With 3,000 bottles of wine, beer, and liquor from all over the world, the behemoth liquor store at Wegmans in Chestnut Hill is an impressive destination in itself. But customers aren’t asking about the libations.
“The number one question is: When is the grocery store opening?” said the manager, John Lefkus.
The wait is almost over. The doors of the much-anticipated Wegmans supermarket on Route 9 officially open at 7 a.m. Sunday, two years after the Rochester, N.Y., company began developing plans for the store. About 11,000 people have already signed up online for the Chestnut Hill store’s discount card.
With 40,000 products spread across 70,000 square feet, the grocery store occupies as little as half the space of many newer Wegmans locations. The company had to get creative to establish the same signature experience of piping hot prepared foods and hundreds of varieties of fresh produce duplicated at its 83 other stores in a much smaller footprint.
“We had to throw out all of our ideas of what a Wegmans looked like,” said Jo Natale, Wegmans director of media relations on an exclusive tour of the new location on Wednesday.
The store’s unique character begins at the front door. The entrance is located on the opposite end of the building than other Chestnut Hill Square retailers use for their storefronts.
Unlike the Northborough Wegmans store, where shoppers are greeted by produce, customers will walk into a prepared food section called the Market Café. It doesn’t just serve chicken wings and marinated olives.
Dishes such as artichoke flan and black bean enchiladas fill a vegetarian bar. The homestyle bar offers items like cilantro lime chicken. The Buzz coffee shop sells cappuccino, frappes, coffee, and tea. The salad bar is entirely organic. An Asian bar serves Chinese, Thai, and Indian cuisine. All of the items are priced at $8.99 per pound, and a calorie count is listed for each dish.
Food counters line the walls and serve everything from pizza and sandwiches to sushi and soup. A bakery turns out at least 15 different items fresh each morning. The Chef’s Case offers $6, $8, and $10 meals that include an entree and two sides.
Beyond the cafe and past deli, meat, and seafood sections, a cheese shop offers 300 varieties, including some aged in Wegmans’ own cheese cave in Rochester.
The produce section is similar to the chain’s other stores, and features 500 varieties of fruits and vegetables, with both local and organic offerings. The store also sells exotic fruits such as horned melon, star fruit, and white dragon fruit.
The most obvious difference between the Chestnut Hill store and other Wegmans locations is found in packaged goods. The typical 22 aisles were shrunk to a dozen, but the store made room for 140 varieties of sports nutrition bars and items like Heinz Jalapeño Ketchup.
Danny Wegman, chief executive of the company started by his grandfather in 1916, said Wegmans eliminated the least popular dry goods to save space, while retaining the core produce and prepared food sections. Seating along the store’s front windows, accommodating 100 guests, was also reduced.
“Our real mission is to help our customers live healthier, better lives, and that’s why we’ve come to Boston,” Wegman said. “We wanted to give people a choice they didn’t have at the moment: healthier food at affordable prices.”
Mike Berger, senior editor of The Griffin Report of Food Marketing, said the arrival of Wegmans will create a price war in an already competitive region for grocery retailers. The company will compete with almost every other player in the market, from the Star Market on the other side of Route 9 to Whole Foods and Roche Bros.
“Wegmans coming into Greater Boston is really going to raise the level of competition even more,” Berger said. “The only ones who will make out are the shoppers.”