For years, I’ve been shopping at the Holy Trinity of Big Box Grocery Stores. In my area, Whole Foods, Safeway, and Trader Joe’s are all practically within a stones throw of one another. I’d pick up most of our organic items at Whole Foods. Then I’d stop into Trader Joe’s for all the snacks (does anyone buy anything there that isn’t a snack-y type food?). Finally, I’d hit Safeway for all the other stuff. Throw in a monthly trip to Costco for all the bulk items (including organic chicken breasts) and my house was always stocked.
Over the summer, my husband’s family from India was visiting. Most Indians don’t eat beef; mainly due to the religious dietary restriction of meat-eating Hindus. It’s not a meat readily available in India. His family is used to lamb… and goat. While I knew that I wouldn’t goat in my chain grocery stores, I expected that I’d easily find lamb.
Safeway didn’t have any. The butchers at Whole Foods assured me that lamb was a seasonal item, available typically during the Easter season only. I didn’t even bother to look at Trader Joe’s because, well, I only think of TJs as the ultimate munchie experience. So I drove over to our nearby Lunardi’s.
Lunardi’s had the most impressive meat case I’ve ever seen. There are cuts of pork, veal, beef, lamb, chicken, fish. There are things I’ve never heard of. One of the butchers helped me select the right choice of lamb that would be stewed in curry. He was the one who suggested I buy a whole leg of lamb. It was the best deal. I thought it would be too much, but he convinced me that they could remove the meat from the bone and bag it into meal sized portions for me. We even took a separate bag of bones that could be used to make stock and help flavor my Indian dishes even more.
I was so impressed with the level of service I received. So much so that since the summer, I’ve almost exclusively purchased my meat from Lunardi’s. And slowly, I’ve been cutting out my Holy Trinity of Big Box Grocery Stores too. I haven’t been to Whole Foods in over a month. It’s been twice as long since I stepped foot in Trader Joe’s. Safeway is now my go-to only for items that I’ve forgotten.
I know that I’m paying a little more than Safeway for my regular items. By my calculation, Lunardi’s prices are about 30% more than the items I purchased at Safeway which puts them on par with Whole Foods. But I’ve decided that sometimes service and quality are more important. The deli counter always gives out samples of whatever I want to buy in order to ensure that I’m happy with the product before they cut a pound of it. The bakery always happily gives my kids a complimentary sugar cookie. They even have little mini carts that my preschooler loves.