When Al Jackson, store manager of the new Wegmans Bel Air, talks about his reasons for moving to Maryland five years ago, his eyes light up. “This is where the action is,” he says. “We’re breaking new ground, opening stores in areas where people don’t know that much about Wegmans. It’s a chance to test ourselves, to see if we’re up to the challenge.”
The proof will come on Sunday, September 18 at 7 a.m. when Wegmans Bel Air opens its doors at Box Hill Square in Abingdon, Maryland, just south of Bel Air off Route 924 where it meets Route 24. “We’re hoping for high marks from our new customers,” says Jackson.
One Bel Air resident has waited patiently since emailing the company on March 25, 2011: “Dear Wegmans, If you don’t accelerate the building of the Wegmans in Bel Air, MD, I will likely starve to death.”
The 122,000 square-foot supermarket at Box Hill Square will include a Market Café with indoor and outdoor seating for more than 200; a Day Boat station for cutting whole fish delivered daily directly to the store; 700 different fruits and vegetables on any given day, with 100 or more organic and many local offerings; and prepared foods ranging from fresh sushi and home-style barbecue to a delicious array of Asian-inspired dishes at the Wokery and hot and cold selections at the Vegetarian Bar.
It’s a big ship to captain. A 22-year Wegmans’ veteran, Jackson, feels every step along the way has prepared him for the responsibility. He joined Wegmans as an assistant deli and prepared foods manager in his hometown of Buffalo, New York. “I had worked in restaurants for many years and was looking for a job where I could really grow and continue learning,” he says. He worked his way up to a position as deli manager at Wegmans’ flagship store in Buffalo on Alberta Drive and then moved on to a series of roles in training/development and support for new programs. When the opportunity came along to join Maryland’s Hunt Valley store as perishable area manager in 2006, he jumped at the chance.
For Jackson, one of the greatest joys of opening the new store has been assembling the 520-member team. “We found such an excellent pool of candidates in and around Harford County eager for an opportunity to join our team,” he says. “About 85% of our people live nearby. Our customers will be shopping with their own friends and neighbors.”
He was also impressed with the skills these employees bring to their jobs. “A lot of positions here require serious culinary skills,” he says. “In full view of the customers, we have folks finishing desserts by hand, including authentic French pastries at our in-store Patisserie. Others cut whole fish – swordfish, halibut, rockfish – to order at the Day Boat station, prepare meals in the open kitchen at The Food Bar or do cooking demonstrations that show how easy it can be to prepare nutritious meals at home.”
More than $1.6 million invested in training alone has paved the way for the entire team to be at their best for opening day. “We’re ready,” says Jackson. “The final touches are being put on our new store, but our work impressing customers is just beginning.”
Wegmans Food Markets, Inc., is a 78-store supermarket chain with stores in New York, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and, soon, Massachusetts. The family-owned company, founded in 1916, is widely recognized as an industry innovator. For 14 consecutive years, it has ranked high on the FORTUNE magazine’s list of “The 100 Best Companies to Work for,” placing #3 in 2011. The Bel Air store will be its fourth in Maryland.