Foodstuffs Small Plates: The Summer Of Market Basket, A Year Later

Jun 22, 2015

Small Plates is a roundup of New Hampshire food news.

Here is the most dramatic, exciting news I could find about Market Basket in June 2015: the grocery chain is going to open a new store in Rochester next spring.

What a difference a year makes, right? It was June 2014 that the Market Basket board announced it had fired CEO Arthur T. Demoulas and several of his top lieutenants. Their succinct statement noted that Demoulas “was not re-elected president and will not retain any management responsibilities moving forward.” Which was true for a few months – at least until the protests and rallies and boycotts and ultimatums and more ultimatums and Attorney General warnings and layoffs and job fairs and bigger rallies.

It became the biggest labor story of 2014, and, perhaps, the most unusual, too, with (non-union) workers taking a very public stand against their own company on behalf of a wealthy former CEO, who they treated like a folk hero. “We are a family and they messed with our dad,” said one employee at the time. The company’s new leaders tried to get back to business, but to no avail; public relations experts say their handling of the transition is a case study in what not to do in such situations. And the stakes were high; the standoff actually dragged down national jobs numbers in August 2014.

By that point, the governors of New Hampshire and Massachusetts were brokering meetings between the 

Credit Ella Nilsen / NHPR

  rival factions to reach a deal over Market Basket’s future. In the end, Arthur T. Demoulas paid $1.5 billion to gain control of the entire company.

The Summer of Market Basket ended almost as quickly as it started. The company says sales returned to pre-protest levels almost immediately. Most of the employees who had spearheaded the massive protests returned to the job. And Arthur T. Demoulas has returned to the low profile he kept before his ouster. “I’m just happy being a grocer,” he told the Boston Globe last fall.

But no grocer is just a grocer, as Demoulas well knows. When the CEO thanked supporters at a rally last August, he noted that those who had “taught the professors, the analysts and the CEOs that the workplace here at Market Basket is so much more than just a job.” Maybe that’s why there are two documentaries and a book about the Summer of Market Basket in the works. And, more broadly, food is so much more than just food. We need food, of course, and we can celebrate the many amazing ways people can produce and prepare and share it, but food is also a way we can learn about the state in which we live and the people with whom we share it. There’s no better example of that than what we saw last summer.

Just something to keep in mind next spring when that new Market Basket opens in Rochester.

This week: Taste of the Nation in Portsmouth (Wednesday); Farm to Table dinner at Moulton Farm (Wednesday); Winnipesaukee Wine Festival (Wednesday); Phantom Gourmet BBQ and Country Music Festival in Rochester (Friday-Sunday); Slow Food Seacoast Farm-a-Que in Lee (Sunday).

Links to take home:  “Bright-eyed third graders” in Manchester ask for better cafeteria food. Presumably bleary-eyed restaurateurs respond to the spike in egg prices caused by avian flu in the Midwest. Maloney 260 Ale pays tribute to the late police chief of Greenland. “For anyone who ever wanted to eat a tire… here is your chance.”