The traffic sign just before the Wake Forest Road exit on the Raleigh beltline warning motorists to “EXPECT DELAYS: 9/29-10/1” is a sobering indicator: this Wegmans situation is about to get real.
When the beloved Rochester-based grocery chain opens its first North Carolina store in the Midtown East shopping center on Wake Forest Road on Sunday, eager customers are expected to clog nearby roads and circle the building before the doors unseal at 7 a.m.
Inside, 104,000-square-feet of grocery nirvana will await them.
During a media tour on Friday, hundreds of employees were busy prepping the store for the big grand opening, with the majority of the work concentrated in the produce, fresh foods and prepared foods sections. Most of the fresh and hot foods will be prepared overnight Saturday into Sunday morning, said Jo Natale, Wegmans vice president of media relations.
In some areas, last-minute training took place, amid the organized bustle of rolling carts and display-building.
Wegmans has the launch process down to a science, which makes sense considering the Raleigh store will be the 100th store opening in the chain. More Wegmans stores slated to open in the Triangle: two coming to Cary, one to Wake Forest and one to Chapel Hill.
‘The Disney of grocery stores’
Wegmans — described by one fan online as “the Disney of grocery stores” — has pretty much everything all the other local major grocery stores have, but all in one place.
Kellie Ford of Raleigh told The News & Observer in February that she always visits Wegmans when visiting family up north.
“In the 15 or 20 years I’ve been here, Wegmans is kind of the one thing I’ve missed. I’m very glad I’m going to get that now. I’ve been waiting a long time,” Ford said. “People keep asking me why I’m excited and I tell them it’s hard to put into words. You just have to go when they open and walk around and experience it. It’s like all the grocery stores down here combined into one, but throw in a restaurant and a bar.”
Wegmans stocks major national brands, but also carries a huge line of Wegmans house brand products that their fans love. They have a large selection of organic foods, both fresh and processed. They have a misting case for cheese, which is cave-ripened in a high-tech facility in Rochester. They have an impressive selection of plant-based cheeses. They sell Impossible Burger products, the first chain on the East Coast to carry that brand.
Roughly a third of the store is dedicated to prepared foods: a coffee bar, a pizza bar, a sub shop, a salad bar, a soup bar, a chicken wing bar, an Asian food bar, a fruit bar, separate bakeries for breads and cakes and of course, the famed Burger Bar restaurant.
There’s a seasonal hot food bar that will change roughly every quarter. When Wegmans opens on Sunday, it will feature Carolina pulled pork, macaroni and cheese, braised collard greens and Cajun tilapia cakes.
On the left side of the store, a large seating area with tables, comfy booths and bar stools spills out onto a outdoor patio. There’s even a special seating area for parents with kids.
In the meat department, a tall case beside the custom butcher shop holds dry-aged beef. The fresh seafood area is massive, stocked with seafood from suppliers “as close to the store as possible,” said Natale, but also featuring seafood from “all over the world.”
And then there’s the beer.
The store stocks more than 1,000 beers and more than 2,000 wines.
Local beer is well represented. A large map in the spirits department shows 20 North Carolina breweries that have beer stocked at Wegmans. Starting at 10 a.m. on opening day, the store will have samples from at least eight to 10 breweries and wineries, including locals Big Boss, Carolina Brewing Company, Mason Jar Lager Company, Foothills and Duplin Winery.
And yes, they stock Old Tuffy.
If your alcohol cravings run a little more high-end, there’s a temperature- and humidity-controlled wine room with bottles ranging in price from $60 to $1,800. (They do have cheaper wine, with bottles starting at $6.)
There are no sales, though
A big adjustment for area shoppers will be Wegmans lack of weekly specials. There will be no fliers touting BOGO deals or flash sales.
Instead, Natale said Wegmans constantly price-checks the competition to make sure their prices are competitive, particularly on items the store considers “family” items (the items that families use most often).
One example is boneless chicken breasts. The everyday price for boneless chicken breasts in a family pack is $1.99 per pound, which is considered a sale price at many stores.
Natale said the store checks to make sure they are 10% to 15% lower than the competition on those items, and then there’s an additional 30% savings when items are packaged in “family” sizes. That, she says, makes up for the lack of weekly sales.
Scattered throughout the store are signs showing comparison shopping prices and the date the prices were checked. One sign, near the front of the store, compared red seedless grapes, potatoes, bananas and broccoli crowns across Wegmans, Harris Teeter and Food Lion.
Like other stores, Wegmans has a shoppers club that gives customers access to digital coupons, and a mobile app.
In addition to the Raleigh location being Wegmans’ 100th store, it will also be its southernmost — which means straddling the North-South line of commerce. They know the Northern transplants here will be eager to get some of their beloved brands from home, but that locals will also want their favorites.
Duke’s mayonnaise and Texas Pete hot sauce? Affirmative.
But when the doors open Sunday, Wegmans also knows the upstate New Yorkers will likely make a beeline for products like Zweigle’s Red Hot and White Hot dogs from Rochester, the Hofmann franks from Syracuse and the Sahlen’s weiners from Buffalo.
Do they have Bright Leaf red hot dogs from Johnston County, locals may ask? No, but store manager Hallie Johnston promises to investigate.
1200 Wake Towne Dr, Raleigh
Hours: 6 a.m. to midnight