Fresh & Easy = Yes & Yes

I need to note this before weeks pass and it gets buried in a ramblethon (much like the post where it was first mentioned). Plainly speaking,

  • Fresh & Easy is a new Cali-based U.S. supermarket chain that comes to us from the famous Tesco peeps of Britain.
  • They opened their doors about three months ago.
  • They currently have stores in California, Phoenix, and Las Vegas.
  • It seems like they're opening a new LV store every 10 minutes. (I think we're up to seven? Just the other day it was five?)
  • They are small, but somehow have almost everything we need. (It answers my oft-pondered question about how we used to get by in my youth without enormous supermarkets.)
  • Much of their food is fresh.
  • A fair amount of their food is organic.
  • Almost all of their food is REALLY CHEAP.
  • A nice portion of their food is marked down every day because everything is so fresh, so they need to keep the product moving.

Huge packet of portobellos for 80 cents? Tub of fresh pesto for a dollar? Vine-ripe tomatoes (4-pack) for 50 cents? Red and orange bell peppers (3-pack) for 60 cents? British-style bacon for a buck-something a handful? (Mike is in love.)

PLUS, they keep giving out monthly coupon books. $5 off $20 for each week. (I hear they'll let you use more than one coupon, too, so $10 off $40 if you're at an open-minded store.) We're now up to five coupon books, several lasting until April. They really want us doing all of our shopping there. We are happily obliging.

It's easy when the food is tasty and inexpensive, the people are nice, and the checkout lanes are all self-checkout (but with conveyor belts! and optional hand scanners!). They will happily do your ringing up for you, though, if you dislike those machines. (And they usually bag for you when you're not looking. Cheerfully and unobtrusively. Mike's not the only one in love.)

Not only has our grocery bill plummeted in recent weeks, but in-home dining malaise has fallen off like an ugly scab. Buffet coupons expire on the counter as we eagerly make our own pasta stations. Fresh cheese tortellini - not even marked down - is only $1.79! That's normally a price you can only get for angel hair!

Oh, and they have the best over-the-counter naan in town. (Although they did jack the price up 30-odd cents to $2.18 last week. Maybe because we were buying all of it? And our trunk reeks of garlic? And we both inhale with satisfaction every time we open the hatch?) Naan is now our "I don't feel like cooking yet" sofa snack, and with a little red pepper hummus (one dollar!), everyone is happy.

Their store brand stuff is nummers as well. I recommend their version of V8: only $1.50 and not the watery tomato stuff you find with other imitators. Oh, and their limeade.... okay, it's a buck more than Simply Limeade at Wal-Mart, but it's also organic, plus - hello? - you don't have to deal with Wal-Mart.

Also, shopping has turned into a fun game show experience because at this writing we have three Fresh & Easy markets within convenient driving distance. Let me explain:

We go to the first store and check out all the markdowns (a sack of peppers for a dime! fresh pizza dough for fifty cents!) and whatever we know we want/need. We spend $20, as close to the penny as possible, and use a coupon. $15 spent, grocery sacks on both arms. We could stop here and be happy, or we could...

...go a little ways to the next store. (Parking is easy, what with the stores still being the current Best Kept Secret in Las Vegas living.) Different stores often have completely different markdowns. ("Oo, good thing we didn't get the bag of tomatillos at the last store. Only 75 cents here! And a dollar-thirty for their fresh Alfredo! How about all this organic peeled garlic for 50 cents?") Buy $20. Use coupon. Spend $15.

But don't stop yet!

We drive a little further up the street and go to the third store. Any good markdowns we don't already have? Okay, let's get whatever we need/want that is regular price and we haven't gotten so far. (Chips, naan, bottled water, Cuban black bean dip...) Now let's get indulgence items until we hit $20 (marked down tiramisu, some new kind of cheese, fresh mozzarella sandwiches, ginger limeade). This is where it gets creative and fun - how close can we get without going over? How many new things can we try? Now let's use the coupon and, again, spend only $15.

And then we go home, unpack a trunk full of groceries, ask ourselves if we really just spent $45 on a week's worth of food for two people (who like to eat whatever they want), and then do a little menu planning based on what we purchased. It makes me feel like an old European housewife who goes to the stalls every day then plans the evening meal around what was fresh in the market that morning. Then wears a diamond coronet while cooking because that's how much money we're saving. WINNER!

Sometimes I get a little carried away. There are some oranges and peaches that I leapt upon ("They cost pennies!") and somehow have yet to eat, one or two weeks later, although admitting this may shame me into slicing up the oranges tonight. But, this waste often happens when I pay full price (I love fruit, but I'm never in the mood for the mess), so it's hard to even pretend to feel guilty. Even my bad habits are cheaper!

(Heh. As I typed "Oranges and Peaches," it reminded me of a funny line from Party Girl. If you've seen the movie, you know the one. Back when Parker Posey's shrill, neurotic characters were new. But I still love her in the Guest stuff.)

SUMMARY: Go to Fresh & Easy. Go to lots of Fresh & Easys. It's fun. The people are really nice. (Like, nicer than Whole Foods, even, but no so on that you feel pressured into bright-eyed conversations or like you should lie about how often you make your own fair trade chickpea burgers and serve them to orphans.) Help Fresh & Easy become really successful here and change the way we approach our food and shopping experiences. But don't buy all the marked-down mushrooms because that's my thing, okay? Have a nice enormo block of their Belgian chocolate for $3.50 instead. (No, you need to see this block. You could measure it in cubits. Well, you could measure anything in cubits, but you'd hardly need a decimal for this. Go!)

22 February 2008 |



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