The Triad is no stranger to Lowes Foods, the little grocery chain that seemingly reinvents itself with every up fit, remodel or in this case, new builds. Afterall, Lowes Foods started in Wilkesboro, just west of here and is now headquartered in Winston-Salem with a little over 80 stores under that brand. Its newest and perhaps coolest store opened Wednesday at 240 Market View Drive in Kernersville. This store is unlike any other store in North Carolina, as we were told by company President, Tim Lowe, on our walking tour, it is “the first of its kind in North Carolina.”
I, along with a few other food folks, got to tour the new facility on Tuesday and let me tell you, it was like walking into a magical land of food, fun, and frolic. The moment I walked in the door, the shopper is met with a waft of smoking meat. For meat lovers such as myself, it was alluring, like in the cartoons where a character is picked up and carried toward the source of the smell by whispered fragrance trails. But, I digress, more on that shortly.
I was introduced to something that just a few years ago I would not have been interested in, at all. Before me there stood a tomato bar. What makes a tomato bar unique? I did not care for tomatoes until just a few years ago. We all have seen many “olive bars” in grocery stores where you can mix-and-match your olives. This is the first time I have seen a tomato mix-and-match station. Cherry, grape, Conchita and so on. Put what you want together and off you go. But, there was more to it than that. There was a great variety of larger tomatoes to choose from as well. To top all of that off, there was a potato and onion bar to match.
A clip your own herb garden is there for the home chef wanting only the freshest herbs possible. Rosemary, oregano, mint, parsley, and thyme. Ready to be clipped and taken home. Let me tell you it smelled amazing over there. A lot of time, we are sold “fresh” herbs that have been delivered from who-knows-where and labeled “fresh” when in reality it is not.
Up next on the tour is a station that was one of the things I was most drawn to in this wonderland: Cheese. There is a “cheese shop” right past the veggies. Where does this cheese shop reside? Why, right by the wine, of course. Whole wheels, large wedges, mass quantities. I do not know if I have ever seen such a selection outside of the cheese shop in Brussels we visited a few years back. There are plenty of cracker options and even sun-dried tomatoes there as well. The shop is surrounded on all four sides by cheese. I was offered a chunk of Vermont white cheddar that had been aged for two years. My mouth waters now, days later, thinking of it. Rich, creamy and sharp, just the way you’d want it to be.
We then went through the Spice Bazaar. Unlike the regular spice area in grocery stores (and Lowes has that, too), the Spice Bazaar makes it easier for you to put together special blends of spices for mixes or dips. Featured are five categories of herbs and spices: leaves; seeds; flowers and fruit; roots; bulbs and bark. It smelled great there, as well. There you will also find a large selection of dried fruits and veggies along with a variety of nuts and other dried foods. Plus, an olive oil bar. Who knew? Remember when I said I was being carried away by the olfactory enticement of smoked meats?
Two concepts right next to each other in the back corner of the store are the SausageWorks and the Smokehouse. SausageWorks features locally made pork, beef and poultry sausages in a vast variety of flavor options. As Lowes says: “from the familiar crowd-pleasers to the ‘are they insane?’ combinations.” I did not ask but I wonder if they can custom make sausage for me?
The Smokehouse offers plenty of wood-smoked meats, again, including beef, pork, chicken and salmon, using a variety of woods to infuse flavor; rotated daily. You can grab them ready to eat or take home and cook yourself. I will say that my mouth watered the entire time we were in that area. There were many prepackaged sausages and smoked meats, as well. And, of course, there’s the regular butcher shop so you can still get your steaks, pork and other meats the way you need them cut.
Another concept is the bakery or “Cakery.” This is almost like a scene out of a movie. The people working in that area were having way too much fun. We tasted icings. We got little spoons handed to us with cream cheese, chocolate and vanilla icings that go on top of cupcakes, cake squares and probably things we were not even privy to. After our samples were done, we were told to make wishes and dispose of the spoons in a depository made specifically for that. Then we blew out “candles” that were located on top of the Cakery. Again, this was surreal but so very fun. It was more than just cakes and spongy things. It was fruit tarts and pastries as well. Delightful stuff. Then, next to that is the Blue Ridge Bakery where you have cookies (which we all got one to try), muffins and other bakery items. The cookies were chewy and fantastic.
But, in addition to the bakery, there is the Bread Crumb. It features fresh-baked artisanal bread that is hand- crafted, all natural and have no preservatives. Lowes Foods’ signature Cobblestone loaves of bread are baked fresh throughout the day. There are savory breads, muffuletta-style breads, and cheesy breads. Have I mentioned that I think cheese is one of nature’s perfect foods? Lowes Foods’ Hot Fresh Bread program offers fresh loaves from 4:30 pm to 7:30 pm every day. That is just the right time for dinner. There is also a bicycle that has a real bread basket on it and someone will ride around the store offering bread to shoppers.
The Kernersville Deli has all your fresh cut deli meats and cheeses, just as you’d expect but they also have a sushi bar with premade (on site) or rolls made to order.
The Chicken Kitchen includes a variety of prepared chicken that is fresh and never frozen, locally sourced and raised organically without antibiotics. When the chicken comes out of the rotisserie, there is an animated chandelier with a chicken on it that cranks up and the “hosts” (what Lowes Foods calls its employees) come out from whatever they are doing to do a special version of the “Chicken Dance.”And, there is a humongous box that will hold up to 50 pieces of chicken. FIFTY! The price of the box will also include the sides and fixin’s.
Sammy’s is a sandwich shop, but it is not your typical sandwich shop. You can custom order sandwiches using ingredients from Smokehouse, SausageWorks and the Chicken Kitchen or have one of their original selections. They have pizzas and paninis that can be heated and ready to eat in just 90 seconds. That’s great for those “I worked late and need something quick for dinner” meals.
There is a Community Table which is a place where shoppers can gather and be inspired to try something new. The table is made of reclaimed wood from local barns and it serves as a place for recipe sampling, activities for children and workshops for lifestyles such as gluten-free eating and so on. There is also a Pick & Prep offering for shoppers. Pick what you need for your recipes and the fine folks at Lowes Food will chop, cut, slice, dice, mince and cube your fruits and veggies the way you want or need. Do it while you shop or pick up some veggies that have been cut throughout the day, always fresh. That is a great option for someone like my wife, Stephanie, who does not care for the prep. She would rather just cook. I like to prep, but I am not always around. This would be great for her.
Then, right across from a wall of beer, there is The Beer Den. Craft drafts, a “growler station” and expert knowledge of craft brews. That is what you find here. They have seasonal offerings of unique beers, special events and have “tap takeovers.” Lowes Foods is a “sip and shop” where you can go straight to The Beer Den, get your pint of beer (or a cup of wine) and imbibe as you shop. I do not think you can beat that. In fact, I know you cannot. The Beer Den has been one of my favorite parts of Lowes Foods offerings since it became “a thing.” In addition to all that I have written about, Lowes Foods offers its very popular “Lowes Foods-To-Go” personal shopping service.
All of this is fine and good, well… wonderful. And, it makes the shopping experience more of just that: an experience. But, the important thing to remember about Lowes Foods is its commitment to everything local. As Tim Lowe says, “like all of our Lowes Foods stores, our new Kernersville store will be very focused on supporting all things local. Our commitment to local includes offering produce sourced through our partnership with more than 200 local farmers and featuring a wide assortment of unique local products found throughout the store.”
This is the new flagship store for Lowes Foods and will be a benefit to the town of Kernersville and the Triad. When are we getting one in Winston-Salem like this? Bring it!