The moment is a long time coming for megafans of the store, “Wegmaniacs” as they’re called (editor’s note: myself included). Nothing, not an ungodly hour or rainy forecast, can deter them from rejoicing over the fact that this elevated shopping experience — a mainstay on best grocery store lists as well as best companies to work for lists — now exists in their very own backyards.
Hundreds of people huddled under umbrellas in a long but manageable line, buzzing, waiting, planning their first purchases. For cardiology fellow Krishna Upadhaya and medical student Madonna DiBella, it was a loaf of jalapeño cheesy bread. Krishna traveled from his home in New Haven, Connecticut, for the big event.
“Well, I really came to see her,” Upadhaya said, laughing, referring to DiBella.
“It’s really the Wegmans,” DiBella quipped back. What about the Wegmans exactly? “We just love it. We grew up on it. It’s nostalgic,” Upadhaya said. “It’s the quality of the food. It’s so cheap, it’s amazing.”
“It’s a lifestyle,” DiBella added.
Their affection for the store is deep-rooted ― they’re both originally from Buffalo, New York, one of the capitals of Wegmans fandom. But the couple only just met each other a few weeks ago. This early morning pilgrimage was part of a budding love story.
“Nothing more romantic than a Wegmans date,” Upadhaya said, laughing.
For Marie Palmer and Kathryn Cortez, who wore matching “Wegmaniacs” shirts to the event, it was more of a family affair.
When Palmer, an employee at Wegmans herself, heard about the opening in Brooklyn, she and her sister, who lives in Wisconsin, started planning. Cortez flew to Rochester, and the two drove down Saturday night. After getting a bit lost on their first-ever subway ride, they arrived at the Brooklyn Navy Yard just as the store’s front doors were opening.
“I’ve really wanted to come to a store opening so bad,” Palmer told HuffPost. “When I became an employee, I thought I would think less of the company because you see things behind the scenes, but it’s not. It’s quality through and through. They care about their employees, so their employees can care about their customers.”
“It’s home,” Cortez added. “There’s no other grocery store that’s like it. It just feels like family when you walk in.”
Family that will, say, lend you an umbrella when you’ve been standing outside in the rain tailgating since 6:30 a.m., like Brad Orego and Jeff Pollock. The two friends, who went to University of Rochester and the University at Buffalo, respectively, first bonded over their mutual love of the grocery chain when they met while playing ultimate frisbee in Madison, Wisconsin.
Today, they both live in Brooklyn and would have arrived even earlier to the opening if not for tailgate prep.
“I started at about 4 a.m. and was still baking casserole and making pancakes at 6,” Orego said, laughing. They graciously offered provisions to people in line, explaining that their group was supposed to be bigger.
“I have some co-workers who also went to school in Rochester,” Orego said. “They were like, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna do this!’ They all got really hyped. But they’re, like, 23 years old, so when I was like, ‘We’re doing this. We’re getting here at 6,’ they were like, ‘Whoa, that’s a bit much.’ I was like, ‘What’s wrong with you kids?’”
Pollock was the only one who “really got hyped” about it, Orego added. Why?
“True answer is: Why the fuck not?” Pollock said, laughing. “Wegmans is awesome. I grew up with it. It’s a wonderful experience, far different from any other grocery store I’ve ever entered.”
Orego and Pollock had planned to head inside to watch the Buffalo Bills/Philadelphia Eagles game at the bar (yes, there’s a bar) inside Wegmans, but they still hadn’t seen the store by 8 a.m., likening the event itself to a football game.
“We’re tailgating!” Orego said. “You can’t enter during the first quarter. You’ve gotta wait until at least halfway through the second.”
It was a big day not only for fans, but for the store as well. Valerie Fox, a publicist for the chain, told HuffPost in an email about the “incredibly exciting day for our family company.”
“Despite heavy rainfall, hundreds of people lined up around the block before dawn yesterday,” Fox wrote. “Throughout the day, a consistent flow of over 25,000 customers visited, and the Brooklyn store broke our opening-day sales record.”
As one of those 25,000, rain-soaked customers, I can attest to the overall sense of joy, excitement and satisfaction with the Brooklyn branch, even after I ran into Upadhaya in the store and he informed me there was no jalapeño cheesy bread (yet).