Does your snack stash or pantry need an upgrade? Zach Winzelberg has plenty of recommendations.
The owner of Winz Market in Long Branch’s Pier Village, Winzelberg will gladly tell you about every potato chip, pasta sauce and pretzel in his 2,500-square-foot specialty food store, from how it tastes, to where it’s from and who makes it. Focused on stocking local and small-batch artisan products—jams, hot sauces, cold drinks, ice cream, crackers and more—the market is a longtime dream for the Long Branch native.
Infatuated with the food business since childhood, Winzelberg studied hospitality and food service management at Syracuse University, returning to the Shore every summer to work in restaurants. A stint at well-known Italian market Joe Leone’s in Point Pleasant, though, shifted his focus from being a chef to becoming a store owner. Helping customers find what they needed and packing up pre-prepared sandwiches, meatballs and chicken entrees, he realized what he really loved wasn’t the rigor of kitchen life, but interacting with customers and talking to them about food.
When a relative told him that his great-grandfather had owned an imported foods shop in Brooklyn after immigrating from Poland, it felt meant to be. His dream shop, he knew, had to reflect his family’s history. He decided to name it Winz, a shortened version of his last name.
But first, after graduating college, he went to work as a cheesemonger at iconic gourmet market Eli Zabar on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. There, Winzelberg says he learned the importance of knowing one’s inventory far beyond sticker price and expiration date. “People really do like hearing about the products they’re buying,” he says. Selling is “more than just putting chips up on the shelf.” After Eli Zabar’s, he went on to consult and run other specialty markets in New York City, and to manage another New York institution, the Grand Central Oyster Bar.
Burnt out by city life, Winzelberg looked homeward when it came time to open his own place. Eyeing the rapid development in Asbury Park and Long Branch, he noticed the absence of shops like the one he dreamed of opening. To get started, he and his wife (then fiancée) Sophie operated a concession stand at Pier Village’s Festival Plaza during the winter holidays, commuting back and forth from Manhattan to sell holiday revelers and ice skaters premium hot chocolate, apple cider and sweets. “The shack,” as they still call it, was an opportunity to “meet locals and get our name out there” before opening permanently, says Sophie.
Not long after, the couple married, moved to New Jersey and started working on the larger Winz Market, a few blocks from the shack. The store opened last August, however, missing the entirety of the summer season because of construction and permit delays. (The shack continued to sell seasonal treats—ice pops, lemonade, ice cream—and remains open this summer.)
For Shore businesses, summers can be make or break it. But despite the market’s first full summer coinciding with Covid-19, Winzelberg says, the shop’s status as an essential business has been an advantage. Beyond artisan sodas from a Brooklyn business and individual cups of Instagram-famous (and safely edible) DŌ cookie dough, he added a small selection of staples: Produce, local eggs, milk from Ronnybrook Farms in upstate New York, Pat LaFrieda and Vrola meats, cleaning products and personal care, home and gift items (plus beach gear in the summer). For the growing number of nearby condo dwellers, being able to buy these basics means they don’t have to deal with trekking to bigger, more crowded supermarkets as frequently during a time when food shopping has been fraught.
For the beach crowd, charcuterie and snack trays, cut fruit, Balthazar pastries and drinks from the La Colombe coffee bar have been hits. So much so that, if and when he’s able to open additional locations in other beach towns, Winzelberg says he’d make coffee, Italian salumeria-style sandwiches and other prepared foods more of a focus.
Grab-and-go options like wraps and tuna salad have also been popular, but Winzelberg loves when customers have the time to wander a little and try something new, be it chips made by a third-generation potato farmer on Long Island, honey from the hives of a local shore couple or Jersey-made red sauces. For him, it’s all about connecting customers with the products he and Sophie carefully choose, and the “real ingredients, real people, and real stories” behind them.
“We challenge customers to break outside of the big box” products they’re familiar with, whether it’s soda, sunscreen or snacks, adds Sophie. More often than not, “even the skeptics come back and say, ‘Okay, what should I try next?’” she says. “We love that.”
As for what they’d pack from the market for a beach day? For Zach, that would be Pipcorn truffle-flavored popcorn, hand-dipped chocolate-covered pretzels from Fatty Sundaes, and a saltine cracker-toffee-chocolate-sea salt cookie creation called Legally Addictive. Sophie’s go-to (and a market bestseller) is artisan ice cream brand Jeni’s.
Not that they’ve had much time off. Zach and a few employees are the only ones behind the scenes, which, these days, include a lot of curbside pickup orders. Sophie, who works full-time in public relations, spends weekends and days off at Winz. “We’ve had a lot of things happen this first year,” Winzelberg reflects. Still, he says, business is good, with food not only being a necessity, but also a source of comfort and nostalgia during a difficult time. Plus, people really do love their snacks.
Winz Market is open 9am to 7pm. 16 Laird Street, Long Branch, 732-443-4478Click here to leave a comment