When I was younger, my grandma would take me to a magical place with singing animatronic milk cartons, costumed characters, and the best vanilla soft-serve with rainbow sprinkles. No, I'm not talking about a theme park (although the New York Times did dub it the "Disneyland of Dairy Stores" — I'm talking about her neighborhood grocery store, Stew Leonard's.
We've written about Stew Leonard's, which only has six locations in New York and Connecticut, before (see: 11 Things This Cult Favorite Grocery Store Has That Your Store Doesn't), but a recent shopping trip there made me realize that its model bears a striking resemblance to another (equally magical) store: IKEA.
Why Stew Leonard's Is the IKEA of Grocery Stores
1. The store is like a maze.
The layout of a Stew Leonard's store is a little unconventional. Instead of clear, labeled aisles, you're guided through a series of sections that zig-zag throughout the store. If you're new to the store, you kind of just have to walk through the entire thing to find what you're looking for. Also, if you forgot something — like a lemon in the "Farmers Market Section" towards the front of the store — you'll have to retrace your steps to get back there.
If you're an old pro, there are little openings throughout each section that allow you to cut through into different sections. But until you get the hang of it, you basically need a detailed map to navigate the space.
2. You lose all sense of time there.
I went in for two items and was shocked to see what time it was when I came out of the store a full hour later. It seriously only felt like 20 minutes, though — I swear!
3. It's impossible to stick to your list.
Stew Leonard's is stocked with all sorts of tempting house-made treats, like fresh apple cider donuts, flavored kettle chips, and something called the "cannoli chipwich," which consists of cannoli filling sandwiched between two freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.
So there's absolutely no way you're going to go in there looking for yogurt and seltzer (my list) and not leave without some chocolate-dipped rice cakes and a bag of kettle corn. It's frankly just not possible.
4. You can eat there.
This is where Stew's really shines. From lobster rolls and fried chicken to sushi and pizza, there are plenty of in-house dining options to choose from. (I fondly remember chowing down on some hot dogs there as a kid.) And just like at IKEA, you can grab a cone of soft-serve on the way out!
5. It might test your relationship.
Maybe not quite on par with the infamous blow-out couple fights at IKEA, a trip to Stew Leonard's still has the potential test the strength of your relationship. Bringing your husband there, say, on a day when you're in a rush but he wants to sample all the olives at the international olive bar is probably not the best idea.
Have you been to a Stew Leonard's before? If not, do you have a similar-type store near you?