Gourmet grocer with a vague name. There’s more to it than just “gourmet”.

Slaters Lane is a disproportionately important street in Alexandria, Virginia, considering its brief length.  From end to end, it measures only a half of mile, and an additional 500 feet of that length is a stub that dead-ends into an office/residential complex near the Potomac River a bit further eastward.  But the other ~2100 feet of Slaters Lane links two of the city’s biggest arterials: the George Washington Memorial Parkway to the east and Richmond Highway (US 1) to the west.  Sure, plenty of other east-west roads link these two north-south arterials, but Slaters Lane is the last one for those headed northbound.  George Washington Parkway turns into a limited access road (hence the name “parkway”), largely shuttling traffic to outdoor attractions along the river, and, most prominently, to the terminals of the Ronald Reagan Washington International Airport (DCA).  Richmond Highway and George Washington Parkway parallel one another but offer no other direct linkages until the massively complicated I-395 interchange (the mixing bowl) another 3.5 miles to the north.  As a result, Slaters Lane is the last chance to switch from one to the other for motorists headed northbound, or the first opportunity after relative isolation for southbound motorists.  The little half-mile street gets a lot of traffic and hosts a small but attractive commercial node atypical for an otherwise minor street.  This node doesn’t offer a lot of storefront space; the International Council of Shopping Centers would classify it as a Strip/Convenience (less than 30,000 square feet of Gross Leasable Area), but the Slaters Lane location is appealing enough to attract a gourmet grocer.

gourmet grocer with one word from its name removed

And there it is: white lettering on a brick pattern.  Gourmet.  I’ll be the first to admit that “gourmet” is a word I’ve used based on what I know through context, but research into this article prompted me to look up the definition.  As an adjective, gourmet typically involves (or purports to involve) “high-quality or exotic ingredients and skilled preparation”.  I spot three adjectives in that definition that are highly subjective, prompting me to compare “gourmet” to other popularly used words that evoke refinement.  Some examples: luxury (applied to basically all new multifamily construction), artisan (for crafts/foods that may or may not be made “by hand” as the definition implies), organic (which can just as easily evoke “grassroots” as it does “free of synthetic substances”).  And there’s an emergent one: bespoke, which until recently was basically nonexistent in American English (and probably wasn’t all that comment in British English where it derives).

I’m not going to deny this particular gourmet grocer the right to the term “gourmet”.  If the interior offers products that are not easy to find in more mainstream food retailers, then that probably passes muster as “exotic”.  But it is interesting that that a gourmet grocer would feature such a sparse and simple business title.  Perhaps “gourmet” is enough to distinguish it from the other specialty grocer perched among the 7-8 shops at this intersection between Slaters Lane and Potomac Gardens Drive.

Or maybe there’s something missing.

gourmet grocer with one word from its name removed

There’s an awful lot of space to the left of the word “gourmet”.  Looks like someone removed a word.  A quick review to an older Google Street View shows that, as recently as June of 2021, this was in fact “gourmet”.

My photos, which date from last few weeks, indicate that this gourmet grocer has sought to rename itself.  It’s retaining the “gourmet” part: since the retailer does indeed sell Russian food products that would otherwise be impossible to find at a Kroger or Whole Foods, it meets enough of the “exotic” litmus test to earn the term, at least in my opinion, even if most of the foods are canned or prepackaged and unlikely to form prime ingredients to fine dining.  They still offer an air of refinement.  But the small business chose to remove the “Russian” portion of its title.  Google Maps indicates the establishment is now “European Gourmet”, suggesting it has expanded the geographic range of its merchandise offerings.  My visits have shown that, beyond the Russian, it clearly sells Polish products, but I don’t see much evidence of Norwegian, Spanish, or Greek, so perhaps it’s more accurate to call it “Slavic Gourmet” to avoid confusion?  Then again, I also noticed that this gourmet grocer sells Georgian products, and while the modern Georgian republic cannot deny its proximity to and (widely controversial) influence from Russia, Georgia is not a Slavic language and its people would not reasonably identify as slavs the way that Poles (or Slovakians or Russians or Belarusians) might.

I don’t want to inject drama where none exists, but perhaps it is not coincidental that this gourmet grocer store dropped its “Russian” to favor “European” sometime within the last two years.  It sold non-Russian products long before then.  But certain polarizing actions involving Russia and Ukraine—with Western narratives overwhelmingly favoring Ukraine amidst this prolonged, violent conflict—have prompted a number of businesses to de-russify their names, downplaying Russian influence or removing references to it altogether.  Though the pro-Ukraine sentiment has faded from its 2022 peak—when I noted the blue-and-yellow motif throughout Alexandria—the overwhelmingly negative views toward Russian leadership persist.  The proprietors at [Redacted] Gourmet might have decided a name change better reflects the accuracy of their merchandise, even if “European” is vague.  It could have easily helped avoid hostile, criminal acts; many Russian-owned or Russia-friendly businesses faced threats and vandalism in the earliest days of the Russia-Ukraine war.

gourmet grocer (or two) off of Slaters Lane

Or it could be that it was simply a shrewd business decision to fend itself against an international conflict with negative public sentiment toward one of the combatants.  Simply put, having “Russia” in a business title is simply a “bad brand”.  Considering that Middle Eastern restaurants have often opted for the less inflammatory “Mediterranean”—or places that sold certain kinds of fries and toast shifted from “French” to “Freedom” during the Iraq war (and a particular ally’s refusal to deploy troops for it)     —there clearly exists a precedent for geographically sensitive renaming.  Whatever one feels about American owned businesses feeling forced to dodge controversy, it may help ensure that this particular gourmet grocer remains a Slaters Lane institution.  Aside from a former dry cleaners morphing into a pizzeria down the street, this half-mile collector road has shown an ability to keep and retain its existing business community.  Let’s keep it filled with luxury artisans delivering bespoke sundries.

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6 thoughts on “Gourmet grocer with a vague name. There’s more to it than just “gourmet”.

        1. AmericanDirt Post author

          Because “sustainable”, in 2023, is just so overplayed. (Frankly, we’re getting to the point where “artisan” and “luxury” are too.)

          Reply
  1. tdhovis.photo

    You are correct – it was “Russian Gourmet” until shortly after the war started.

    I saw them changing the sign after various other Russian themed businesses in the area began to get vandalized.

    Reply
    1. AmericanDirt Post author

      That sounds about right. Hopefully they were able to dodge the worst of that backlash. The new name “European Gourmet” isn’t exactly accurate, but I guess they always sold more than simply Russian stuff anyway. I was there again recently and saw Turkish products, and a fair number of things using Arabic text.

      Reply

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