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Telling them to Pound Sand.

by Adam Zack — September 11, 2019

Adam Zack

Pound sand.

I don’t know what to think about the opportunists they prey among us. Do we appreciate them for their savvy to see opportunity to make money and admire their business acumen, or do we condemn them as bottom feeders that are only just profiting from honest mistakes and misfortune? Recently we have seen an alarming rise in law firms that threaten lawsuits for photos that you may have used on social media, an ad, or a website that someone else owns the copyright to. There has also been a huge increase in the same type of legal actions against grocers (and other businesses, but I care about grocers the most) because their websites are not ADA compliant. It’s hard enough to conduct business in the physical setting of being handicap accessible, not offending anyone, avoiding employee related legal landmines and providing gluten-free, peanut-free, Keto, Organic, free-range, Paleo options. It’s enough to make you lose sleep. Or drink heavily. So, as our industry works to be relevant in the new age of online shopping, and a photo that’s some mediocre example of photography ends up innocently in a recipe on your website, only to be discovered by an internet troll search algorithm, how do you not tell the law firm that you get the le...
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It’s the little things that matter…and also irritate.

by Adam Zack — September 4, 2019

It’s a huge pain in the ass.

It’s been said many times, including in this blog ad nauseum, that it’s that little things that add up to the larger success. The small kindnesses and details really are more important than one big, sweeping gesture. But it’s also the little things – done repeatedly and with no clear path of correction – that add up to bug the crap out of you and eventually change shopping habits. Example: I was in a store in Seattle recently (Whole Foods) and their bakery and pastry case looked great. They had well decorated, delicious looking cakes. Then I got to the cake with fresh strawberries and while they were red and beautiful, they had the stem on them. Now this has been a pet peeve of mine for many years. To eat that strawberry, which is usually glazed too and has icing on the bottom side, you have to pick it up by the green top and either eat it whole, or cut the top off and put it back on the cake. It’s a huge pain in the ass. Why, oh why, I wonder every time I see strawberries on a cake, can’t the decorator cut the stem completely off and put the strawberry on the cake cut side down. It’s a beautiful presentation and still glazable. And I’ve seen it in lots of bakeries. It’s like the world’s first cake decorator kept the stems on...
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I couldn’t care less

by Adam Zack — August 28, 2019

Adam Zack

Perfect

I’m a keen observer of speech habits and grammar. I’ve been called a picky ass-wipe more than once. Phrases like “you know…”, “perfect!”, “I know!”, “right?” and “ya know?” are, well, slightly overused. I try and not to use these words and phrases, but it’s hard, right? So I got totally busted when I said “I don’t care.” It’s one of those phrases in my mind translated to “Whatever you prefer darling, I just want you to be happy.” My wife was talking about wedding plans. She’s a stickler for details and planning, and my modus operandi is more like “It will all work out, don’t worry.” So we were talking the other day and she said something (I’m not sure what, I don’t think I am as observant as I think I am) and my response was “I don’t care.” She said something along the lines of when I said that about wedding plans and questions she had, she just about punched me in the head. It’s the biggest event of our life, and I don’t care? I knew she was going to do whatever she wanted anyway, so in my mind I was being agreeable. It’s a running joke of ours – why are you even asking me? You’re going to do what you want anyway. But just like “perfect” is very rarely perfect and ...
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Make no mistake about it.

by Adam Zack — August 21, 2019

Expectations are high for the do-ers in your company.

I make a lot of mistakes. Every single day. Every day there are things I would have done differently, or not at all. Things I would have said differently, or things unsaid that I should have. The people not making mistakes are the ones not doing anything at all. Just letting it ride and leaving no wake as they putt through life, trying their best not to rock the boat of the universe. A great teacher once told me that his acceptable level of failure is 30%. You make a lot of decisions, try a lot of things, do vast amounts of work and if 70% are successful, you’re doing pretty damn good. It’s the people who have a track record of really being great employees, or just great humans in general, who, when they make a notable mistake, really pay the toll. Expectations are high for the do-ers in your company. They make things happen. They are leaders. They are the example. And sometimes they make a big mistake. It could result in a big financial loss. Or it could affect customer confidence in your store. Sometimes orders are not sent before a big holiday, costing you money in lost sales. Mistakes happen, and nearly always unintentional and are learned from.Those people of yours who make mistakes are usually hardest on...
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Let them eat cake.

by Adam Zack — August 14, 2019

Adam Zack

Instead of offering cake, he chose death.

When told of that fact that French citizens were dying of hunger in 1789 because of a great famine, Marie Antionette, wife of King Louis XVI, reportedly said “Let them eat cake!” Now that would be fine if she was actually giving them cake, but it was a comment that was so out of touch (there wasn’t even any bread to be had, much less cake) that it led to her being despised and eventually losing her head to the guillotine. Comedian Eddie Izzard did a very funny riff on the subject in one of his stand-up specials, where the tyrant King of England offered subjects the choice of “cake or death!?” which of course everyone chose cake – until there was no more cake and “my choice is … ‘or death?’”. Which leads me to the point of this story, where a grocer near my home in Oceanside, CA is trying to sell his neighborhood grocery store that has been in business since 1959. His business has eroded so much over the recent years that even though he owns the property, he is losing a lot of money every month. In the local San Diego Reader weekly publication, he is quoted:
I can’t e...
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What’s your guarantee?

by Adam Zack — August 7, 2019

Some grocers look at returns with suspicion.

I guarantee that you guarantee all the food you sell. If a customer is not happy with the quality, taste or freshness of what you sold them, you give them a prompt refund. With a smile and an apology. After all, you really want to know if berries are getting moldy or lettuce is slimy. You need to know if the tuna salad was a little sour, the chicken has a bad smell or the fish tastes fishy. We’d pay to find these things out before our customers got them home, only to have to return to the store to get it replaced. Having to do that is pretty much more irritating than the actual bad product. New Seasons Market in Oregon has one of the best written returns policy I’ve seen:New Seasons Market Product Returns PolicyIf it’s not exactly what you want or if you don’t like it for any reason, bring it back for a no-hassle return. We’ll replace it or refund your money with a smile. We promise.It’s posted at the entrance and I guarantee you don’t have to have your receipt. It’s one of the cornerstones of great service. We unconditionally guarantee everything we sell or your money back. Having said that, there are still some grocers who look at returns with suspicion. They make t...
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Be My Guest

by Adam Zack — July 31, 2019

Adam Zack

It’s hard to feed people.

My brother Moose reads this blog and used to opine regularly that he wanted to write a guest blog on the subject of grocery store bagging, and how the quantity, quality and training of baggers has decreased over the last decade. He had some ideas that sounded relevant. He’s a pretty smart guy and a decent writer, so I welcomed the idea. Over the following year and a half I asked him a few times how the guest blog was coming. Or if it was coming. Finally he gave up and said something along the lines of translating his idea into meaningful prose was harder than he expected, and with his more than full time job didn’t have the time (or patience – it’s a Zack family flaw for sure) to complete the job.So that got me thinking that the food business of feeding people will never be as easy as people think. There are thousands and thousands, who after going to a restaurant (or a market), got the idea that if they owned a restaurant, they’d do things differently. And they invest lots of money in opening their restaurant or market with all their brilliant ideas and soon after, the shine is off the penny and man, it’s a lot more work than I thought! And ooh, all the staffing headaches! And the chef qu...
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Do you know better?

by Adam Zack — July 24, 2019

Deliciousness!

Yesterday I was sitting on the beach reading and eating a sandwich. I’ve said before that the perfect sandwich is a beautifully balanced work of culinary art. Your favorite flavors and tastes evenly divided then combined into a layered meal. No one ingredient is more important than the other and each bite is as good as the last. It’s teamwork in the form of food, and as you finish, you’re thinking to yourself (or saying out loud if you’re with a companion) “Damn, that was a delicious sandwich!” Each component contributes equally, and if one of them is not up to the quality level as the others, the whole experience can still be good, but never great.So yesterday we had some wheat bread that wasn’t our usual bread. It was a loaf of that squishy type of bread – the kind that if you grip it too tight will leave indents where your fingers squeezed. It was certainly a good sandwich – and I was very hungry – but it wasn’t a great sandwich. Even though all the other contributors in the sandwich show were great – oven roasted turkey, crisp butter lettuce, ripe tomato, fresh sliced provolone, the ho-hum bread brought great to only good. This was the kind of bread I grew up eating as a youngster – Wonder Bread in wheat form – and I was th...
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How do you want to be treated?

by Adam Zack — July 17, 2019

Adam Zack

Treat others the way they want to be treated.

So, I’m re-reading the Editor’s Letter in Food & Wine that I referenced last week, and another blog topic emerges. Bam! He refers to a fantastic chef and restaurateur, Jonathan Waxman. He pretty much created “California Cuisine” (Fresh, innovative, lighter style) at Michael’s in Santa Monica in the late ‘70’s. He has restaurants now in New York, Atlanta, Nashville and San Francisco. He’s been a judge on Top Chef. The guy has street cred and seems like a really good dude. The restaurant industry is notoriously hard on employees. Screaming chefs, moody wait staff, plenty of drama and lots of hard work at low pay. So, in the column he quotes Waxman as saying one of his keys to success is “treat others the way we want to be treated.” Sounds great, right? We want to be treated with respect, kindness, dignity, appreciation. Who doesn’t? You have to be some kind of moron or a-hole to want to be treated different than the basics of being a good person. It’s really too general. It’s a no-brainer. It’s like saying “be nice” or “play fair”.Someone much smarter than me, many years ago, expounded on the “treat others the way you want to be treated” when he sai...
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The Local Oasis

by Adam Zack — July 10, 2019

Adam Zack

You can’t manufacture soul, no matter the investment.

I was sitting on the beach in San Diego last Sunday reading food magazines -Food & Wine, Bon Apetit, Milk Street. (OK, I’ll admit it – I was also reading People Magazine – don’t judge). It’s food that brings us together and is what truly I love. My wife was reading the Food & Wine editor’s letter and said “Hey, this is written with a reference toward restaurants, but it really applies to what you blog about regarding grocery stores.”So I read it, and she was right on. The gist of the letter is that he was at this new mall opening in Manhattan – lots of fancy food, glitz, famous chefs. It sounds like it was a really big deal. Getting out of the event turned into quite the fiasco, but he finally made his way to a favorite neighborhood restaurant. “That whiplash evening reinforced my conviction that you can’t manufacture soul, no matter the investment. The best restaurants [think grocers] don’t just serve memorable food; they’re community and neighborhood oases, offering humanity and hospitality that smooth frayed edges at day’s end.”Hunter Lewis, Editor, Food & Wine, July 2019. That struck me as to what being the loca...
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