Master of the Wet Wall
All the vegetables were placed in their rightful spot awaiting to be picked. Turnips sat to the right of the collard greens and kale. Shiny pink radishes were perched on the highest shelf. Packaged herbs and spices were hung in a perfect array in the middle of the display. The organic yellow and green peppers were on the right section of the wall not to be confused with the conventional peppers. For Mark LaSalandra, a produce worker at Wegmans, maintaining the vegetable wall is not just a job, it’s a passion.
Soon after graduating from Ramapo College, LaSalandra became interested in computer science at a time when the technology industry was booming. He drifted in and out of numerous IT jobs, working at a division of Pfizer and even holding a few managerial positions for about 18 years until he ended up at Wegmans.
“What I enjoy the most is interacting with the customers and my coworkers,” LaSalandra said. “I didn’t really have a background in produce so I really think they hire on personality here.”
Although Mark LaSalandra enjoyed a long career working with computers and software, he grew tiresome of the commute to the city and IT jobs started to become scarce. He received a hiring email from the Wegmans in Montvale, New Jersey looking for produce workers and gladly accepted the opportunity.
As a resident of Wyckoff, NJ, LaSalandra grew up visiting his father’s farm and remembers going to orchards in New York to pick fruits and vegetables. He had not done physical labor for money since he was a teenager so he wasn’t sure what to expect.
“I’m 62 and I’m in better shape than when I was 52,” LaSalandra said. “It’s a blessing. The days I come home tired, it’s a good tired because I had a productive day — not stressful”
Coworkers and customers can spot LaSalandra across the produce department from his stocky build and lively, cheerful smile (before the mask mandate, of course). He can be a jokester but also offer up serious advice or conversation when needed.
He is usually stationed at the “wet wall,” which houses a variety of vegetables that are delivered fresh everyday and misted on the wall daily. The wet wall is one of the toughest responsibilities, however, LaSalandra keeps up with customer requests and restocking the shelves even on the busiest of days. His meticulous and outgoing personality shines through in his work ethic.
Micah Bernard is one of several team leaders in the produce department and praises LaSalandra on his dedication and hard work.
“Mark puts a lot of passion into what he does,” Bernard said. “It’s not an easy job. If you stay [on the wall], you gotta stay on it for 8 hours. He comes in with a good spirit everyday and it’s a blessing.”
Three and a half years at Wegmans and LaSalandra brightens up the department at the start of each shift as he walks through greeting coworkers and customers. If one of his old bosses called him right now to offer him a job, he would politely decline because Wegmans is his home.
Quality is what makes Wegmans stand out from other competing grocery stores, so not only does LaSalandra have to maintain the vegetable wall, but he has to ensure that the produce he’s putting out meets the store’s high quality standards.
“We’re putting out mother nature. And really giving people the source of good health,” he said.
Mark LaSalandra is a huge advocate for Wegmans, often telling everyone he meets how great of a company it is. Wegmans is a family run company that truly cares about their employees and offers benefits like pension plans, health care coverage, scholarship programs, holiday parties and more.
The company was ranked number one on the 2019 list for best workplaces in retail by Great Place to Work® and Fortune. Their philosophy is if they value and treat their workers with kindness then that same behavior will be transferred over to customers by the employees.
The wet wall master also notices the rising popularity of organic foods. LaSalandra says that it seems to be making even more of an upward trend with the COVID-19 pandemic as families are trying to stick with healthier, organic foods without chemicals or pesticides.
In over 40 years of switching in and out of different careers, LaSalandra believes every experience is a point of reference in his life. Sometimes those experiences may teach him a life lesson or a mistake not to be repeated. These life lessons could even happen somewhere unexpected like Wegmans.
“Everyday is a new fresh day,” LaSalandra said. “Even if it doesn’t start out well, you can always start that day over at any given time.”