Monday, October 30, 2017

TOUR: Western Beef - East Orange, NJ

Probably the most controversial, mysterious, and just plain old weird supermarket chain in the New York City area is Western Beef. Run by the son of an alleged Gambino crime family member, Western Beef was officially cleared of any possible Mafia ties in 1995, and the company shut down its wholesale operations at the same time (where some claimed the Mafia links were most prominent). You can read more about the interesting history of the company here.

The East Orange, NJ Western Beef location was opened in 1985. It was Western Beef's third location, following stores in Flushing, Queens, NY and Spring Valley, NY (presumably where the Food Fair is today). Store #004 was in Union, NJ, although I have no idea where.

The large, cartoony signage is reminiscent of South of the Border or other such attractions. In fact, looking at it from the outside, Western Beef looks like one of those tourist destinations -- past its prime but still hanging on. Actually, Western Beef does a very good business and is in fact in the process of expanding.
Its parent company, Cactus Holdings, is announcing the introduction of several new banners, including the smaller Western Beef Market, the Delicioso Carniceria, the Farm Fresh Market, and the 1906 Artisanal Butcher Shop.
I'd driven past this orange building for over 10 years on I-280, which runs on the other side of the store from New Main St (here), but didn't go in until October 15, 2017. The building itself is probably a converted warehouse or factory of some kind.
This part may have been open at one point. The door seen open here actually leads down a hallway to a laundromat that shares the building. The supermarket's entrance is to my right above. Here you can see Charlie Catcus, Western Beef's mascot.
Like many urban stores, the "front" of the store is actually the side. You enter the store through the door just visible to the far right, and the exit is to the right of that. This brings you into a medium-sized produce department in the front corner, roughly under the Western Beef sign. Customers then walk through a doorway into the grocery section of the store, which also contains the checkouts. Dairy, meat, and seafood are in the back in a separate room. More on that later...
Western Beef, being a value warehouse store, does not so much focus on its appearance. What it lacks in ambiance, it makes up for in prices. The produce department was small but well-stocked with very fresh produce and all the essentials.
The windows we see to the right here look towards New Main St, but notice that there are actually two sets. The first set look from produce to the laundromat hallway, then the second set is on the outside of the building.
Looking towards the parking lot. Now those are some old -- and orange -- produce cases!
Refrigerated produce is on the wall farthest from the parking lot. These cases may be newer.
Moving towards the pass-through to grocery. It's behind me to my right in the photo above. This area has such low ceilings because there are managers' offices on the second floor.
Looking towards grocery, the doorway to which is right behind the .59 sign. A doorway to the backroom and possibly basement is to the left above.
Check out some of these "West Indian Herbs" they had along the side wall! Now that's a specialized product, and really knowing your target market!
You enter grocery through the doorway under the Western Beef logo. The aisles run to my right, with checkouts to my left. And you can't fool anyone, Charlie, we all know you're not Abe Lincoln. Even with the beard.
The aisles are wide and fully stocked, and most importantly, clean. The flooring throughout the store was a little patchy, but spotless. I love clean grocery stores, so big credit to Western Beef here. If the shelving looks familiar, it is. Universal in Rahway used to be a Western Beef and retains many of its Western Beef fixtures and some of the decor. However, this store was much cleaner and better-maintained than Universal.
As a value-based store, Western Beef places a major emphasis on its own storebrands. Through their subsidiary Millennium Food Group, they produce the Western Beef, Farm Fresh, 1906 (meat/deli), Delicioso (ethnic), Blu (water), Kotton (paper products), and Uncle Joe's (Italian) brands, among others. They also buy wholesale from Supervalu for Essential Everyday and Wild Harvest products.
Along the back wall is Western Beef's version of the Wall of Values, with a doorway on either end to enter the meat/seafood/dairy room.
And yes, the meat/seafood/dairy room is refrigerated.
Let's head in...
These cases here are actually freezer cases for meat within the refrigerator room.
 Dairy is along the wall that borders the regular store.
All the meat and dairy is out on shelves, which is just strange. Until you realize you're wearing shorts and a t-shirt in a 35-degree room.
 Service butcher along the back wall.
The seafood counter, which is actually an independently-run business, is in the back corner of the refrigerator room, where the fish is out on ice.
Seems to me the ice is a little unnecessary.
Heading back outside, the store actually felt hot. The last aisle is frozen foods.
This small case for rolls and bread on the left makes up the store's entire bakery department. And the freezer cases are quite old, but they all seem to work just fine. Look how clean that floor is!
The small front-end. Only two registers were open (which you couldn't tell because there are no register lights on anyway). The line stretched from register 3 to where I'm standing, to the right of the photo. Western Beef is known for keeping too few registers open, so this wasn't necessarily surprising. The experience was great until it came to checkout. Luckily, the lines were moving very quickly. Earlier, when I was in the produce department, a manager who was walking by smiled and greeted me (I was the only customer in produce at the time). This was, however, canceled out by my cashier, who didn't say two words to me. And I love that sign high up on the wall -- "Please ask for help". Not with anything in particular, just in general!
Customer service empty, but fully stocked with HABA.
I'm putting this photo here again, to show the location of the exit. You leave the store under where the word "Thank" would be on the orange sign, and make a 90-degree turn to the left to exit towards the parking lot.

Western Beef is just a little weird. I really liked the prices, and the fact that it wasn't quite a discount store -- the produce was pretty good, there is service meat and seafood -- but with the prices of a discount store. This store, which is only 11,000 square feet according to Cactus Holdings (I find that hard to believe, I would estimate more like 30,000 SF), is small, so selection is limited. And be prepared to wait. But say hi to Charlie if you visit!

Open Daily 7AM-9PM
973-674-8042
My Rating: ★★

7 comments:

  1. Do you remember the old Western Beef commercials? Corniest thing ever!!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MI7G_VmuZsM

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    1. Actually that was before my time...but I have seen them!

      http://njsupermarkets.blogspot.com/2017/10/howdy-pardner.html

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    2. Also before my time, lol. I forgot about that post! Just saw that a few months ago on your blog.

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  2. Very interesting store! The only Western Beef I've been to in Lake Worth, FL was a pretty good store from what I saw, and it looked like they had a good bakery there too (which is a department they must reserve for the larger stores). I thought it was weird myself walking around the meat cooler and seeing all of the meats lying on plain shelves! (However, that cooler is refreshing to walk through on a hot day!) Since the Florida stores are so far away from the rest of the chain, pretty much the only house brand carried there are the SuperValu ones. I guess that one sacrifice that has to be made when running stores so far away from the rest of the chain.

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    1. Yeah, I liked this Western Beef. Much more than the one in Mt Vernon I posted a while ago. None of the four WBs I've been to have had bakeries, but they're all the smaller, older ones. I've heard their bread is good. And that walk-in cooler sure is nice in the summer!

      I imagine you're right about the storebrands. I think we've talked about this before with Bravo and Freshco, right? Western Beef doesn't use Farm Fresh in FL and Bravo doesn't use Krasdale in FL.

      Interesting that they've chosen to not handle their own distribution in FL because that's one of their advantages here -- by controlling more of their own supply chain, they cut middlemen which cuts costs.

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    2. I think we discussed the Bravo and Freshco store brands on one of my posts a while back. I guess with only having 2 Florida stores, it's not worth it for Western Beef to set up their own distribution system here, and it probably ends up being cheaper using someone else's system to supply such isolated locations.

      Speaking of Western Beef stores in Florida, I just found out the Pembroke Pines Western Beef closed earlier this year. Western Beef sold off the store to a local meat market, who is running it as essentially the same concept as Western Beef but under a different name. I don't think this is a sign of Western Beef doing poorly in Florida, as Western Beef sold their store for nearly 4 times what it was actually worth - I think they just couldn't refuse the offer, but who knows. Here's the article about what happened: https://www.bizjournals.com/southflorida/news/2017/02/15/local-niche-grocery-store-owner-buys-broward.html

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    3. Interesting. One of the complaints that I've heard about that new store is that they removed the bakery or limited what they bake in-store, when people liked Western Beef's bread. I still have to try some of Western Beef's baked goods!

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