Restaurant Entrepreneurship students get a grand taste of Wegmans

December 15, 2016

By Jeannie Griffith

L-R: Ryan Kelly, Eddy Cruz '17, Jacky Falkenberg '17, William Silverstein '17 (in background), Jonna Ashouripour, MBA '17, and Byron Lazaroff-Puck '17

L-R: Ryan Kelly, Eddy Cruz ’17, Jacky Falkenberg ’17, William Silverstein ’17 (in background), Jonna Ashouripour, MBA ’17, and Byron Lazaroff-Puck ’17

At the end of a daylong trip to Rochester in November, 15 students in Giuseppe Pezzotti’s Restaurant Entrepreneurship class were treated to a sumptuous private dinner hosted by the general manager of an upscale restaurant in the upscale suburb of Pittsford. The meal was served in his test kitchen, which was given a homey feel by the denlike cookbook library at one end and the carpeted dining area at the other, the subdued lighting, and the food-prep island surrounded by padded barstools and laden with delectable sashimi sushi to get the party started. One island over, two chefs with a phalanx of small copper pans prepared a sophisticated four-course tasting menu on a custom Molteni stove. Everything was high-quality, flavorful, and done to perfection.

Who owns this restaurant, you may wonder? Would you be surprised to learn that it belongs to Wegmans? The restaurant, Next Door, is located across Monroe Avenue from the legendary Wegmans flagship store. Established in 2009, it represents one of four restaurant formats that Wegmans has rolled out in recent years. The students sampled them all, starting with lunch at the Burger Bar in Pittsford, a place so popular that on Friday nights the line for a table extends all the way around the building. The group traveled from there to the Wegmans in Perinton, home to the Pub, which focuses on a seasonal menu and craft beers. Next up was Amore, a fine-dining establishment featuring house-made pasta and seasonal Italian fare. From there they headed to dinner at Next Door.

Students try the sushi at Wegmans-owned restaurant Next Door. L-R: Carlos Singer '17, Jacky Falkenberg '17, Gavin Hilder '17, Hannah Harris '17, Paige Wolgemuth '17, Eddy Cruz '17

Students try the sushi at Wegmans-owned restaurant Next Door. L-R: Carlos Singer ’17, Jacky Falkenberg ’17, Gavin Hilder ’17, Hannah Harris ’17, Paige Wolgemuth ’17, Eddy Cruz ’17

In addition to touring and experiencing the restaurants and the stores in Pittsford, in Perinton, and at East Avenue, the students were treated to a series of candid and informative presentations by store managers, head chefs, restaurant managers, and corporate administrators. The topics covered included the importance of leading with service, training and staff development, the company’s focus on nutrition (their mission is “to help customers live a healthier, better life through food”), changes to their strategy for store-branded vs. nationally branded products, their expansion plans for new stores, and their interest in the wine business.

“I was impressed by many facets of the overall Wegmans business model,” said Warner Hazell ’17, who TAs the class in addition to serving as managing director of this year’s Hotel Ezra Cornell. “My key takeaway was realizing that Wegmans has distinguished itself as a company by providing better service and a better store experience. In the age of increasingly influential web-based shopping platforms, Wegmans combats the ease of convenience of online retailers with their exceptional service and store experience.”

Throughout the day, the students learned about the evolution of Wegmans—which celebrated its centennial in January 2016—from a well-regarded grocery chain to the master of a foodservice universe that extends from its own organic farms and an international network of specialty suppliers to an astounding array of prepared food and prepared ingredients ready for use by home cooks. The students learned that Wegmans farmers now grow the organic grain used in the bread bakeries—and milled fresh onsite. They ripen imported cheeses in their own cave so they can sell them à point—at the perfect point of ripeness.

“It was interesting to learn that Wegmans partners with many world-renowned chefs in order to create ready-to-eat meals,” said Teddy DeVico ’17, who hopes eventually to open his own restaurant group after establishing a career in real estate. “This gives chefs an outlet to work in a setting that is also conducive to family life.” The company’s favorable benefits package, strong company culture, and emphasis on work-life balance all help in recruiting and retaining top culinary talent. So does the size of the pantry—chefs have the run of the store.

“Wegmans cares more about its customers than I previously thought! A lot of work goes into their product development,” noted Jacky Falkenburg ’17, who plans to open her own restaurant “within the year.” She found it interesting “how Wegmans cross-utilizes its various channels to promote its products.” As the students learned, the company tries out new products in its 19 (and counting) restaurants before rolling out fresh, dry, and frozen versions in the stores and offering ideas and recipes for using them in Menu, their magazine for consumers.

We would like to express our great appreciation to Danny Wegman, the company CEO, who most generously picked up the tab for the entire day, and to Holly Skidmore, who arranged the itinerary. Our thanks go as well to our gracious hosts, Ryan Kelly, Hallie Johnston, Brendan O’Hara ’06, Robyn, Heath, Michael Posella, Tom Culhane, Joseph DeVito, Bridget Williams, Tony Carnevale, and Mauricio Valdivia (the GM at Next Door), and to all the other friendly, service-minded professionals who extended their hospitality to the students in Restaurant Entrepreneurship during this exceptional visit. After spending the day with all of them, it’s easy to see why Fortune magazine this year ranked Wegmans as the best workplace in retail in the country.

Students at Wegmans-owned fine-dining establishment Amore

Students at Wegmans-owned fine-dining establishment Amore

Leave A Comment