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Prime Time: Personality, deep voice help 'sell' samples

Friday, February 8, 2013
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Bob Brooks prepares samples at the Price Chopper in Saratoga Springs.
Photographer: Patrick Dodson
Bob Brooks prepares samples at the Price Chopper in Saratoga Springs.

— He can make you stop in your tracks just by hearing his voice.

His deep rumble is a call that would make someone think they just called into a radio station in the 1950s.

His voice is friendly, inviting, energetic and warm.

But Bob Brooks isn’t offering you a chance to win two tickets to a concert. He’s telling you about a special sample of the latest Price Chopper promotion.

For the past 20 years, Brooks, 66, has been serving up food for Price Chopper in the Saratoga County area. He works Thursday, Friday and Saturday, handing out samples from a small kiosk with the same pizazz that allowed him to run a handful of restaurants at once when he was a young man.

His relationship with Price Chopper began in his late teens and continued while he was taking business classes, when he worked his way up to assistant manager of a store grocery department. From there, Brooks got a chance to open up his own pizza shop and eventually kept opening more and more restaurants, including BB’s Pizza in Saratoga Springs.

Eventually it became too much, with a bad case of arthritis and fatigue from stress taking an unbearable toll.

“I knew I had left a good business,” said Brooks about Price Chopper, remembering the decision-making process he went through in his early 40s when he was trying to decide what to do with his life.

Second act

So after then leaving the restaurant business, he needed something to do.

“I wanted something very low key, because stress was what was bothering me,” he remembered.

Brooks said he appreciates the opportunity Price Chopper offered him at that threshold, giving him a chance for a second act.

That second act is as one of the most memorable sample servers in Price Chopper’s chain of supermarkets. He is made memorable by his bubbly personality, his affinity for service and his voice. “About four people last week told me ‘go into radio business’ … but it’s not my thing,” he said.

His thing is customer service. His thing is coming up with creative ways of presenting foods. His thing is constantly fidgeting with food presentation, like lightly sprinkling cheese on a sample-size meatball sandwich, or double-checking the pronunciation of a meatball brand.

“This is like my own little business,” he said, noting it comes without any of the stress, but still gets to interact with customers and design recipes. Except now, if he runs out of green peppers, there are no last-second runs to the vegetable supplier. When he runs out of green peppers, he just goes to the produce section.

The result is a loyal customer base. Maybe they like him for the free food, his low-pressure sales techniques, his charm or because he is a good listener.

“I get customers who follow me. I mean, they actually follow me. Wherever I’m at, that’s where they shop. They go from Price Chopper to Price Chopper,” Brooks said.

He moves around too, getting stationed at different locations, like in Wilton or Saratoga Springs.

The experience has been really positive for Brooks, who hopes he has another 20 years of work in him. That possibility is highly likely too, considering his colleague one weekend was in his early 90s. He recommended the job for anyone who is in their 60s, retired, likes food and likes people. “Everything goes nice and smooth,” he said of the job, which he said helps keep his mind sharp.

Brooks has also seen a lot of change in 20 years, and not just innovations at Price Chopper — like a touch-screen deli ordering machine or car-charging stations. “We used to just stand here and give out a cookie. Now we give out a meal,” he said one Friday afternoon, when his stand was equipped with a microwave.

The best samples, though, are the ones that allow him to use fresh ingredients and rely on his experience owning restaurants. “I like the ones where there is a recipe … It’s nothing for me to just throw it together,” he said.

So try to find him. And if you like what he’s serving, there is a probably a coupon somewhere in his kiosk.

 
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