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Stew Leonard’s Preps First New Jersey Store Opening

Staffing challenges may signal new norm for the grocery industry
Photograph: Shutterstock

Stew Leonard’s is set to open its first New Jersey grocery outpost at the Paramus Park Mall next week. Setting up shop in a spot vacated by Sears, the new Stew Leonard’s, opening Sept. 18, will also be the new home of Stew Leonard’s Wines & Spirits of Paramus, offering shoppers more than 1,600 wines, 800 spirits and 500 beers. 

The new “farm fresh” 80,000-square-foot store will offer chef-prepared foods, butchers, fishmongers, sushi, barbecue, an Asian wok, hot and cold buffet and an in-store scratch bakery, as well Stew Leonard’s signature one-way aisle and interactive animatronic characters that perform shows to entertain families while shopping.

In addition to the soon-to-open New Jersey store, family-owned Stew Leonard’s operates six locations in Connecticut and New York, employing about 3,000 people. The company is based in Norwalk, Conn.

But while the New York Times-dubbed “Disneyland of Dairy Stores” has historically staffed store personnel with relative ease, CEO Stew Leonard Jr. recently told Fox Business Network's “Mornings With Maria” that record-low unemployment has made it challenging to fill positions at the Paramus location. 

“The new store we’re opening in Paramus, we’ve had to have three job fairs, and the average rate of everybody we’re hiring is $15.50 an hour” or more, Leonard told Fox.

This foodservice labor crisis is not unique to the grocery industry. As CNBC recently reported, fast-food restaurants are finding it difficult to attract and retain talent, experiencing more than a 100% turnover rate of employees.

“In the restaurant industry, turnover is 130%, turning over more than a full workforce every year,” said Panera bread CFO Michael Bufano at CNBSC’s @Work Human Capital and Finance conference in July. “We are a little under 100%, but still a huge number.”

Stew Leonard’s $15.50-an-hour-average is higher than the norm in the Garden State. In January, New Jersey Gov. Philip Murphy and legislative leaders agreed to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2024, making New Jersey one of the most progressive states on the wage issue.

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