COVID-19 put the kibosh on salad bars, at least for a while.
In the weeks following the outbreak of the disease in March 2020, Governor Ned Lamont issued an executive order regarding grocery stores, requiring them to discontinue all self-serve food, including salad bars.
Experts quickly determined that the coronavirus was transmitted primarily through respiratory droplets released when a person coughs, sneezes or talks – not food.
“It is possible,” the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in December 2020, “that a person could catch COVID-19 by touching any surface or object, including food or food packaging. , which contains the virus, and then touching their mouth, nose or possibly their eyes. However, this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”
Still, the thought of digging into open containers of produce in the age of coronavirus has left many people uneasy. And, although the state ban on self-service food has expired, some still think that way.
But not Paul Koelle, a Mystic resident who mourns the passing of the salad bar. Concerned about what he sees as “unhealthy options” that have replaced salad bars in some local stores, he went so far as to contact store managers and US Representative Joe Courtney, D-2nd District.
“Grocery stores replace them with fried chicken and mac and cheese, all that artery-clogging stuff,” Koelle said of salad bars. “It’s not good for our people, given the older demographics of the area. … We’ve been here two years. Let’s have some salad.”
Koelle, a city worker, used to take advantage of self-serve options during his lunch hour. He said the managers of the local Stop & Shop and Big Y supermarkets he frequents have told him they have no plans to bring back their salad bars, which can be expensive to maintain. In the case of Stop & Shop, it is company policy.
“Stop & Shop closed all of our salad bars at the start of the pandemic and we have no plans to reinstate them at this time,” said Stefanie Shuman, external communications manager for the Quincy, Mass.-based chain. ., which has more than 400 stores in New England, New York and New Jersey.
A spokeswoman for Big Y, headquartered in Springfield, Mass., did not respond to a voicemail on Friday.
“Our ShopRite stores are family-owned and operated, and not all stores have salad bars,” said Nicolette Fossetta, spokeswoman for New Jersey-based ShopRite, which has two stores in Southwest. east of Connecticut. “ShopRite stores in Norwich and New London do not have salad bars, and that was the case before the pandemic as well.”
Tom Socha, manager of the Big Y on Poquonnock Road in Groton, said the store did not have a salad bar before the pandemic and had no plans to introduce one. It features a self-serve “Hot Wing Bar” stocked with items including sweet corn nuggets, mozzarella sticks, barbecued ribs and assorted chicken tenderloins, as well as an “Antipasti & Olives” in which all dishes are pre-packaged in containers.
Several years ago, Socha said, the store found it was “easier and more convenient” to stock its “Salad Station” — an upright refrigerated crate — with prepackaged fixings than it was to maintain a salad bar.
“Honestly, it saves on food waste,” he said.
Last Thursday, the Stop & Shop on Route 12 in Groton offered self-serve food at an olive bar and a wing bar for $8.99 a pound. But no salad bar.
McQuade’s Marketplace, which has stores in Mystic, Westerly and Jamestown, RI, bucked the salad-free bar trend, after reopening the Mystic store’s salad bar and hot bar on a limited basis in May, when the Lamont administration has lifted the last of its COVID-19 restrictions for businesses.
“These are just the basics, nothing like before,” store manager Vincent Giorno said of the new salad bar. “People are still a little nervous.”
Cottage cheese is an example of what the salad bar is still missing, and the hot bar is about half the size, Giorno said.
“What’s funny about hot bars,” said Michael Dias, culinary director of McQuade Stores. “Westerly’s didn’t skip a beat. It’s almost back to where it was before the pandemic. But this one (in Mystic), the clientele is a little older, more nervous.
“COVID cannot survive in hot food, that’s a known fact,” Giorno said. “But, perception is perception.”
Dias said that before the pandemic, the Mystic store’s salad bar business was “crazy.” Now, he says, sales of prepared foods are skyrocketing.
Fiddleheads Food Co-op in New London had just introduced a hot bar offering soups and a self-service dish a day when COVID-19 hit, according to Lexa Juhre, the general manager. Even if there hadn’t been a pandemic, the store probably wouldn’t have opened a salad bar due to its limited space, she said.
She acknowledged, however, that a salad bar would likely be popular with Fiddleheads customers – eventually.
“At the moment, I don’t think the consumer is ready to come out into the open,” Juhre said.
In southeast Connecticut, casino buffets also bit the dust when COVID-19 broke out. Foxwoods Resort Casino’s Rainmaker Buffet and Mohegan Sun’s Seasons Buffet remained closed as the casinos reopened after 11 weeks of closure in the spring of 2020. But both casinos are weighing plans to bring back smaller versions of their buffets.
“As things calm down, people are letting us know what they want,” said Jason Guyot, president and CEO of Foxwoods. “I can tell you that we will have buffet-type options in the near future.”
Foxwoods temporarily turned its Rainmaker Buffet space into an employee dining room while its original dining room was being renovated, Guyot said.
Mohegan Sun plans to convert part of its old buffet into a lounge by the end of the year, according to Jeff Hamilton, the casino’s president and CEO. He said much of the Seasons Buffet space could remain a buffet.
For the past month, the space has been the site of a walk-in COVID-19 vaccination clinic hosted by the Mohegan Tribe, the state Department of Public Health and Griffin Health. The clinic run ended on Wednesday.