'It's the Disneyland of dairy stores'

Stew Leonard's prepares to a-maze East Meadow


“The supermarket is set up like a maze,” Dan Arthur said.

As the president of Stew Leonard’s Long Island operations and a 40-year team member, Arthur knows what each empty shelf will hold when the supermarket opens in East Meadow on Aug. 23. 

“In order to get to the buffet, our customers will have to walk through the bakery and dairy sections and pass the produce and seafood stations,” he continued. “The maze takes each guest around the entire store, essentially showcasing everything Stew Leonard’s has to offer with each visit.”

As Arthur made his way through the maze, he pointed to the puppets perched along the way. There were bright green avocado puppets at the produce station, singing chicks in the dairy section and an animal band performing country music near the entrance to welcome guests. In total, 13 such shows will play hourly, or every 30 minutes, throughout the store. 

“The New York Times dubbed us the Disneyland of dairy stores because of the constant entertainment,” Arthur said. “Not to mention that we also have people dressed in costumes walking throughout the store.”

The East Meadow location will be the second Stew Leonard’s on Long Island (the first opened two years ago in Farmingdale) and the sixth in the family-owned and -operated chain. When the first location opened in Norwalk, Conn., in 1969 as a dairy store, The Times declared it a destination. The chain has also expanded to locations in Danbury and Newington, Conn., and Yonkers, N.Y. In East Meadow, Stew Leonard’s now occupies the 70,000-square-foot space left vacant by Pathmark in 2013 at the East Meadow Mall, near the intersection of Front Street and East Meadow Avenue. 

“That space was empty for a long time,” said Frank Camarano Jr., president of the East Meadow Chamber of Commerce. “The supermarket itself is a destination. It’s going to bring people that wouldn’t normally come to East Meadow, hopefully, which would be great for our community.”

Unlike traditional grocery stores, which sell an average of 30,000 to 60,000 items, Stew Leonard’s stores carry only 2,000. Arthur said customers choose the supermarket for its freshness, quality and value. Recognized as “the world’s largest dairy store” by Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, Stew Leonard’s offers fresh milk that comes directly from family-owned dairy farms in the metropolitan area; “from-scratch” in-store bakeries; cut-to-order butcher shops; and fresh seafood.

“You get exactly what you see,” Arthur said. “Customers will see our guys and gals bake fresh bread, cookies and cakes right in front of their eyes.” 

Each station is transparent, Arthur said. The 400 employees, including chefs and bakers, prepare food behind glass-lined counters. Lobsters and seafood are on display; buffet stations rotate different selections daily; and in the East Meadow store, sushi, Chinese, Italian and pizza bars will lead the way to a flower station. Once customers complete the maze, they will check out at the end. Arthur said that employees were recruited in the East Meadow area first, at a career center adjacent to the store. High school and college students, Arthur said, are given priority, and family members are welcome to apply.   

“We are excited for a new change that will benefit the community and create opportunities for many,” said Julia Cuttone, an East Meadow High School junior. She applied to work at the supermarket after hearing classmates talk about it. “The fact that Stew Leonard’s is not in every town and there are not many [around] will be an honor to say we have it in our town,” she said.

“We are excited to let the East Meadow community see our fresh products and unique store setup,” Arthur said.

Although he acknowledged that the maze arrangement would take some getting used to for new customers who expect quick access to a specific aisle, he guaranteed that the entertainment and fresh goods would meet customers’ expectations.

The supermarket’s warehouse is at the back of the store, and a day-old policy ensures not only that food will be fresh, but also that any leftover will be donated to local food pantries or organizations that sign up to receive food donations. A wishing well at the front of the store will collect donations that will be used in the community, and a list of community-service activities is already in the making. 

“They’ve been chamber members since they announced that they would open a location in East Meadow more than a year ago,” Camarano said. “The chamber has a great relationship with the folks at Stew Leonard’s, and we’re excited to see what they’ll do for our community in terms of community service.” 

The company will continue to accept applications year-round for open spots at its website, www.stewleonards.com. The one-stop shop will be open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.