Rob: The Gourmets’ Market

956

Sometimes when people claim they have a ‘concept’, it’s hard to grasp exactly what it is but at the Rob supermarket in Woluwe-Saint-Pierre it’s staring you in the face. It’s a colourful food trove, from the humble spud to their own foie gras. The concept is that there are seven ‘independent’ heads of department: cheesemonger, butcher, fishmonger etc. “They buy and they sell the produce so they know it – they can vouch for it.” Francois Pinchart is Rob’s managing director and we sit in the restaurant overlooking the shop.

It’s the very autonomy of these specialists that make Rob feel less like a modern supermarket and more like – despite its contemporary feel – an old-fashioned covered market. “Our customers don’t seem to be in a rush, they take their time. 70 percent of them said that gastronomy was their favourite thing to do. One new customer said that she felt like a child in a toy shop.”

The 15,000 products – 350 cheeses, 1,800 wines – crammed onto the shelves are chosen by these very experts. Every two weeks they set time aside to try out, beef, fish, cheese, wine and much more, and only if it passes muster in these refined palates does it stand a chance of making the shelves. Rob’s staff travels far and wide to hunt down new items that might come up to scratch. Though most of the produce is local – in season only game from the forests of the Ardennes and Luxembourg are available – they have the benefit of a twice weekly shuttle to the Rungis international market on the outskirts of Paris, frequented by the great and the good of the city’s gastronomic fraternity. The market can trace its origins back to les Halles in the 12th century.

“Our shuttle really does make us unique in Belgium. For example we really liked a cheese from the French Pyrénées but the producer was naturally reluctant to come all the way to Brussels just for us. I was able to say, you don’t have to, we’ll pick it up in Paris.”

The restaurant can seat up to a hundred diners and “of course, it’s our produce they are eating, cooked here, and our baker makes the bread”.

“Over the years the customer base has changed. From when it first opened in 1946 it served the rich people from the south of the city but the new customers are not so rich but still want to pay for quality. We have to wait seven years for our beef, where other supermarkets only have to wait for two years. These new customers like to cook for themselves but we have a kitchen producing ready-made meals. But one passion has been the common denominator through the decades: gastronomy.”