HOW DAWON'S DOES IT
Supermarkets are doing a lot of cooking these days, luring shoppers with enticing displays of prepared food. For a look at how one store stocks its deli case and its hot and cold food bars, we spent five hours in the kitchen at Dawson’s Market in Rockville, where a rotating staff of 18 works from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. More than 100 food items are sold each day from a roster of over 1,000 recipes, and each dish and its ingredients must be properly labeled. Suffice it to say, there are lots of moving parts. (All photos by Michael Ventura)
7 A.M. Refrigerated overnight, each metal tray on the salad bar is affixed with a piece of masking tape that shows the date the item was cut or prepared. Raw fruits and vegetables have the longest shelf life, dishes containing protein the shortest, and mixed salads are somewhere in the middle. In determining shelf life, the store also accounts for the three to four days the food may be stored in customers’ refrigerators.
7:20 A.M. Cook Juan Guevara readies a cooked tray of vegan macaroni and cheese for the chiller. For food safety and to maintain shelf life, prepared food items are fully cooked, then blast-chilled to a temperature below 40 degrees in a matter of minutes to preserve quality and taste. Items that aren’t put out immediately for sale will be refrigerated, and dishes for the hot bar will be reheated quickly later.
7:30 A.M. Guevara places steamed and dressed asparagus on the grill. The kitchen also has two combination ovens that convection cook and steam, two regular Vulcan ovens, a 12-burner stove and two additional kettle-size burners.
8:25 A.M. Boxes of organic salad mix, spinach, kale, apples and more arrive at the loading dock, and receiver Larry McCullough checks to ensure that the deliveries match the invoices. The market receives meat and produce deliveries six days a week, and though the kitchen and market order separately, both operations use the same suppliers.
8:30 A.M. Bakery manager Shane Harrigan scores a slab of coconut pecan blondies. Brownies and vegan carrot cake are made in the market’s Richmond store and transported frozen to Rockville; cookies are made on-site.
8:35 A.M. Guevara’s grilled lemon asparagus is ready for sale in the cold case. The store opens at 9 a.m.
9 A.M. Food prep steward Juan Ramires, who has finished rinsing kale leaves, dries them in an enormous salad spinner. The prepared foods department goes through 20 cases of kale each week.
9:20 A.M. Lin Thet, an independent contractor who owns Fresh Sushi Express Inc. in Rockville, buys fish and then prepares and serves sushi at Dawson’s, sharing sales profits with the market.
9:25 A.M. To keep shelf lives accurate, deli counter steward Chris Laieke doesn’t mingle different batches of the same dishes. Those with little food remaining are sold in the market’s “grab and go” section. Staff can buy the oldest food items for 25 cents each or 25 cents a pound.
10:15 A.M. Trays of food for the hot bar are reheated to 165 degrees in the convection oven.
10:50 A.M. Food runner Leon Budd places trays on the hot food bar, which opens at 11 a.m. The temperature of the water underneath each tray is kept at about 180 degrees, but can be higher for denser items.
Noon. People start arriving for the lunch rush, including customer Bruce Perry, who comes every day. At 7 p.m., when the price of the hot food bar drops from $8.49 a pound to $4.99 a pound, Perry sometimes returns for dinner.