Event Review: Hart’s Local Grocers Spring Food Vendor Fair 2015 (Rochester, NY)


market-front
Event Name:  HART’S LOCAL GROCERS SPRING FOOD VENDOR FAIR 2015
Purpose:         Local food vendors offer samples, tastings, and merchandise for sale to shoppers
Location:         Hart’s Local Grocers, 10 Winthrop Street, Rochester, NY 14607
When:             Saturday, March 28, 2015, from Noon to 4 p.m.
Cost:               FREE Admission, FREE Parking

Event Overview

Hart’s Local Grocers, a locally owned and independent full-service food retailer, held a Spring Food Vendor Fair, to celebrate the arrival of Spring, as well as their first Spring in the Rochester, NY area. According to their website, Hart’s mission is to “build community, delight the senses, and connect Rochesterians to the region’s greatest foods.”  With over 25 local food vendors offering samples, tastings and items for sale, the market was buzzing with excited shoppers eager to get a look and a taste of the participating vendors’ products.

Venue

Hart's Local Grocery Exterior, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Hart’s Local Grocery Exterior, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog

The 20,000-square-foot grocery store is located in the city’s “East End” area between the Little Theatre and Restaurant 2Vine. The parking lot entrance is equipped with a winding ramp, perfect for handicap accessibility. Parking was quite difficult for this crowded event. The small parking lot was not nearly roomy enough to accommodate all who attended. An adjacent overflow lot was also full and street parking was hard to come by. However, I am told that the lot is not usually all that busy.

Inside the market, the fair featured local food vendors stationed at small tables, placed mostly in the main aisle area of the store. Unfortunately, this caused a bottleneck near the store entrance.  Also, the vendor tables were placed very close together, making for cramped browsing. A few vendors, however, were placed in other areas of the store, allowing for more leisurely shopping.

Hart’s also participated in the event, with their own food samples, including freshly made sausage samples and tasting of of couscous. A local Girl Scout Troup got in on the action as well, selling their famous cookies during the event. Unfortunately, they were hidden in a far corner of the store.

Hart’s offers services you rarely see in today’s grocery stores, including online ordering with either in-store pick-up or home delivery. Their retail products include the usual grocery store fare, with ample floor space dedicated to Gluten-free selections (including a large cooler with refrigerated gluten-free items).

Harts Online Ordering Sign, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Harts Online Ordering Sign, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Hart's Delivery Sign, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Hart’s Delivery Sign, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hart's Event Calandar, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Hart’s Event Calandar, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog

Hart’s also allocated floor space for a customer eating area at the front of the store, by the large windows, next to the street entrance.

When we sat down for a bite to eat, we also noticed that they display a large chalkboard wall calendar inside the street entrance, advertising their events and happenings for the month. In addition, the street entrance area also hosts a small seating area with a shelf.

Vendors and Food

Over 25 local food vendors participated in the event, including:

  • Guglielmo’s Home Grown Marinara Sauce
  • Eat Me Ice Cream
  • Saratoga Chips
  • The Piggery
  • Coffee Connection
  • Hedonist Artisan Chocolates
  • SauceAtude
  • Gawali Pasta
  • OPA! Originals (Ouzon Soda)
  • Iroquois White Corn Project
  • Seaway Trail Honey
  • Kouzini Olive Oil/Bread Dipping Spices
  • Happy Earth Tea
  • Dollop Gourmet Frosting
  • Stuart’s Spices
  • Small World Foods
  • Allens Hill Farm
  • Forge Hot Sauce
  • Special Touch Bakery
  • The Butter Man
  • SOS Specialty Foods
  • Mountain Rise Granola
  • Martin’s Kitchen
  • Luke’s Millcreek Farm
  • Crooked Carrot
  • Girl Scout Troop #60756 from Webster, NY

I visited the majority of the vendor tables, sampling their foods and beverages, and often chatting with them about their products.  Shown below are the highlights of my visits to various vendor tables.

Hedonist Chocolates Display at Hart's Vendor Fair, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Hedonist Artisan Chocolates Display at Hart’s Vendor Fair, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog

 

Immediately upon entering the store, I saw the display for Hedonist Artisan Chocolates. They were offering samples of chocolates and truffles – which were oh so divine!  Also, they were taking contact information for their mailing list.

At Hedonist Artisan Chocolates, they hand-craft truffles and chocolate treats.  Each one is unique because they are rolled out, dipped and decorated by hand, in small batches.  

Gugliellmo's Sauce Display at Hart's Vendor Fair, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Gugliellmo’s Sauce Display at Hart’s Vendor Fair, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog

 

I have been hearing about Guglielmo’s Homemade Marinara Sauce on The Wease Morning Radio on Radio 95.1 Rochester for quite some time. I sampled the vegetable marinara sauce and although I don’t normally like store-bought sauces, this one was pretty darn good. (find my home-made sauce recipe here). I even bought a jar of the marinara sauce to take home, as I am running low on my own.

Owner Paul Guglielmo learned how to make the sauce from his grandfather Pete. Varieties include: Spicy Chunky Veggie, Rosa, Marinara Vegetarian, and Marinara with Italian Sausage, and are available is packs of 2, 3, and 12.

School of the Holy Childhood Bakery Display at Hart's Vendor Fair, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
School of the Holy Childhood Bakery Display at Hart’s Vendor Fair, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog

The School of the Holy Childhood offered samples of their wonderful Apple Crisp. You might know them from their baked pies, which are famous around Rochester, NY. They are a non-denominational, non-profit agency, dedicated to preparing children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities for independence and integration into the community.

Their Special Touch Bakery provides an opportunity for adults with disabilities to learn production and food service skills while earning a paycheck.

The Piggery Display at Hart's Vendor Fair, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
The Piggery Display at Hart’s Vendor Fair, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog

 

I stopped at the table manned by The Piggery for a sample of salami, which I very much enjoyed. It was salty and pungent, just like good salami should be.

Based in Ithaca, NY, they are a family-owned, farm-to-table butcher shop and wholesaler.  Their table also featured their capicola, salami and ham, all of which looked delicious.

Eat Me Display at Hart's Vendor Fair, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Eat Me Display at Hart’s Vendor Fair, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog

 

 

Eat Me Ice Cream offered samples of their vanilla ice cream (I think?), which was refreshing and smooth. They also sell cookie sandwiches, cakes, pints and  catering services. In addition to a myriad of flavors, this duo also offers vegan alternatives.

I would have liked to talk to the vendor, but she was busy chatting with a friend. I stopped back again later and she was still chatting, so I moved on.

 

Luke's Mill Creek Farm Display at Hart's Vendor Fair, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Luke’s Mill Creek Farm Display at Hart’s Vendor Fair, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog

A quick look at the next table intrigued me, so I wandered over to learn more. Luke’s Pickled Garlic Scapes (Millcreek Farm) are made from locally grown, fresh, New York state garlic.  Made from long-time family recipes, they are available in several varieties, including Original, Dill, Habanero Pepper, Bread and Butter, and Pesto with Jalapeno. I really enjoyed them, as they had just enough kick to keep the flavor interesting. The dill was my favorite of the bunch.

Thia vendor was very friendly and eager to tell me about his product. I enjoyed talking with him.

 

Saratoga Chips Display at Hart's Vendor Fair, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Saratoga Chips Display at Hart’s Vendor Fair, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog

The Saratoga Chips table was buzzing with excitement, so I wandered over to see what all the fuss was about.  Their potato chips were going fast!

Varieties include: Original, Dark Russet, Honey BBQ, Sea Salt and Cracked Pepper, Sea Salt and Balsamic Vinegar, Himalayan Salt, and Rosemary Garlic.

I liked the Original, but I did not like the Honey BBQ (too sweet). My favorite was the Dark Russets, so I bought a bag to take home ($3.69). They are made with russet potatoes, sunflower oil and Himalayan Salt, giving them have a rich flavor.

OPA! Originals' Ouzon Soda Display at Hart's Vendor Fair, Courtesy:  Food Mingle Blog
OPA! Originals’ Ouzon Soda Display at Hart’s Vendor Fair, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog

 

There were only a few beverage vendors at the fair. One of them was OPA! Originals with their Ouzon  (pronounced “OO-zone”) Soda. It’s an all-natural, sparkling beverage, based on the flavor profile of Ouzo (popular in Greece).  Infused with star anise, it has a subtle licorice flavor.

To me, it tasted like anisette, which is licorice-flavored liqueur, often served at Italian weddings and other celebrations.

 

Hart's Eggplant Lasagna, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Hart’s Eggplant Lasagna, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog

In addition to sampling the many vendors’ treats, I also wanted to try Hart’s ready-to-eat food.  I settled on a piece of eggplant lasagna, priced at $8.49 per pound.

It was at least six inches high, with alternating layers of lasagna noodles, eggplant and ricotta cheese and other cheeses. Hearty and dense, it was almost a full pound serving! The eggplant was tender, not stringy or tough.  The noodles were a bit softer than I like, but not overcooked. The sauce was a light marinara sauce.

I liked that it wasn’t oversauced, as tends to happen with some pasta-based dishes. I ate it for lunch, but the portion size was definitely enough for dinner.

My friend chose a slice of pizza for her lunch and she said that she really enjoyed it. That would have been my next choice if I hadn’t spotted the eggplant lasagna.

Service

The employees at Hart’s Local Grocer’s were friendly and helpful. Upon arriving, an employee offered me a cart, which I appreciated. Throughout my travels in the store, I sampled several of Hart’s own foods, including the mild Italian sausage. The employee in the meat area was happy to tell me about the sausage which he had made just that morning.

Other incidences of great customer service happened during my visit. For example, after I accidentally spilled a glass of water on the floor, an employee quickly came over to wipe it up, to avoid any slips or falls. At the check-out, the clerk, Tara, had a contagious smile and a joyous personality. She politely asked if I had found everything and she quickly rang up my purchases. She was assisted by a friendly clerk who bagged my groceries and wished me a good day.

All in all, I was quite pleased with the service I received while at Hart’s.

Atmosphere and Experience

The atmosphere of Hart’s Local Grocers’ vendor fair was definitely electric. You could feel the buzz in the air upon arrival. However, after the initial rush wore off, I found myself a bit lost as to how to best navigate the maze of vendor tables.  Perhaps a printed map of vendor attendees would have been helpful to guide customers?

Also, a host or hostess stationed at the entrances would have been helpful. He or she could quickly welcome customers and explain that they were holding a vendor fair and distribute printed maps of the store and the vendor table locations.

Local News and Film Crew at Hart's Vendor Fair, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
Local News and Film Crew at Hart’s Vendor Fair, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog

Finally, Hart’s could have created more of a festive atmosphere, leveraging an overhead speaker system (or horn?) to announce a raffle, a give away, or a demonstration – something to keep the customers entertained and engaged.  Perhaps a targeted children’s activity might also have been a good idea; think face painting, balloons, music, or an appearance by a local sports team mascot.

As we sat to eat our lunch, we noticed a local television film crew on the premises. Even their attendance added a bit of flair to the event.

Incorporating more of a festival atmosphere would most likely inspire shoppers to stay longer and possibly spend more money.

Overall Impression

I enjoyed my first visit to Hart’s Local Grocers.  On the positive side, I liked the neighborhood vibe and the clean and organized product areas.  In addition, I liked the friendly and helpful employees, ready-to-eat selections and the sturdy paper bags with handles provided at the check out.  On the less positive side, I did not like the crowded parking, the limited product selection, the lack of produce scales with printed price labels, the narrow grocery aisles, or the limited store hours (7 am – 9pm daily). Also, there was a lack of festive activities to keep shoppers engaged.

Their focus on local vendors, however, is a great investment in the community.  Also, Hart’s is very service-oriented, with online ordering, store pick-up, and delivery service available. Admittedly, since I live in the suburbs, close to a few other (larger) grocery chains, I would not likely make the 20-minute trek into the city to visit again, unless they offered a product which I couldn’t find closer to home. For city residents, though, Hart’s Local Grocers is a great neighborhood grocery store option.

The Spring Vendor Fair was a great idea, and I suspect that Hart’s Local Grocers will improve the layout and activities before their next event. It was a nice way to experience my first visit there.

***

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