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Southern Season's New Ownership (Chapel Hill)

I was at Southern Season today for the first time since they've come under the new owners. Has anybody noticed any changes in what they're carrying or how they do business?

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  1. The inventory is a lot leaner. It's as if the management took a look at products by category, crunched the numbers, and cleaned house -- undoubtedly a good thing for the business. Things like tea and chocolate bars; maybe Vera Bradley stuff, too.

    The store still has a great selection, but less clutter. I haven't had the food since the transition.

    1. My sense is that the main goal of the new owners is to take SS to other cities (Charlotte, ATL).

      1 Reply
      1. re: bbqme

        I also find the selection a lot leaner, and in the area of chocolate bars many of my favs like Michel Cluizal is no longer being carried. The prices have also jumped since the change.

        The sandwiches we got from the deli were just plan bad, the prices were about the same but the size was greatly reduced and the ciabatta roll was cold and resembled white bread. In the past I enjoyed shopping buying a sandwich and having lunch, no more.

      2. Do these changes apply to the Weather Vane? I have enjoyed going there in the past, but if the quality is changing in things like the deli, will things change there too?

        1. I've never been a big fan of the deli (the salad bar on the other hand...), but the coffee selection is holding up. I also really like the reorganization of the wine section (though I'd guess the total bottle count is a bit lower); I find it much more user friendly.

          The cheese selection may also be a bit smaller. In particular, they may have stopped carrying Capriol O'banon, a particular favorite around here.

          1 Reply
          1. re: brokegradstudent

            Have you seen what happened to the prices in the cheese department? They were always high but now they're stratospheric. The personnel there are great, but I don't think I can manage between $20 and $40 per pound of cheese, not even as a treat.

            Also, I noticed that their "retro" bulk candy at $8.95/lb is largely the same stuff that BJ's was selling for Halloween in 3 lb. bags - for much less than $8.95 for the whole bag.

          2. I have noticed a layout change more than a reduction in products though I usually go through their casually. I noticed that they carry more Spanish cheese now, but that doesn't mean anything to me. I've always enjoyed the turkey, apple, mustard sandwich they have there and the price really isn't any better or worse than Foster's market. I've also enjoyed their brussel sprouts with lardon. In any case, I laugh at people who go gaga at Southern Season whether it is their "Clearance Sale" or not. The prices are always marked up more than you'd find at other places event Whole Foods and even during their sale prices are cheaper online AND you probably won't have to pay tax. I shop at SS ONLY if it is a hard to find item and even then I double check at Kitchen Works in the middle of the mall.

            1. SS has always been a place I stop at, bt never buy anything from. They have some nice cookware (Chantal, etc), but no sets and the prices are really nothing great. The cutlery selection is just...nice. Not great.

              The cookbooks are pretty good, nice that they set aside a section just for Southern books, but again, nothing I would not see in a Borders or B&N.
              The olive oils, sauces, etc...there is certainly variety, but no sense of which is better or why to buy one over another.
              Nice place to take out of town guests, but not really a useful store. I hope the new owners make it a place to shop.

              1. Ten plus years ago there were hundreds of things carried by A Southern Season which were next to impossible to get without going to the original source. Now, with on-line sales and other stores carrying a wider selection of gourmet items this is less true.

                But they still carry a number of items which are not easily found. Their clearance sale does have some amazing bargains. The store is still relevant and is a terrific resource. What other place brings in so many fantastic cookbook authors for signings and classes? Their staff is quite knowledgeable and I don't mind paying a little more for access to a higher quality of service.

                8 Replies
                1. re: meatn3

                  I really like their classes. I really like their chocolate selection - even streamlined, it is better than anywhere else I can think of in the area. Nothing seems to have changed at the Weathervane. I also just recently went there to buy a sympathy card for a colleague because they sell really high quality cards and I wanted to get an especially nice one considering the circumstances.

                  That said, one thing I have always really liked is their above-and-beyond service. I don't know when the ownership change happened, but after I had surgery in June I ordered a gift basket for the nurses who took care of me - and their addressing service put the wrong address on it (it was to go to one floor of the hospital at UNC and their auto-addressing through UPS changed it to another floor - I didn't see the change until I got the online receipt). I called to correct this and they seemed not terribly concerned about it. Kind of off-handedly said they'd make sure it got to the right place. Really? I have no idea if my gift ever made it to the right people (and this was after a similar thing happened to a gift I sent to my parents just six months before, and they *really* went out of their way to make sure they got the gift - and on a weekend, too). So ... shop there, yes. Ship anything? Maybe not.

                  1. re: meatn3

                    No one touches their cold cuts, coffee, and tea selection.

                    1. re: bbqme

                      Exactly bbqme. There are a few things where SS is the place I go when I buy them.

                      Whole bean coffee & loose tea: widest selection I know of and prices better than WF on the same beans, about the same as 3Cups and Open Eye (the other places I buy coffee)

                      Cold cuts: same prices as WF & Harris Teeter but much higher quality. I also really appreciate that they have 15 or 20 salumi in the case that they'll slice to order. I rarely want more than a quarter pound and love the access to variety.

                      Cheese: Trends expensive but there are great buys in there and not really a bad cheese in the whole case. On low-end cheeses, prices better than WF, quality miles better than HT

                      Mustard and vinegar: amazing selection, if you could find what they offer elsewhere, their prices would be pretty competitive. Like with cheeses, there are some great vinegar buys hidden in there. The little round jars of aged balsamic are phenomenal and very fairly priced.

                      Wine: I love wine but rarely buy/drink anything over $10/bottle. In the $7-10 range, I find the wines they sell to be superior to those in the same range elsewhere. As with the cheese, their wine section is heavily curated and I can think of only a handful of bottles over the years that were disappointing. The $7-8 bottle at SS usually compares favorably to the $15-20 bottle from the grocery store.

                      1. re: brokegradstudent

                        +1 on the wine and coffee.

                        Their wine folks always give great recs too - unlike the big box wine store where a know-nothing will point you to the store's private label.

                        Interesting in the news, the gentleman who has been arrested as part of campaign improprieties in the Gov's office was the head of the investment group that bought SS.

                    2. re: meatn3

                      meatn3 - Can you enlighten me on the amazing bargains during their clearance sale? I've often found that their discounts in general are still higher priced then the same product elsewhere at a non discounted price.

                      Quail Ridge books brings in cookbook authors. The class is something else as there is no other place that isn't a school already (like Art Institute or Chefs Academy). I do enjoy going to classes, but I wish they were more hands on.

                      I tend to smirk at the people who go shopping there when most of the same items can be found for less. Though being able to grab it right then and go is a convenience in and of itself.

                      I am happy to see that they carry things like Tongue and various cheeses. The wine people are definitely knowledgeable. My wife uses their coffee section regularly and I use their deli if I want a sandwich or some thing a la cart for lunch or a late dinner. The only group I've found to be lacking in knowledge and other times to be rude are the people in the "grocery" section. As far as the cheeses go, most are imported and so that is going to make the price somewhat crazy. I'm not sure how their selection compares to whole foods or another cheese shop as far as price. Their baked goods are the same price as Whole Foods (as far as pastries). Lastly some of the organization in the grocery department is off kilter. The Spanish section has not one thing I'd consider Spanish then you to make the call do you put Spanish Olive Oil int he Olive Oil section or in the Spanish section.

                      1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                        This past year I found Dare maple cookies for .99/ pkg - usually over $5 at Fresh Market.

                        I had been looking for place-mats from Provence to replace some ratty ones my Mother had. She used to get new linens every other year when she went to France, but she is no longer able to travel. I'd been looking for some replacements I could afford to surprise her with. These are usually pricey - they had a great selection and with the sale I was able to purchase a variety for about 25% of the price elsewhere.

                        I was looking for a newish Popsicle machine which had not gone on sale anywhere - their sale would have been 10% off, not great but better than nothing - unfortunately they were sold out.

                        My niece loves putting together a huge taco bar for her slumber parties. The kids always have trouble holding the hard shells upright and filling them at the kitchen island or by the pool (in nice weather) without making a mess and loosing half the goodies. A Southern Season had some really cute plastic plates made to hold the taco shells upright for .99 cents
                        each. I bought a couple of dozen for her and they work great, the kids love them, they stack and take little room to store and they go through the dishwasher. And my niece thinks I'm super cool for remembering what her friends like to do at slumber parties!

                        I could go on and on, but this gives a good feel for my score last summer!

                        I live too far from there to do much grocery shopping on a regular basis. And when I am in the area I am usually not going home for several hours, so I don't get many perishables. But they do have stuff I haven't seen anywhere else in the area, heck, I think they even had schmaltz!
                        I usually get a little container yearly at a Kosher grocery in Fl. when I visit my folks. Now I can go hog ( ;-D ) wild with the stuff since I can restock without a 12 hour drive!

                        1. re: meatn3

                          What schmaltz, must be one of the easiest things to do at home. Take some chicken skin and or fat place it in a skillet with a half inch or so of water, bring to a simmer and continue to simmer till all the water is gone and the schmaltz is left. You can save up the fat and skin in the freezer till you have enough to do a large batch.

                          1. re: chazzer

                            Yes you are 100% correct, but I use so little that the small tub is more convenient than saving chicken fat/skin to make it. I do make a big batch for my folks each year. My father saves all the fixings in the freezer. They go through a bit since they like to use it in mashed potatoes - I prefer mashed made with real dairy. I think the only dish I use schmaltz in is potato kugel which I make infrequently.

                            The sound you hear is from dozens of Bubbies past rolling in their graves...

                    3. I often shop at A Southern Season for things I have a hard time finding elsewhere. I have noticed some unsettling results of the change in ownership. Food counter has stopped carrying Neutske's smoked ham. They used to sell it by the slice which meant we didn't have to buy a whole ham to have a couple of slices with eggs. In bakery, I usually picked up a couple of sandwich breads from Guglhupf. Price used to be the same or just a little bit more at SS. Last one I got was $5.75 for bread Guglhupf charges $3.75 for. Not a good sign. I'll take the time to go to Durham next time. I used to think Southern Season was a local treasure. Now it's starting to become less relevant.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: yahooer

                        Nuetske's is often available at Fresh Market, as is their awesome bacon.

                        1. re: Westy

                          +1. My all-time favorite bacon so far. I'm not much of a ham fan, but I'll bet they do a very good one.

                          1. re: rockycat

                            Some say it is too smoky. But that is sorta like "too delicious", you know?