Pam Rosencrans lifts half of a wheel of cheese she just used five knives to crack open. To her immediate right is the new Mt. Lebanon store's manager Randie Alf.
With the cracking open of an 83-pound wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, The Fresh Market in Mt. Lebanon officially opened at 9 a.m. this morning.
It's a fresh market indeed.
The modern supermarket is an amazing place, and a brand-new one -- with not a crumb on the floor nor a smudge on a sneeze guard -- is even moreso. Especially one that focuses on fresh perishables as this one does.
Every piece of fruit and veg -- every flower and bit of sushi, every cake pop and bottle of soda -- seemed to gleam this morning.
At first glances, Fresh Market lives up to its aim of being reminiscent of an old-world market experience.
This roughly 20,000-square-foot building even looks a bit like an old-school market house, with its high ceiling ringed in windows to let in natural light.
My son, Jesse, and I had the full Fresh Market experience -- tasting a bunch of good food, interacting with some nice employees, and coming out to the small parking lot to find the mirror on my old Volvo pushed in (it was fine and popped right back).
This store -- the Greensboro, N.C.-based company's 134th -- squeezed into a small lot at the corner of Washington and Connor roads where Roth Carpet used to be.
The small, L-shaped parking lot was full within minutes of the opening, which the Post-Gazette's Teresa F. Lindeman previewed in this morning's newspaper.
As she noted, the store doesn't even let you take your cart out to the lot, but I did see employees toting customers' bags to their cars.
Lots of customers took a lot of food out in their stomachs, as The Fresh Market offers ample samples. I tried a small paper cup of its coffee ($11.99 a pound), while my almost-6-year-old grazed on French toast and syrup, bacon, dried fruit (bananas, star fruit), fresh fruit (strawberries, grapes, watermelon, pineapple), jelly beans, pound cake, banana pudding and two pieces of that fresh parmesan.
While narrating the opening ceremony, the chain's senior vice president for merchandising and marketing Marc Jones said the sampling is a constant, but would remain ramped-up for this first week. He called this store "probably one of our prettiest," and pledged that the company would be involved with the community, including by supporting the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and the Western Pennsylvania Chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Among the familiar faces I saw there was Lebo's commercial districts manager Eric Milliron, who later emailed me, "Mt. Lebanon is delighted to welcome The Fresh Market to the community. They have built not just a culinary destination at the southern gateway to our community, but have erected a stunning structure both inside and out. This is a business we can really sink our teeth into!"
More specifically, and more tellingly, this is what he bought: mussels, artichokes, Cafe du Monde coffee, green onions and collard greens.
I only bought two bottles of Izze soda, but saw all kinds of goodies I'd like to try. I didn't try to scientifically figure out the prices, but several displays caught my eyes: The seafood salad bar (above right, $10.99 a pound), the antipasto bar ($9.99 a pound), a variety of rotisserie chickens (Butter-Garlic-Thyme, White Wine-Herb, Lemon-Rosemary for $7.79 each).
I'm sure The Fresh Market (it doesn't carry many non-edibles) won't replace the other nearby places where my wife and I like to grocery shop, including Giant Eagle Market District South Hills (just down Washington Road), Trader Joe's and Uncommon Market (just across Washington Road), and the two Mt. Lebanon farmers markets (just up Washington Road).
But it's a welcome addition in what's sure to become an even more competitive landscape, and is sure to draw foodies and shoppers from far beyond the South Hills, especially here at the fresh start.
The Fresh Market at 1551 Washington Road (Mt. Lebanon, PA 15228) can be reached at 412-831-5601 and is open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
Bob Batz Jr./Post-Gazette photos