There is a new Sobeys in Paradise. It is full of track lighting and deli counters and happiness. There are plenty of the coveted single-person-sized snub-nosed carts and everything is clean. There are up to fifty different freshly made salads (three varieties with kale, many with whole grains, as well as a plethora of coleslaws and pastas) and ciabatta bun sandwiches with gourmet combinations of Italian meats and bocconcini. The cheese and cured meat counter is as big and exciting as the inside of the TARDIS. The olive bar is bountiful, if not boundary pushing, and includes an octopus and squid salad that is not rubbery or covered in mayonnaise. But the most promising thing of all is the clear evidence of care taken by the employees, and their pride in the store.
It is easy to be cynical about food shopping in St John’s. The larger grocery chains have underwhelmed us at best, insulted us at worst. So I would be forgiven for scoffing to myself upon my first visit that this store’s niceness was only newness and that the cleanliness and product diversity wouldn’t last.
On my second visit, I was impressed with the physical flow of the store. You can hit the fresh foods and then walk directly through the in-store baked goods section to the checkout without ever having to troll the regular grocery aisles (on the down side, the diapers are located for Maximum Tantrum in the juice and candy aisle). I also talked to more of the employees and learned that they were as pleased to work there as the public seems to be to shop there. One counter worker offered me a generous sample of the candied salmon I was ogling and then confessed to me what a great work place she had. She said everyone was just happy there. She said the manager was happy and it trickled down to the rest of the staff, and I realized that this place might stay nice.
Now, it isn’t a miracle or a Trader Joe’s. It is still a Sobeys. And with that comes the aged artichokes, a baffling inability to anticipate that the full fat or “red” organic milk always sells out first along with the plain balkan and mediterranean yogurts, mislabelled produce and sale tags touting sales with zero actual cents off the regular price. But the choice in the produce aisles is well beyond that of the other grocery stores anywhere in town and you can get more of what you want with less packaging.
The things that have changed and the things that have remained the same were illustrated perfectly in the three bins full of fresh hot peppers labeled “Poblano,” “Cubanelle” and “Jalapeño” though all three were filled with habanero. But they were very beautiful habaneros and they did not come two to a large styrofoam pack. Just pure colourful hot pillows in an appealing, if misleading, cornucopia.