mulberryshoots

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: Market Basket

‘sticking our necks out! . . . ‘

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Giraffes are wonderful creatures aren’t they? When the Market Basket employees went on strike a couple of years ago, they chose a stuffed giraffe as their mascot because they were “sticking their necks out.”

They won their cause and Arthur D. Demoulas is now in charge of the business. Whew! Here’s a link to a NYTimes article today that indicates there are four species of giraffes, not one. If you take a moment to look at one for awhile, you will see what extraordinary creatures they are!

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buttermilk biscuit crust . . .

pie in the oven

I couldn’t decide whether to call this post “chicken pot pie” or “buttermilk biscuit crust” since both are essential halves of tonight’s supper.

Yesterday, I went to Market Basket (the supermarket chain whose employees went on strike en masse this summer for over two months to reinstate their fired CEO, Arthur T. DeMoulas). I came home with a freshly roasted whole chicken for $4.69! You can’t even buy an uncooked whole bird for that. For supper, G. and I ate the dark meat of the bird along with some corn muffins cut in half, browned in a skillet and a large green salad.

This afternoon, we had chicken sandwiches for lunch from the wings and the rest of the dark meat. Since we’re not white meat eaters (could you tell?) I decided to cook onions, carrots, and cubed chicken breast in a bath of chicken broth until heated through. Then added frozen petite peas. I tasted the stock and it was savory, thickened with a little flour/broth combo that I stirred into the casserole. On the side, I browned half a dozen large button mushrooms in butter, cutting them into large chunks to add at the last minute before putting on the crust and baking the pot pie in the oven.pot pie core

Even though I had a Pillsbury pie crust in the freezer, I had a hankering for fresh buttermilk biscuit topping to put on top of the fresh ingredients in the pot pie. Since there was a fresh bottle of buttermilk in the fridge, I mixed some flour with very cold butter cut into tiny droplets. I used my trusty Wusthof serrated paring knife, cutting a half stick of butter into thin slices, turning it over, cutting more thin slices and then cutting crosswise letting tiny drops of cold butter fall into the flour with a small pinch of Maldon salt into the bowl.

I mixed the dry flour/butter mixture with my fingers, rubbing the butter bits into the flour until well mixed. Fluffing it with a fork, I added 2 teaspoons of fresh baking powder. Poured a half cup of cold buttermilk into the flour mixture with some leftover in a glass for me to drink (yum!)

buttermilk biscuit crust rolled outAfter mixing gently with a rubber spatula, I lightly kneaded the dough a few times. Patting it together, I wrapped it in plastic and placed the dough in the fridge until ready to roll out for the top crust of the chicken pot pie.

Another important part of the recipe (learned the hard way) is to heat the chicken filling very gently to make sure it’s bubbling when put into the oven AND that there’s enough broth/gravy for the biscuit crust will absorb. So just to be sure, I made some more stock, added it and allowed it to cook down in the chicken casserole just barely simmering on top of the stove.

About forty-five minutes before supper, I heated the oven to 400 degrees, brought the pot pie in its copper au gratin pot to a bare simmer and rolled out the crust, using the cold dough from the fridge. I added the chunks of mushrooms to the chicken mixture and gently fitted the crust onto the top of the pan. Into the oven it went for about half an hour plus or until the top of the crust became golden brown and the biscuit top cooked through. I made slits in the buttermilk crust to allow steam to escape and put a baking sheet lined in aluminum foil underneath just in case the gravy dripped into the oven.

top placed on chicken

It took a bit of preparation this afternoon, but we can now feel good about eating a piping hot savory chicken pot pie and finishing all of the roasted bird from yesterday. There’s probably enough leftover for our lunch tomorrow!

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Victory! . . .

. . . the giraffe logo symbolizes "sticking our necks out!"

. . . the giraffe logo symbolizes “sticking our necks out!”

I don’t know how many of you live in New England but we have been transfixed by the 40+ day Market Basket grocery store melodrama. Last night after eleven o’clock, news finally came in that the family feud between two factions of the DeMoulas family has ended and that Arthur T. DeMoulas is back in the saddle again after having been fired as CEO in early June. For years, he had run a business that had no debt; paid 25,000 employees well including part-timers whose minimum wage was higher than the competition; provided bonuses and generous benefits which engendered employee loyalty from workers who spent their entire careers at the company; and kept prices low selling quality groceries to a loyal 2M customer base in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Profits in the millions were distributed to a handful of family shareholders over the years but a feud between cousins came to a head this summer.

The amazing thing about this public uprising is that it went on for so long, becoming more Solomonic by the day (cut the baby in half?). I read today that the senior managers who had been ousted (eight of them fired along with Artie T in early June) had a shadow plan that kept them in touch with vendors week-by-week in order to let them know the status and when to mobilize shipments (this Tuesday in preparation for a reopening today (Thursday.)

Right now, I am watching Artie T. speak to the troops live on TV. His emotional words of thanks and acknowledgement are heartfelt. Rarely has a CEO spoken with so much clarity to explain what the meaning of working for a “family” means, a family where everyone is considered equal (cashiers, baggers, managers, vendors and suppliers.) Truly rare.

Weeks ago, I purchased two Market Basket Strong tee shirts in support of a fund whose purpose was to provide interim pay for truckers and warehouse people who supported the employee strike. They arrived last weekend and I held off sending them to my daughter and sister-in-law this week when it wasn’t clear whether Arthur T.’s deal to buy out the business would prevail. Now that it has, I’m delighted to have a memento to commemorate this class struggle. This is also a small victory for those folks who participated in the “Occupy Wall Street” movement which lacked practical goals and suffered from ineffective leadership.

In his speech, Artie T talks about human dignity, mutual responsibility and moral compass. His words embody corporate responsibility towards employees that is rarely heard, never mind an operational business reality. For those of you who don’t live here, please know that we’re talking about seventy-one grocery stores (71!) whose sales total over $4 billion a year! Employees sacrificed a lot during the 42 days of this strike–some employed for 40 years working for Market Basket. To the press, he said, “We’re in the people business first; and in the food business second.”

This may sound like a fairy tale and in a way, it truly is. I’m just waiting to see who will write the definitive book about the Market Basket saga. Whoever it is, I’m hoping it will be a real heavyweight, a reporter whose books lend weight to the seriousness of this story and its impact on American culture. Carl Bernstein (“All the President’s Men) or Doris Kearns Goodwin (Pulitzer prize winning biographer) might do this human drama justice.

The impact of this summer’s Market Basket saga is important nationally. Scholars from business schools, marketing firms and Governors from Massachusetts and New Hampshire have weighed in. One business school professor commented early on that Market Basket will become a cautionary business case study for how boards should not behave!

Thomas A. Kochan, a professor of work and employment  at the MIT Sloan School of Management said in a NYTimes article that the episode showed that “the employees are the most valuable asset in this business,” concluding that:

 “Market Basket has done more to educate us on how to manage a business than any business case study that’s been written to date.” 

These employees were not unionized–they didn’t need to be. Perhaps other business owners will take stock and learn from it. I hope so. In the meantime, Arthur S., the cousin who fired Artie T., got married for the fourth time last Friday. Reportedly, he’s on his honeymoon in Greece. Maybe he’ll decide to stay there!

This is a happy day for a lot of people returning to work, knowing they still have a job and for customers who look forward to shopping again at Market Basket for the long Labor Day weekend. Had the Market Basket employee uprising not succeeded with the reinstatement of Arthur T. Demoulas as its leader, all of us watching for over a month would have witnessed a cynical commentary on the country we live in today. Corporate greed and family vendettas would have won over democracy and lots of heart from people who could ill afford to lose out. It’s a victory for diverse stakeholders (employees, vendors, truckers, warehouse workers and customers) who hung in there together at great personal risk and expense.

With this success, maybe more Americans will wake up and say, “I’m just not going to take it anymore!”

One belated note: I heard on the car radio that when asked how long it would take to restock the grocery stores after a 6 week layoff, one worker said, “I don’t know but I just threw a sleeping bag into my truck, and I’m staying there until it’s done!” You can’t buy this kind of loyalty and commitment!

Here’s an article with a photo of restocked fresh seafood at MB two days AFTER the deal was announced.

http://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2014/08/29/with-smiles-and-hugs-market-basket-workers-get-busy-restocking/KmAAAWYdmYcAP4Lqg79B3I/story.html?s_campaign=email_BG_TodaysHeadline

And guess what? The Market Basket strike, the biggest, successful non-union labor uprising in recent history succeeded right before Labor Day!

Go, Market Basket!

 

 

 

shaking it up . . .

 

I love camels, don't you?. . . they stay calm and sanguine while everyone else around them goes berserk! . . .

I love camels, don’t you?. . . they stay calm and sanguine while everyone else around them goes berserk! . . .

Okay, so when the Red Sox traded Adrian Gonzales, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett two years ago, people were agog. The team was playing badly, drinking beer and eating chicken wings as they kept losing with Bobby Valentine as their manager. Coming from last place to winning the World Series with a bunch of bearded guys you couldn’t even remember the names of occurred the very next year under new coaching manager, John Farrell. Yep, that was just last year, remember?

Yesterday, they did it again: this time, trading six players that included the only two pitchers that the Red Sox really have and who helped them win two World Series: Jon Lester and John Lackey. At the very last minute, the Yankees sent a fax at 3 in the morning saying that they wanted Stephen Drew. Jonny Gomes looked like he didn’t know what hit him as he headed out to Oakland along with Jon Lester. Nice place to live, Oakland, CA. Lester’s a free agent after this season so there’re some whispers that gee, he might come back to the Sox next season. John Henry was seen saying goodbye to Jon Lester, pulling him out of his caramel colored pick-up truck and having a quick word with him out of sight of the cameras before Lester climbed back into the truck and drove away.

It seems that management decided to build up their offensive hitting capacity by getting Yoenis Cespedes, a young Oakland slugger–and that it would be easier to get pitchers than sluggers. (How much longer will David Ortiz be around, you might ask.) I hope they’re right because you wouldn’t really want to count on Clay Bucholtz as our only starting pitcher. I mean, who else do we have? They traded Peavy a couple of weeks ago which wasn’t surprising. Uehara, the relief pitcher only comes in at the very end and pitches a few crucial strikeouts. But he’s not a starter.

It’s actually interesting to watch the game tonight at Fenway Park. I don’t see many empty seats. It feels different to be watching a lineup that still has Mookie Betts, a little guy who came up from the minors about a month ago in the lineup. (BTW, Betts made a spectacular catch in tonight’s game.) They’re playing the Yankees who have Stephen Drew at 2nd base and Jacoby Ellsbury firmly ensconced in the Yankee lineup. Ellsbury, who was never appreciated enough here in Boston, went to the Yankees for a five year, $150M dollar contract after the World Series win last year. Yep. And remember when Johnny Damon went to the Yankees a few years ago? Where is he playing now anyhow?

It’s a Friday night and not much is happening with the Market Basket saga that’s closing its second week. Management is threatening to hire new people if they refuse to return to work on Monday, August 4th. Push is coming to shove between management and employees while the Board continues to stall its review of buyout offers.

So, between the Red Sox pulling apart its former World Series team and Market Basket pulling itself apart piece by piece, there’s never a dull moment around here in the Boston area. At least not this week.

 

family feud . . .

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If you live in Massachusetts, New Hampshire or Maine, you have probably seen news reports about the groundswell protest of workers and managers employed by the Market Basket grocery store chain (71 stores!) that erupted this week. It pits two cousins in a long-standing feud: Arthur T. Demoulas (the fired CEO) and Arthur S. Demoulas (the non-business cousin) who managed to shuffle the Board of Directors so that his arch-nemesis, the very popular CEO (George T.) was fired by the new board a month ago.

Lest you think this is a folk tale (Robin Hood?) where the working level employees support a fired CEO, personal loyalties to him are stronger than worrying about being fired themselves. One article said that the reason Arthur T. was so popular is that he made personal connections with workers in all the stores, visiting them regularly, providing good benefits and profit sharing through the years. The company, whose revenue was $4.6 BILLION last year, “had no debt (!); low prices and treated its employees like family.” How’s that for an uncommon formula for success?

But what is the fight actually about? You guessed it: money. The cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, wants $300M. to be paid out from the company’s coffers to a few “shareholders” (8-9 people in the FAMILY, guess which side?) Arthur T. Demoulas (the fired guy) says taking that money out will decrease benefits and payouts for the working people at Market Basket.

The cousin who wants the payout is purportedly one of the 8 richest people in Boston whose personal wealth is estimated to be around $1.6 B. I guess that’s not enough for him if he still wants a share of the $300M payout. What, I wonder, do you do with all that money or what does money buy you when you have that much? What about those family members waiting for their cut of $300M–that’s about $30M apiece if it’s divided evenly. This is crazy, don’t you think?

The thing is, there doesn’t seem to be a win-win resolution to this uprising. The new Board can’t really do anything without losing face. George S. holds 51% and the folk-hero George T. holds 49%. Doesn’t sound too promising for Robin Hood, does it?

The two new Co-CEO’s are supposed to figure something out but their public letter a couple of days ago to employees hasn’t cut any mustard as far as the demonstrations each day show. Firing top managers with decades of experiences hasn’t softened the rebellious workers at all, just the opposite. Besides, one of them was the CEO of Radio Shack, a business that is on its last legs. . . why would they hire HIM to run an already super successful business when the one he’s leaving is going down the tubes? Does this sound Shakespearan to you yet?

Oh, and guess who the judge was who awarded the cousin’s family the big payout in the 1990’s? Judge Maria Lopez–you know the one, who was shown on TV yelling and pointing her finger at a criminal, lambasting him for something and then leaving the bench?

The one factor that nobody’s talked about much is, (drumroll) the customer. They show the empty stores and the picketing employees but we, the customers, are not on the scene except for a few who are trying to shop. Many of us are watching this unfold on the news. I shop at the Market Basket in Gloucester and occasionally at the one in Oxford. The customer loyalty for MB is unbelievable. When I lived in Rockport in a winter rental, you could hear the locals buzz about a new MB that was being built on the hill on the way into town TWO YEARS before it actually arrived.

Every time I go there, there are at least 22 cashier aisles with their stations lit, checking groceries full time. Go into the Stop and Shop or Shaw’s in the same town and there might be two or three cashiers because there are no customers buying stuff! If you lifted a map like a scrabble board and tilted it, most of the customers would slide into the Market Basket location. Do you know why? Because I can buy two bushy bunches of thin, fresh wonderful scallions, two bunches for a dollar at MB. At Shaw’s here in town, your only choice is a cellophane wrapped single bunch of scallions for $1.79 and they’re also not fresh. THAT’s the difference!

Demoulas vs. Demoulas has been going on for twenty years. It’s an inter-familia feud. Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce was an infamous case in the book, “Bleak House” that Charles Dickens described in depressing detail, playing itself out in the 19th century and resulting in no gain to anyone in the end except for the lawyers.

So, who knows how this will play out. Something way bigger, it seems to me, might save the day: like a white knight with enough money to buy everybody out and start anew by restoring the model that worked before: no debt, low prices and treating the workers like family. Who does that in this day and age?

The real outcome will be whether the customers who have a long history and deep loyalty to Market Basket will come back to its stores once the dust settles, and whether it will matter who is in charge.