When supermarkets first came into fashion in the 1930s and ‘40s, their sheer existence — every type of food you’ll ever want, all under one roof! — was enough of a novelty to keep the crowds coming. But nowadays, grocery stores tend to not be especially exciting; they’re just places where we go to get our food every week. That’s why, in recent years, more and more of America’s best supermarket chains have added amenities to improve the customer experience. And we’re not just talking about the opportunity to grab a venti macchiato or pick up a prescription while grocery shopping. Some of these offerings are truly novel and need to be seen to be believed.
Jungle Jim’s has two Ohio locations and very well might be the craziest grocery store in America. It’s been called “the theme park of food,” and the variety of products on offer is simply massive. But just because there’s a large quantity of food doesn’t mean that it’s of low quality. For proof, visit the seafood department. There are tanks of live freshwater fish including rainbow trout, striped bass and catfish.Choose yours, and they’ll filet them to order.
Dianra S. /Yelp
There’s no need to hit up a happy hour if you’re shopping at Whole Foods or Wegmans; some locations have craft beer bars on-premises. The Davie, Florida, location of Whole Foods, for example, has 15 wines available by the glass and 16 beers on tap; and some Wegmans locations have full-scale Irish pubs.
Wegmans takes its cheese very seriously. So much so that they’ve built a 12,300-square-foot “cheese cave” in Chili, New York, modeled after ones in Europe, where artisan cheeses are sent to ripen under the watchful eye of a trained affineur from France. Once the cheeses are deemed ready, they’re sent to individual stores and displayed in clear glass “misting cases,” and trained employees carefully maintain the cheeses’ flavor and texture.
Texas chain H-E-B operates full-service sit-down restaurants at some of its supermarket locations. These restaurants are open for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch and all serve authentic Texas barbecue. Some also offer burgers, bar snacks, salads, tacos, sandwiches, fajitas and comfort food entrees. This is a truly unique feature and makes H-E-B one of the regional supermarkets we wish was national.
More grocery stores offer cooking classes than you probably realize. For example, Missouri-based Dierbergs Markets has 10 rotating instructors who teach classes on-site such as Cast Iron Cooking, Rustic Fall Dinner and Weekend Brunch. In Indiana and Michigan, Martin’s has kitchens at several locations that can also be rented for private events. Many Kroger stores hold kids' cooking classes on Saturday mornings. Meanwhile, Utah-based Harmons locations have in-store kitchens where you can learn to make everything from macarons and pho and Argentinian asado to gluten-free Italian cooking. Your local supermarket might also offer cooking classes and you might not even realize it.
Animatronic characters may seem more at home at Disney World than a supermarket, but if you visit the off-the-wall Northeastern chains Stew Leonard’s or Jungle Jim’s, you’ll encounter full-size animatronics welcoming guests to the store and singing jaunty tunes. That’s sure one way to keep the kids entertained.
Courtesy of Stew Leornard’s
You can also have a kid’s birthday party at Stew Leonard’s. You can book a private party room, which includes character visits, food, decorations, games and cake. Kids can decorate cupcakes, have a spa treatment, create dinosaur fossils from salt dough, paint canvases or dip treats into chocolate. They can also learn to cook a wide variety of foods at special cooking-themed parties.
If you have a FedEx package to pick up or drop off, you can cross that off your list at 14 locations of North Carolina-based Harris Teeter.
Courtesy of New Seasons Market
Oregon-based New Seasons Market has a robust calendar of wine and beer tastings and new parent support groups. It also offers story time for children, held at the cooking school at the Happy Valley, Oregon, location every Tuesday at 10 a.m.
In early 2019, Washington, D.C.-based Giant opened their first Giant Heirloom Market in Philadelphia. There are two locations in the city and two more in the works. There’s an emphasis on fresh produce, local flavor, craft beer and healthy living, best evidenced by an in-house “produce chef.” You can bring your fruits and vegetables up to the counter, and they’ll slice them up according to your specifications and even help out with recipe inspiration.
Whole Foods is owned by Amazon, and since the 2017 acquisition, the shopping behemoth has figured out a handful of ways for the partnership to benefit Amazon Prime subscribers. Chief among them are weekly deals, 15 percent off hundreds of items and free 2-hour delivery.
Amelia N M./Yelp
After your kid’s birthday party at the Yonkers, New York, and Danbury and Norwalk, Connecticut, locations of Stew Leonard’s, you can take the group outside and visit Stew’s Little Farm, complete with baby cows, goats, pigs and sheep.
Yes, you can actually get married at the Fairfield, Ohio, location of Jungle Jim’s, and we don’t mean you’ll be walking down the freezer aisle. At the Oscar Event Center, there’s room for up to 750 guests in a variety of spaces, including the elegant Main Hall, a lounge for 150 guests, an outdoor terrace and a pub with a 30-foot bar. With catering provided by the supermarket right next door) you know the food is going to be good.
Murray’s Cheese, based in New York City, is one of the country’s leading cheese shops and has been going strong since 1940. Through a partnership with Kroger, the cheese shop has opened counters at Kroger locations across the country, seriously elevating your standard cheese department with high-end rarities and cured meats sold by folks who really know their stuff.
Eris A./ Yelp
Many grocery stores have sample stations, but at Trader Joe’s, you can literally try anything. If you see a product you’re interested in purchasing at Trader Joe’s but aren’t 100 percent sure if you’ll like it, you can flag down an employee and ask to try it. You can then open the food up and give it a taste, and if you don’t like it, you’re not obligated to purchase it. It’s just one thing we bet you didn’t know about Trader Joe’s.
The rewards card at Hy-Vee supermarkets is free, and it offers some nice perks, including exclusive deals and rewards. If you purchase certain items, you can also get discounted gas at more than 2,600 gas stations (not just the ones owned by the chain) across the Midwest. Card owners are also selected at random to receive serious prizes such as kitchen makeovers, vacations and even new cars.
Louisiana-based Rouses was our pick for the very best supermarket in the state. The chain takes its Cajun food very seriously, offering freshly made andouille, smoked sausage, tasso ham and king cakes. It also sells more local seafood than any other Gulf Coast grocer, according to the company, and many of its stores even host full seafood boils with crabs, shrimp or crawfish on a daily basis.
Maryland-based Mom’s is committed to sustainability and environmental stewardship. They have a list of banned ingredients, they carry insect-based proteins and they even sell beekeeping supplies. Each location also doubles as a full recycling center, collecting cork, batteries, shoes, compost, food squeeze pouches, cardboard, bar wrappers, cell phones, snack bags, glasses, plastic, Brita filters, drink pouches, and health and beauty packaging.
Meijer has nearly 250 stores across the Midwest, with about half located in Michigan. If you’re the kind of person who does your shopping late at night (or if you have a hankering for ice cream at 2 a.m.), you’ll be happy to learn that nearly all locations are open 24 hours a day.
Idaho-based WinCo Foods has more than 120 locations across the South and West, and the employee-owned stores are pleasingly no-frills with low prices, no credit cards accepted and no bagging service. It’s perhaps best known for its bulk items, however. More than 800 items are available for sale by the pound, meaning you can purchase as much or as little as you like. Need 100 pounds of Arborio rice? How about one solitary cinnamon stick? Go for it. The candy available by the pound is every kid’s fantasy.
If you’ve ever been to big-box stores like Costco, you already know that their free sample game is on point and blows the samples provided at traditional supermarkets out of the water. In fact, on an average weekday afternoon, you can almost assemble a full meal just from what’s being served at the numerous sample stations, which is definitely one way to stretch your food dollar there.
Courtesy of Stew Leornard’s
Stew Leonard’s offers an insane amount of things for kids to do, which is why a trip there can double as an ideal day trip. If you come during the month of October, after the kiddos have visited the petting zoo, they can take a Halloween-themed hayride.
Wegman’s is beloved not only for its wide variety of groceries and cheese, but also for its ready-to-eat selection. Just take the pizza and sushi, for example. The pizza dough is made in-house daily and serves as the base for some seriously legit pies. Each store also has a sushi chef on-hand who makes super-fresh, restaurant-quality sushi.
H-E-B offers a whole suite of wellness and nutrition services. You can consult with a dietician in-person or over the phone and get free blood pressure and blood glucose screenings (and $3.99 cholesterol tests). Stores also offer a variety of classes led by registered dieticians, including a grocery shopping tour and health classes on topics including healthy lifestyle fundamentals, emotional eating and heart disease prevention.
If you bring your child to any location of Publix, they can walk up to the bakery case and get a free chocolate chip or sugar cookie — all they have to do is ask. It’s just one of the many reasons why we named the Florida-based Publix America’s best supermarket chain.
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