This month we're looking back on all the strange and wonderful food jobs people have held during the summer. Whether it's a job at a local scoop shop, a grocery store, or the concession stand at a baseball field, the skills and memories you gather in those short, hot months usually turn out to be invaluable. Here's Shelby Vittek on her experience working at Wegmans, which was a dream come true.
If you had asked me when I was a child what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have answered, in all seriousness, that I wanted to be a cashier. (My younger sister did too, although she often mixed up her words and stated that she wanted to be "a cash register" instead.)
When I was 15, my childhood dream came true and I started my first job as a cashier at Wegmans, the grocery store with a cult-like following.
You might not think that being a cashier at a grocery store would be that awesome, and you'd be right about that — it did have some downsides, especially when it came to dealing with entitled customers. There was one we affectionately called "Roberta the Returner," who would try to return everything she ever purchased. She'd bring back a rotisserie chicken carcass and tell us she didn't like the way it tasted, demanding a refund. Or she'd try to return Independence Day merchandise on July 5, telling us that she no longer had a need for the flag-themed paper plates and napkins. We had been trained to believe "the customer is always right," and Wegmans has a generous return policy, so eventually Roberta would get her money back.
But besides the occasional customer service issues, my job as a cashier really was everything I hoped it would be. I scanned barcodes and typed in produce codes with unabashed glee, and still loved my job even after a customer pushed a frozen turkey over my scanner and it landed on my foot, breaking my pinky toe.
At 16, I was promoted to front end coordinator, becoming one of the youngest employees to hold the position, at least in our store. I answered flashing checkout lights, scheduled lunch breaks, and used my override key with bliss. Many times, as I closed the front end at night, I'd find myself in an empty parking lot cleaning up cart corrals. But even then, I felt a sense of duty. For the first time in my teenage years, I was responsible for making sure tasks got done.
But even then, I felt a sense of duty. For the first time in my teenage years, I was responsible for making sure tasks got done.
Wegmans has been on Fortune Magazine's list of "Best Places to Work For" ever since it first ran in 1998, something the company takes every chance to remind its more than 47,000 employees of. This year it came in at #2.
Even in an age when Amazon is buying Whole Foods, the family-owned Wegmans is thriving, opening new stores and expanding their empire into new states. The company's headquarters are in Rochester, New York, where the first store opened in 1916. There are now more than 90 stores in six states, including others in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts, with future stores planned to open in North Carolina soon.
4 Reasons Working at Wegmans Is the Best
1. It's basically paid social hour.
As a teenager, Wegmans really was the best place to work. In my suburban New Jersey town, it was a popular place of employment for high schoolers, and many of my friends already worked there. Every after-school shift felt like a paid social hour, and within months of working there I really had gained a new Wegmans family.
2. There are employee birthday parties and a scholarship program.
Wegmans throws its employees birthday parties, held monthly for everyone born during the given month. It also has a scholarship program for employees, providing $1500 scholarships to students who work a certain number of hours annually, of which I was a lucky recipient of during college. Employees aren't required to return to Wegmans after graduating, but many do. I never did; I ended up becoming a writer.
3. You can participate in the "Eat Well, Live Well" program.
I remember when the company first introduced a healthy lifestyle program called "Eat Well, Live Well" (which is still in existence) that encouraged employees to do things like strive for five cups of fruits and vegetables daily, and get moving to meet a daily step goal. We were all given free pedometers, and hitting the recommended 10,000 steps was easy for me to do as I traversed the store running to grab forgotten items for customers checking out or while hauling in lines of shopping carts from the overcrowded parking lot.
4. I learned how to cook and grocery shop.
Working at Wegmans taught me valuable skills in responsibility and customer service, but even more so, the job taught me to love grocery shopping. I grew up in a single-parent household, and our kitchen was mostly stocked with convenient, easy-to-prepare meals. At a crucial age, I was exposed to foods and ingredients that were unknown to me, like quinoa or fish sauce, and even vegetables like celery root, kale, and fennel — none of which I had ever found in our pantry or vegetable drawer at home.
I didn't even learn the basics of cooking until the store needed someone to teach Veggie Patch classes to Girl Scouts. I eagerly volunteered, and together after school, the girl scouts and I learned to "eat the rainbow" and make properly portioned, healthy recipes from fresh ingredients — mixing salads, scraping "spaghetti" out of spaghetti squash, and assembling berry parfaits for dessert.
Working at Wegmans taught me valuable skills in responsibility and customer service, but even more so, the job taught me to love grocery shopping.
It's been almost six years since I was a Wegmans employee, and while I'll shop for groceries at Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, or ShopRite, I still prefer Wegmans. Now, I like to do my shopping late when the store is almost empty, after most employees have gone home. I remember those lonely nights in the parking lot, and often wonder if my career would have been more satisfying if I hadn't left the Wegmans family.
I have friends that still work for Wegmans. I quit before I even graduated from college, favoring other internship opportunities over a summer spent on the front end. When I left, my coworkers congratulated me on "escaping the cult," though if I'm being honest, I'm not sure I ever really did.
Thanks for sharing your summer job story with us, Shelby!