If you live outside the tri-state area, you might not be familiar with Stew Leonard’s—but the small, family-owned grocery store has earned its place on our list of America’s best “secret” regional supermarkets. What started as a dairy store has evolved into a food destination that hawks high quality meat, fish, produce, cheeses, and wines, with the focus on fresh products as opposed to supermarket staples. (In other words, this isn’t the place to buy milk and Tums.) And while the store previously had only six locations across New York and Connecticut, that will all change this week when Stew Leonard’s officially opens its first New Jersey food store (there’s a wine-only store already open) in Paramus on September 18—and Martha Stewart’s just as excited as the locals.
Stewart, who grew up in Nutley, attended a reception Monday night ahead of the opening, along with Stew Leonard Sr. (the store’s founder), CEO Stew Leonard Jr., and Jake Tavello, Stew Leonard Sr.’s grandson who will be managing the Paramus store. She walked through the new 80,000 square foot facility, stopping at all the different kiosks employees had set up for the night—including a wine-tasting station, the seafood counter, and multiple cheese stops, to start. Then, she made her way back to the front of the store to meet Martha, a New Jersey-born cow named after Stewart that was brought in from Cloverland Farm in Frenchtown, per NJ.com. Stewart greeted Martha with a big smile, before later congratulating the Leonard family on stage.
“I’m just so happy for Stew, and Stew, and Mrs. Stew that they finally have a store in New Jersey, because that’s where I was born,” Stewart said at the opening. She praised how beautiful the store’s garden department was—this is the Garden State, after all—and quipped to Stew Leonard, Jr., “you should make a point of getting only New Jersey tomatoes, by the way. And blueberries.”
Indeed, according to the Stew Leonard’s website, the New Jersey location will be taking produce from “hundreds of regional farms to be available for residents,” when available, and more than 80 percent of products sold at all Stew Leonard’s stores are fresh—so Stewart can rest assured Jersey tomatoes will likely be in the lineup. The store will also include singing animatronics (when I visited on Monday, I was serenaded by a pair of avocados), and a selection of wine, spirits, and beer.
Stewart will also be inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame this fall and was in the news earlier this year for partnering with MSC Cruises on a series of culinary-themed experiences in the Caribbean. Said experiences include some of Stewart’s favorite activities, such as “hands-on culinary classes, hiking to hidden coves, visits to craft markets, and lessons from local fisherman”—one sample excursion from the announcement details a five-stop food and culture walking tour of San Juan, Puerto Rico, stopping at the famous El Convento Hotel in Old San Juan for cocktails and fritters, and Lounge Cultura for a mofongo and cocktail-making class. (Sign us up.) The partnership launched in June—learn more on MSC’s site.