Recently, I was listening to a business radio station while driving to a client - and the reporter did an overview of an extremely successful food store in New York City called Zabar’s. For those of you not familiar with Zabar’s, it is pretty much a warehouse-sized store for gourmet foodies. They roast their own coffee, bake their own bread, and of course they have astounding lox (smoked salmon) and bagels.
So sure - there are any number of foodie paradises in New York City (Balducci’s, Dean & DeLuca and Citarella to name a few) but somehow Zabar’s inspires a different kind of loyalty.
First, let me set the “food” stage. People in Manhattan don’t have cars. They walk, take a taxi or subway pretty much everywhere, which means they tend to shop at stores (of which there are jillions) near home or work. And yet Zabar’s has managed to become a destination food store. Ever since I can remember, people actually trekked all the way up there to shop and then dutifully schlepped all their purchases home. This didn’t particularly surprise me - Zabar’s is really very good - but I hadn’t set about analyzing this phenomenon until the radio show enlightened me.
Zabar’s doesn’t just have wonderful food and treats their customers extremely well. Here’s their secret: They treat their employees exceptionally well. The radio host went through all the Zabar’s departments, listing the names of the head of each and their tenure at Zabar’s. I am going to guess the average length of employment was around 35 years. Thirty-five years!!! People came to work for Zabar’s and apparently liked it so much, they never left!!! Not only that - as the radio guy continued, every last one of them has started out as stock boy or coffee grinder. Over the years they gained their expertise right there on the floor and were promoted up the ranks. They interviewed the manager of the cheese department who had an encyclopedic knowledge of cheese. He knew the manufacturers, the ingredients, the changes, the trends, you name it, making him an irreplaceable authority not only on cheese but on Zabar’s specific offerings. And so it went, with the coffee guy, the smoked fish guy, the bakery guy (they were all guys). They are ambassadors for Zabar’s walking the aisles every day and no surprise, they are a huge part of the draw. People go for the food - but they also go for the knowledge.
I know up until now many readers were scratching their heads wondering what on earth we in PVF-land could possibly learn from the gourmet foodie world - but here are key points to be gleaned from the Zabar’s interview.
Look at your work force. See any possible candidates? Folks you would like to see with the company in 35 years? Start thinking about how to nurture and enhance that talent. It’s good for the employee, good for the customer and ultimately good for your company!!