?
At Stew’s we’ve noticed that YOU are…
- Making less trips and buying more on each visit.
- Definitely getting into cooking at home. We not only see increases in our butter, cream, spices, olive oil, broths, flour, and yeast (never really sold that much before!) but also pizza dough (can hardly make it fast enough) and sandwich bread. Also, simple recipes are heavily requested (that’s why I’m doing a cooking segment each week with one of our sale items).
- “Grab and Go” products are flying! Even though our buffets are closed, our chefs are busy packaging grilled sliced chicken, shrimp, salmon and steak. Things like coconut shrimp with mango salsa are rocking and a package of our meatballs are number 1!
- You are also going for the restaurant-quality foods. You still want to prepare that GREAT MEAL at home. Filet Mignon, Lobster tails, King Crab and more elegant wines have been very popular.
Toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer, hand wipes and cleaning supplies are still in high demand. It’s hard to get constant supply of the name brands (Bounty, Charmin, Clorox, etc.) but we’re finding the next best on the market
Fires are hitting wineries in Napa Valley and it’s scary.
I’ve been speaking to our wine makers and they are on pins and needles. The fire is approaching Napa and has already burned down some wineries. They are in the middle of harvest right now and have already said the 2020 vintage will be “smokey.” Some wine makers will not even release a 2020 vintage. Fingers are crossed.
As “CEO” I shouldn’t be working on this but, I am!
We are selling the grilled salmon in the store and my father has been complaining that it’s overcooked after he microwaves it at home. We cook the salmon to 135 degrees and the chefs assured me that it is still a little pink inside after packaging. Turns out the microwave instructions were wrong, and the salmon continues cooking after removing it from the grill. It’s all straightened out now and after spending time in our kitchen at Stew’s, my father is happy!
The little kid is coming out of me this week.
We love doing our hayrides at Stew’s every Halloween but, due to social spacing we canned the idea. Instead, we are doing a Drive Thru. You can tune your car radio and bring the family through our “maze” set up in the parking lot. I’m so excited and it’s FREE. CLICK HERE for more info.
At Stew’s, we can never forget the “dab” of chocolate.
I like to taste different flavors in ice cream, especially vanilla and chocolate. I ordered a cone from a local ice cream stand. Paid over $6 plus gave a 10% tip even though I ordered through a window outside. When my vanilla cone arrived, I asked for a “dab” of chocolate on top so I could get a taste. To my disbelief, she said, “No, that’s all you get on a large cone.” We have our big rock at the entrance of Stew’s: Rule #1, the customer is always right and, Rule #2, if the customer is wrong, go reread Rule #1! To be great at customer service we can never forget that little “dab” of chocolate!
On a personal note……..
I just became a grandfather again last week. My oldest daughter Blake and her husband Edouard just had a baby boy and his name is Axel.
First of all, thanks for all your responses to my last email. Here are a few answers:
Where are your famous LIVE lobster sales?
Although there has been an ample supply of fresh lobsters from Stonington, Maine, we’ve held off on our live lobster sales due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It always creates such crowds at Stew’s around the fish bar that we’d be unable to maintain good social distancing. Instead, we have been getting grab and go lobster tails and our customers seem to love them even more! They’re easy to cook on the grill and no mess!
What is the latest on shopping at Stew's during the pandemic?
At the beginning, customers were understandably nervous about shopping. With our wide aisles, it was easy to practice social spacing and we put up plexiglass barriers and made sure all our Team Members wore masks and gloves as well as instituted elevated cleaning practices throughout the day. Customers are now very accustomed to wearing masks, grabbing hand sanitizing towels upon entering, and they are courteous of social distancing. Opening an hour early for seniors has eased and only 20% of the customers are coming versus a few months ago. We’re not letting our guard down until there is a vaccine!
Things that have changed at Stew’s…..
- Our open food buffets have now been converted to “grab & go” meals that our chefs are preparing daily. We’re actually going to remove our buffets because I don’t feel customers will be comfortable until next year. Most popular are the Chicken Parmesan, Grilled Salmon with Mango Salsa, Meatballs and Mac & Cheese!
- Loose bagels are now pre-packed during the day as they come out of the oven. Best sellers are the assorted pack, multi-grain and rainbow bagels (kids love them!).
- There’s been a big increase in “immunity building” and flu fighting foods. Sales of our lemons, limes, oranges, turmeric, and our organics have doubled.
- Leading brands of cleaning supplies (Clorox), paper towels (Bounty) and toilet paper (Charmin) are still in limited supply. It feels like that as soon as they arrive, they are gone! We are relying on secondary brands with the same quality. I did make a quick decision during the panic buying days. I ordered a truckload of toilet paper (I was just happy to get some for our customers) and realized it was ONE PLY. A customer wrote me complaining and I sent them a gift certificate!
- Home delivery and curbside (or we like to call it cowside at Stew’s!) has been a big trend. Everyone wanted their food delivered or waiting at the curb at Stew’s. That business has dropped in half but has stabilized. It now represents 10% of our daily sales.
- Customers are also spending more per shopping trip. They are coming less frequently and have larger orders.
How is the supply of food now?
This has stabilized. I just spoke to one of our ranchers in Kansas and he said that things are back to normal. They have plenty of supply and we can put our Filets, Ribeyes, Porterhouse, and Strip Steak on sale now. Check out our sales at www.stewleonards.com Produce is flowing and there is an abundance of local products. We have over 100 items from local farms and fisherman as well as beef and chicken suppliers. A big hit is the fresh cut watermelon.
Prime vs. Top Choice?Richard Baker, who runs Saks Fifth Avenue, loves food (he was even a chef!) and stops by Stew’s to stock up. One day he was asking me the difference between a Prime graded Tomahawk Ribeye and a Top Choice grade. We had dinner one night and did a blind taste test. Conclusion? You don’t need to pay the extras $5/lb for the prime! The TOP CHOICE WAS PREFERRED!
Martha Stewart’s coffee pods at Stew’s.
She just launched her pods (22 pods for $11.99) and invited my daughter Chase and I over to her house for a taste test. She first started shopping at Stew’s over 35 years ago when she launched her catering business. She was a “double cart” customer! Martha is the real deal and loves food. Her kitchen is filled with the latest trends in cookware. The only thing was there was another brand of organic milk in her refrigerator! I gave her a Stew’s organic milk to put next to it!
Fun with the Bon Jovi family!
Jon Bon Jovi’s son, Jesse Bongiovi, has a great Rosé wine called Hampton Water. It is a top seller at Stew’s Wines. They curated it from Southern France - it’s crisp with nice fruit aromas. Jon and Jesse were playing “wine pong” while promoting Hampton Water and they commented on our meat at Stew’s. Yes, a steak (and maybe ice cream) does go well with Rosé - especially Hampton Water!
I’m coming to Stew’s for an ice cream!
Sunflowers from Schmidt Farm on Long Island
This is a great family that is supplying us with beautiful sunflowers. If you want a treat, try their horseradish sauce made fresh on their farm in Riverhead, N.Y.
Stew, why no mask or gloves?
I did this video in the store with the Mighty Blueberries and a few customers called me out. I took my mask off since I was properly social distancing and I had just washed my hands. If I do a video with the mask, it’s sometimes hard to hear my voice on the video.
How’s my Father and Mother doing?
My Dad is 90 and my Mom is……. younger (is that okay to say, Mom?). They are both healthy and my father has an idea a minute. Right now, he’d like us to expand our line of Stew’s chocolate bars. Guess what I’m working on today?
- Local Native corn - Really sweet and I love to grill it.
- Mighty Blueberries – Only the extra large are selected and they have a nice balance of sweetness and tartness. My father just tried them for the first time. Addictive!
- Watermelon chunks- I’ve been lazy and just get the chunks. Watermelon is at its peak sweetness right now.
- Flank steak – This is probably one of the best value cuts for the flavor. I used to marinade it in our Chimichurri sauce, now I add it afterward. Much more flavorful!
- Tito’s with frozen cherries – Cherries are amazing right now, and I pit them and then smother them with Tito’s vodka, and they go in the freezer overnight. Presto. Great frozen-type cocktail to enjoy on the patio.
- Rosé wine – Hot summer days go perfectly with a chilled Rosé. Very light with hints of berries reminiscent of Southern France.
- Sour Dough Bread – This has been the talk of the Covid-19 stay-at-home bakers. You don’t need yeast, so it gained popularity. All over the news and reinvigorated my taste buds. We have a “starter” that is over 35 years old and gives you a rich flavor. Nice and chewy too. I get the darkest one I can find (love the crust) and, it’s baked fresh every morning.
- Local L.I. Sound Clams – All I do is put these on the grill. Within 5 minutes you’ll see they open up and are done. Brush with melted butter and enjoy.
- Yasso frozen Yogurt bars – These have been the downfall of my diet, and they are only 100 calories each. But, I might eat 3 a night! Mint Chip is my favorite followed by Choc Fudge Brownie, then Pistachio. Yum.
- Grilled hamburger with American Cheese – Over Memorial Day and 4th of July, this is probably the most popular item at Stew’s. Our beef is ground daily, and I just can’t resist adding a generous amount of American Cheese.
Where’s the beef?
Big national news story. Here’s what I told CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and ABC. There are cattle ranchers all over the country. The Mid-West is full of them (“if you folded a map of the U.S. in half, that’s where I’m standing!”). These are great people, have great families and proudly wave the U.S. flag. Pure Americans, many of whom took over the ranches from their parents and grandparents. Cowboy hats, boots and big belt buckles. You get the idea.
Yeah, but what’s that have to do with my steak?
One of our favorite ranchers is Fred Wacker from the Cross Four Ranch in Miles City, Montana. He has 35,000 head of cattle that are out chewing on grass right now. His closest neighbor lives over a mile away. Fred needs to get his cattle to a bunch of different meat packing plants, but they are telling him they can’t take all the cattle he wants to supply. Why? These plants have been hit with the Covid-19 virus. They are at 70% capacity due to quarantines, new elevated cleaning procedures, and re-engineering their workplaces. Thus, a shortage of supply.
Remember Economics 101?
When there is an increase in demand (Memorial Day is coming, grills will be full of burgers) and a shortage of supply, prices will rise. That’s what we’re faced with now. The meat packaging plants say that they will be at 80% capacity in a few weeks and 100% in a month from now. We are already seeing an easing of beef prices.
Yeah, but the news says the food index has increased to historic levels.
I’ve been in the business for 50 years and seen all sorts of market swings. After all, we’re in the commodity business. But, I’VE NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE THE LAST TWO MONTHS! There have been huge swings in prices like the egg market. Back in 2018 the extra large eggs at Stew’s were $2.29 a dozen. In 2019 they dropped about $1 a dozen and our chicken farmer in Pennsylvania was not making any money. Then, in March and April the price shot up again in the $3 plus range. Now, in May, they are back down in the $2 range. Our farmer increased his flocks and now, there are plenty of eggs. What’s the big deal? Across the board, we have not raised prices at Stew’s. Milk is still $2.99 a gallon, my sister’s bakery hasn’t changed any prices, fruits and vegetables are following the market, and Stew’s is very competitive. Yeah, meat prices will increase (Ground beef $3.99 lb. last year, this year $5.99 lb.), but other than that, the prices are the same. I feel this food index does not account for the wild ride we have had in March and April (restaurants and schools closings along with people working from home). Hang loose, prices are now beginning to return to normal levels. And as our rancher Fred says, “I HAVE PLENTY OF CATTLE!”
So, how can you say your shelves will be full?
We don’t buy much from the big packing houses. We mostly are buying from smaller, family-owned farms and have had relationships for 20+ years with most of them. Just like any good customer, they have assured us that we will get what we order. So far, so good. We haven’t had to put any limits on any fresh products, and the daily deliveries are continuing. We’ll have plenty of meat for Memorial Day weekend!
I’m talking to our buyers every day. Here’s what they are saying:
Produce: Citrus sales have tripled … why? There have been recent studies released about the health benefits of citrus against the flu and colds. Oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit have been rocking. Also, Ginger and Turmeric have been on fire. I just put some olive oil, garlic and turmeric on some Halibut the other night and it was delicious. Cherries have just started in California and, we’re working on a deal to sell them at $5.99 this week. I love cherries! And, we have some Organic Blueberries for $4.99 a pint. Watermelon and cotton candy grapes are a great deal and sweet. We’re excited about the season so far.
Shucking corn … no more.
We’ve noticed that loose corn sales have dropped due to Covid-19. Customers want the peeled corn that is packaged. It’s just as good and the crop is moving from Florida to Georgia right now. Weather is warming.
More people are eating fish
We’ve seen a spike in our fish sales since everyone is cooking at home. They are exploring more types of food; fish is one of them especially. We just featured lobster tails (used to go to the restaurants) for $4.99 and are coming back with the same deal this week. We also have some Salmon Steaks from the Bay of Fundy in Maine for $7.99. And, Barnegat Light, N.J., scallops for $12.99. I brought these to Martha Stewart’s house (my one delivery this year!) and she was thrilled with the size and freshness.
Meat – We committed to 3 trailer loads of filet mignon (whole tenderloin) at $8.99. Our butchers will cut them into any size steak your heart desires. One of the best meat values out there for Memorial Day.
Garden Center- “People want to brighten their lives!” Hanging baskets, New Guinea Impatiens, and Geraniums are selling brisk. Growers are telling us that we’re past the cold snaps so, customers are letting loose in their yards. We can’t get enough vegetable plants.
Cheese and Deli – We’re waiting for a drop in the cheese market. When there is an abundance of milk, byproducts are butter and cheese. We’re still waiting to hear what Italy is going to do about the Reggiano Parmigiana prices. Sit tight. We also noticed a big increase in the pre-sliced and packaged cold cuts and cheese. The key is FRESH CUT EVERY DAY!
Bakery – Kids are home and our bread sales are strong. My sister Beth is baking 10,000 loaves a week. The bakery crew even agreed to adjust their schedules so they can practice social spacing at night (a crew now comes in at midnight!). Bagel sales have dipped since you can’t “pick you own” anymore. Oh well. When will we ever go back to the old way?
Lastly, our good friends at Rao’s. We’ll have their sauce at $5.99 for the large jar. I called Ronnie up at Rao’s and was hoping we could sell their meatballs at Stew’s. His response, “fuhgettaboutit!”
Are people drinking more?
With the restaurants closed, it’s hard to measure, but we have certainly seen an increase in cocktails. What’s hot? MARGARITA’S are popular along with Manhattan’s, Old Fashioneds, and Mimosa’s. Also, a huge jump in boxed wine.
How’re your Dad and Mom?
This is one of my most asked questions on the store floor. My Dad is 90, healthy and sharp as a tack. I talk to him and my Mom daily, and he always has an idea. Hope I have those genes!
My friend visited a restaurant in Florida with his family and loved the experience. Why?
Even though Stew’s has never closed, I feel we have had to reopen over a dozen times. Why? Gov. Cuomo has new executive orders. So does Gov. Murphy in N.J., and Gov. Lamont in Ct. We’ve had to be nimble and react quickly.
Florida is slowly reopening. My friend brought his family to a restaurant and 1) Was really impressed by how clean it was. Also, they were visibly wiping things down during his meal. Go to the bathroom and, there was a Sani-wipe available upon your return. 2) They took social spacing seriously; every other table was being used. 3) Their team was well trained about the virus (masks and gloves). 4) You could tell there was great communication between the owner and the staff. When he left, his family said, they were very nice, made us feel comfortable, and we would love to go back. That’s how we’ll reopen America. Wait a minute? How was the food?
My favorite customer service story this week is …
Stew’s does all its home delivery through Instacart. Their people shop our store and then deliver to our customers’ homes. It’s really become popular since many people do not want to leave their homes.
Now the juicy part.
Rebecca received a phone call from a long-time Stew’s customer who just tried home delivery. She placed a $300 order and complained about the service. She was downright nasty. Did Rebecca lose her cool? No, she calmed the customer down and then offered a gift card to make her happy. The next day, I get a phone call from this customer APOLOGIZING for the way she spoke to Rebecca. She said she used to be a relocation manager for a Fortune 100 company and had rude clients, too. She hated those people but, after sleeping on it, realized she was that person to Rebecca.
A happy ending …
I found Rebecca in the store and personally thanked her for winning over a customer. She said thanks and said this customer just placed another order for even more and was very happy. Isn’t that what customer service is all about?
I started to smile and then my heart sank when …
I spoke to good customer, Karen, who just volunteered for the Connecticut Food Bank. She told me that the families were so happy with the Stew’s Chicken Chili that she was giving out. I smiled. Then she said that people were lined up for half a mile, and at the end of the day, the shelves were empty again. She said it was sad to see families so desperate for food standing there with their young children. My heart sank. But we’re putting together another trailer load of food for the food banks now. Don’t worry, I’ll be smiling again … briefly.--->