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Apr 29, 2008 09:40 PM

Service at Zabar's?

I hesitate to even post this since I've loved the place since I was a kid, but I'm wondering whether I just had a freakish, sunspot-related experience there today or whether something's "happened"?

I went in looking for frutta di mostarda - not exactly an everyday item, but hardly "esoteric" by Zabar's standards. After looking everywhere I could think of, I went looking for someone to ask. One guy with "manager" on his name tag looked at me like I had two heads when I told him what I was looking for. (False modesty aside, my Italian language pronunciation is excellent.) After having no luck trying to tell him the name, I explained what it was, and I got an almost hostile suggestion to check the jam section otherwise -- "shrug." I was taken aback but tried someone else - obviously not regular floor staff but not otherwise identified by title, who just gave me a blank look and started to shrug too, when I said "thanks" and left. I didn't recognize either of them, so I'm wondering if maybe there's been turnover, or hopefully not some kind of sea change? Even when they couldn't help, I've never seen such a cavalier attitude from them and the contrast left a really bad taste in my mouth. For me it's needless to say it won't affect my shopping there, unless it proves to be permanent, but I am wondering whether anyone's noticed anything like this? Hopefully it was just sunspots or something but it was weird...

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  1. Honestly, it's been a while since I asked for "help" at Zabar's because I have my routine down (first olives, then cheese, then get tickets for both deli and fish counters, go to whichever number comes up first, then go to other, then bread counter, then jet out of there as fast as possible.) However, when I do need to know something, I try and ask the guys behind the deli counter as they usually first worked in other parts of the store or have worked there for a long time - they are all very knowledgable about what is available. I have found that the staff on the floor really doesn't know much about what is around.

    1 Reply
    1. re: selizara

      I'm the same way usually, that was what was weird and unusual, they weren't just shelf stockers, and the people I'm used to seeing wouldn't have reacted that way. It didn't seem to warrant even a vague, service-industry-impersonal expression of regret, just the "what do you want me to do about it" look and "the shrug." Hopefully they're not "A list" in any event, but not a huge deal.

      As for :"most" stores I agree, though I still think it never hurts to ask, but at least so far Zabar's hasn't/hadn't succumbed to that.

    2. I long ago gave up asking questions of retail employees, anywhere---it's almost always a frustrating waste of time. If I can't find what I'm looking for myself, then there's little likelihood that the store has it.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Boswell

        Boswell: I agree with you 100%. That being said, I have found the staff at the anti-Zabar's, Trader Joe's, is unfailingly friendly and helpful.

      2. I haven't noticed a turnover in staff and I'm in there an embarassing 4x a week. I think maybe it was a freak experience because I've always had good exchanges with the managers. My guess is the frutta di mostarda , if they do have it and I can't say I've seen it, is to the right of the bread counter with some other condiment stuff and grab-bag imported stuff. If not there, then literally, with the mustard near the coffee area. You know who might have a good one, though? It's worth a call to the Formaggio Kitchen guys in Essex Market.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Westrite

          I checked pretty much all those areas and a couple more, I was just hoping for confirmation that it wasn't somewhere offbeat. Guess frutta di mostarda is no longer in enough of any sort of spotlight to be widely recognizable by name, The whole thing was really no big deal, I was just taken aback since the reaction was unusual. (And Trader Joe's staff tends to make me a little jumpy, so I wasn't looking for anything that overtly "friendly". :) )

          I'm sure Buon Italia has it, probably DiPalo's, presumably Dean & DeLucca etc. I guess I should be a little embarassed to admit I've never quite made it to Essex Market but I'll keep that place in mind in general. Fairway might have it, always forget to look when I do regular shopping...

          To cimui, I don't actually eat the stuff all that often, I was going to get it for someone else as a "try this"/inside joke sort of thing and thought of it as I was walking by the store. I've eaten it as a sort of fruit chutney with roast chicken, and trying to use up a jar, I've eaten it just with cold cuts (and it's a OK if a little offbeat with country pate.) I think traditionally it's eaten with roasts of various sorts, relatively blandly cooked. In the corner of my mind is the idea that when it first came to our/American notice, people were said to like it over ice cream but after tasting it, I couldn't see that myself. ;) Only as I reread this paragraph did I realize that it might be nice with some Indian, or even Near/Middle Eastern foods, or at least good enough to warrant using up a jar that's been sitting around for a while..

        2. Service at Zabar's does tend to be a little harried and impersonal (except for those guys behind the cheese counter who seem to positively delight in feeding you free samples).

          For the record, you can find frutta di mostarda at the Italian store in Chelsea Market, along the back wall running between the cash register and the butcher's counter. (If you can tell me what to do with it, I'd appreciate it -- I bought some the other day and realized that it doesn't taste all that good plain!)

          Sorry, in any case, for your bad Zabar's experience. Kindness / helpfulness of store employees is so often luck of the draw, no?