Our newest writer Derket Lee had a recent outing at Wegmans. Here’s his report…
Quickly stopping into Wegmans for lunch, I settled into a seat in the dining area and enjoyed two slices of pizza and a cold bottle of Sam Adams. Yes, you heard me right – Sam Adams, a beer, a brewski, suds, the sauce, a cold one, a longneck. Sure, I was carded at the age of 36, and yes, I was politely asked to look at the cashier straight on to confirm my identity, but these burdens were trivial because, hey – beer with lunch! At Wegmans! Are we excited? Yes, maybe just a little bit.
After well over a year of legal wrangling, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania decided, in February, that the cafes that are a part of each Wegmans store qualified as restaurants that were eligible to sell alcohol under restaurant liquor licenses. Beer sales have been systematically rolled out to Wegmans stores across the state. This April, at long last, was Downingtown’s turn.
I felt the first twinge of excitement nearly a month ago, when I spied the Day-Glo orange Notice of Application to Sell Alcoholic Beverages posted in the window of the store. Stopping in on the second day of beer sales, I immediately darted to the corner of the dining area that’s been temporarily repurposed as a beer aisle, dodging shopping carts and leaping over small children in a single-minded effort to get there. At the end of that sprint awaited beer heaven, in the form of rows of six packs of what can best be described as, oh, everything. All around me, I overheard the same conversations played out almost verbatim – customers swooning over the vast selection of microbrews, frat dudes text messaging their buddies the good news, and cell phone conversations that started with “you won’t believe what I’m seeing here…” Even with the knowledge that this day was coming, I almost couldn’t believe it myself.
All of the usual suspects are represented at Wegmans – Yuengling, Blue Moon, and Sam Adams among them – but an even greater level of delight and surprise comes from the impressive representation of craft brewers like Victory, Dogfish Head, Rogue, Ommegang, Yards, Troegs, Chimay, Flying Fish, Magic Hat, and the Philadelphia Brewing Company. Fans of beers that are only bottled in the larger 22 oz size, such as Ommegang Hennepin, will be happy to know that there is enough shelf space at Wegmans to accommodate your favorites.
From just a single visit, it’s clear that Wegmans is serious about their beer sales. The company could have just taken their shiny new liquor license and stacked the aisles with big corporate brands like Miller, Coors, and Budweiser, and left it at that. Instead, the market ultimately intends to offer around 800 varieties of beer, hailing from over 30 states and 25 countries. The Downingtown store has strategically placed flyers which offer guidance to customers on pairing food with beer. The flyers themselves describe the flavor profiles of a dozen ales and six lagers, and even go so far as to recommend the appropriate glassware for each variety. Mark Spagnola, Category Merchant for Wegmans corporate offices, says that the beer offering is determined by a number of factors, including customer input, brand performance in other Wegmans stores, and brand availability from suppliers. He says that the company is very supportive of local craft brewers, and carries products from at least 30 of the 75 brewers in Pennsylvania.
As wonderful as the beer aisle may be, the future is even brighter for the Downingtown store. Getting a jump on beer sales after obtaining the license was only the beginning – Wegmans plans on remodeling the dining area to accommodate a greater selection of single bottles for on-site consumption, with an eye towards even more ambitious horizons. The Wegmans that is soon to open in Collegeville, as an example, is scheduled to feature a full service dining area as a subset of the standard food cafe, and the restaurant licenses allow each store to eventually offer full beer, wine, and spirit sales, putting Wegmans on equal footing with casual dining options such as Applebee’s and TGI Fridays.
So, who wants to meet up at Wegmans? The next round’s on me.