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Apr 7, 2009 07:03 AM

Balducci's is Closing in D.C.

I saw this article linked on the Manhattan Board:

According to the article, the D.C. store will close, while the Maryland and Virginia stores will remain open.

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  1. The original comment has been removed
    1. there are six out of seven remaining open in virginia, maryland, connecticut, and scarsdale, ny. (we know the bethesda location is not closing, from the article.) thus, it could be speculated that one of the virginia locations MAY close.

      plus, who knows how long the others will stay open....

    2. I just went to the Alexandria one; it was busy. I rarely shop there (we have a glut of grocery options) but I hope it survives.

      1. Yesterday, I had a chat with Dave Pender, ex-chef of the McLean branch and now corporate executive chef. (I routinely shop at the McLean branch so I've become friendly with Dave over the years.)

        He talked about current plans for all the stores: introducing a double-sided buffet counter (hot dishes on one side and cold dishes on the other) and better monitoring of food to dispose of food past its peak faster. Other steps are being considered, but the company now has a new set of investors so management is waiting to hear their intentions before making other decisions.

        The topic of closing stores wasn't mentioned, but Dave's description of his routine made it clear that the Bethesda and McLean stores are safe.

        7 Replies
        1. re: Indy 67

          indy67, thanks for that info.

          i wonder how some chowhounds will react to the buffet (GASP!) ;-).

          1. re: Indy 67

            Pender is the corp ex chef now? What happened to incredibly flaming "E" Effie Spiegler?

            1. re: balduccisguy129

              Sorry, I've reached the limit of my insight into Balducci's staffing with my previous post.

            2. re: Indy 67

              I've been shopping at the Bethesda store for 20 years. About 5 years ago, they had hit bottom. The goods were awful, and the service was even worse. If I recall correctly, they then had a shift of ownership, and within months, it was a whole new place. The quality of the merchandise sky rocketed. The appearence of the store soared. And the staff could not have been more pleasant.

              I have noticed over the past 12 months a severe slippage back to the old ways. The produce department is embarrassing, with rotten vegetables on display and everything else in prepackaged containers. The fish almost always way past its prime. And 1/2 the good in the aisles are now their house brand.

              It is clear to me that they make so much money on the prepared food, that they have turned all their focus here. I mean, I've seen them sell cooked green beans for $14.99 per pound. Meatloaf for $19.99 per pound. How could any business not like those margins?

              1. re: Pappy

                I don't think the Bethesda store will be going anywhere soon... Even at the height of mismanagement 5 years ago their sales were booming.

                Last time I was in there, I was pretty disappointed with their grocery selection. Everything was cheap-looking private label, and they'd dropped some of the good, decently priced items that they bought through direct import. For example, they no longer had good Delouis vinegar for like $7.99... It was a choice between $19.99 vinegar or the same crap I can buy at Giant for $3.99.

                The customer service has always been very hit or miss. Overall, they treat their staff really poorly (I've seen it first hand) and have a bunch of low-paid recent immigrants working there for minimum wage.

                I've always felt that if they treated their employees better, there wouldn't be such massive waste/loss and their bottom line would improve. Those 500% markups on prepared foods don't really help you if your staff is doing everything they can to create accidental waste to 'get back at the man.'

                1. re: darlin_clementine

                  I stopped going to the Old Town store years ago. They used to have the best selection of imported beers around. Now they're no better than Shoppers Food Warehouse, only pricier. After getting home only to find my bread was moldy (again), I gave up. With the Whole Foods off Duke Street, there's no reason to go to Balduccis.

                  1. re: monkeyrotica

                    I also had issues at the Old Town store. The customer service was atrocious! (Was picking things up for a work party). It was bad enough that I have not been back, and I used to enjoy the one in Bethesda.

            3. The original comment has been removed
              1. 20, even 10 years ago, Sutton Place Gourmet, or now, Balducci's was an absolutely necessary resource for cooks and eaters in the Washington area.

                But frankly, I think that era is gone. They have been replaced by 1) the improvements at my local Giant, 2) their new competitors like Wegmans, Whole Foods, and maybe even Trader Joes, 3) the emergence of many, many ethnic markets like Super H, and Lotte, 3) and even specialty markets like Cowgirl Creamery and Arrowine for cheese, The Butcher and the halal markets for meat, and River Falls Seafood, G&H, Blacksalt, etc. for seafood. Think about it...none of those existed 10 years ago.

                My guess is this closing is the beginning of the end for all of them.

                1. re: Pappy

                  Good point, Pap. Combine the exponential increase in quality and variety of foodstuffs in the local grocery chains (even the Giant Eagle in Frederick has an outstanding selection of imported cheeses and seasonal local produce) with the recent evaporation of wealth in real estate and 401k's and suddenly a $14 pound of butter doesn't seem like a necessity.

                  1. re: Pappy

                    I concur, Pappy. Gourmet foods are now accessible from many more sources, including the Internet. At the same time, Balducci's premium priced business model is doomed to become a casualty of this new age for frugality. During the past Christmas holiday I was crowded in there with the throngs of shoppers and all I could think to myself was "this isn't going to last much longer".

                    1. re: Pappy

                      That's all well and good, but it means having to shop at several specialty stores, each with its own specialty, rather than one store. This is OK for retired folks like us, but a pain for busy people who like fancy food to cook at home.

                      The McLean Balducci's is still around, and I go there occasionally, so I'm not really affected. It would be nice to have a Wegman's closer in though.

                      1. re: MikeR

                        I like the one in Bethesda- I am addicted to their plain brownies, mushroom ravioli and turkey chilli. I also love the coupons they send in the mail!

                        1. re: chicken kabob

                          Maybe I should get on their mailing list. I might shop there more often if things I liked were cheaper.

                          1. re: MikeR

                            Balducci's has two discount opportunities: a frequent shopper card produces a $10 discount coupon for every $250 you spend. This same card puts you on a monthly mailing list for five discount coupons: four 5% coupons, each of a week's duration, and a 10% discount coupon, good for the entire month.

                      2. re: Pappy

                        Pappy, I agree that the context for SPG has changed. But really, if you are living close to the DC branch, are you going to go to River Falls to grab tonight's dinner? Maybe occassionally, but not typically.

                        So I do believe that the demise of the DC branch is due to stand-alone horrors. I base this belief on experience. I lived nearby during its transition to the new owners, and it fell apart from (excuse the pun) soup to nuts. The staff changeover in particular was detrimental to the quality of both the experience and the product. I still miss the former wine manager -- his tips more than made up for the extra costs. And I found the same with the butcher, the fishmonger, the prepared foods . . . really everything except the produce and the bakery.

                    2. I've been to the Alexandria store near my office many times, but I really don't buy anything there. Lot's of prepared food in boxes. In Ellicott City, MD, we are very lucky to have two good Korean stores. Superior fruit, vegetables, seafood. (I mean these places sell in one day the seafood that a safeway may sell in a week or two.) You can also buy the marinated beef ribs (galbi?), which is extreely good.

                      Plus the prices are right.

                      Places come and go, and to succeed, you need to be cheaper and/or better, and apparently Balducci's wasn't.