Close your eyes and imagine your perfect birthday party. Have you been whisked away to some far-off locale, are you sipping your favourite beverage, or opening a treasured gift from a loved one? Now open your eyes… you’re in Metro!
Most of us don’t think of Metro (yes, the grocery store) as “party central,” but then, most of us aren’t four-year-old Lev Goldfarb of Picton.
Lev’s mom, Hadas Brajtman, said she and her husband were perplexed at first when Lev asked if he could have his fourth birthday party at the grocery store, “When Lev told us, we kind of brushed it off: ‘Yes? Really? All right. You know, Metro doesn’t do [birthday parties].’”
But Lev’s heart was set on his “Metro Party.”
Lev’s aunt and uncle took the request very seriously, marched down to Metro, and approached Assistant Manager Paul Jones.
Jones said he first thought the request was just plain “hilarious… I can’t quite remember what being four is like, but you would think you’d go bowling, go to the zoo, plenty of other things. I don’t think Metro ever came into my head, or any grocery store, for that matter.”
He and his team sent some Metro hats and shirts and other swag home for Lev, but they weren’t sure the request was serious.
Jones said he had almost forgotten about the idea, but then “the mother comes in about two weeks after that… and says, ‘I don’t know if you remember my sister and brother-in-law came and spoke to you about my son and how much of a fan he is?’”
He couldn’t help but smile from ear to ear at the thought that Metro had such a big fan. “And she’s such a sweet lady, and she said, ‘I know this is so unorthodox and so out there, but is there anything, anything you can do at all?’ I was like, ‘Oh, we’ll do something, for sure.’”
Over the next few days, Jones pondered the possibilities: “I’d be emailing her back and forth: ‘What do you think about this? What do you think about that? I’m thinking of doing a tour of the store’… and it just snowballed.”
And so the day arrived, said Lev’s mom. “Saturday, January 21, 11:30 a.m, Metro [in] Picton, a.k.a. Party Central… With the support of Metro owner Murray and the enthusiasm and creativity of the incredible staff, they worked hard to create an experiential, fun, action-packed ‘Metro Party.’”
Here’s how it all went down. Lev and his friends — and their equally stunned parents — arrived at the store to find that Metro had printed Happy Birthday posters and placed them all around the store. “This just set the tone and made us feel so welcomed!” said Brajtman.
Every kid got a Metro hat and their own name tag. Then Jones led them on a tour of the store, where several hands-on activities had been prepared by the different departments.
At the service desk, the kids were welcomed in to sing Happy Birthday over the store PA. Jones then led the kids to the back of the store, where they filled a cart full of produce, and came back out to help stock bananas.
He had told the staff that if they had anything to offer, they should just go ahead. “Riley in produce gave me some cotton candy grapes to talk up during the tour. I gave quite a few trivia questions during the tour like ‘How many types of grapes are there, kids?’ And they’d say, ‘green and red,’ and I’m like, ‘Oh, do you know that there are cotton candy grapes?’” He laughs: “It was like pulling a rabbit out of my hat.”
In the meat department, the kids got a tour of the back fridges and freezers, met the butcher, wore deli coats, and “even got to assist with some super cool tasks,” said Brajtman.
In the deli, the kids were treated to a make-your-own pizza station, followed by cupcake decorating in the bakery.
Jones then gave the kids a list, said Brajtman, and “off they went to find the different items around the store, fill up the cart, and help ring the items through and bag them up. The kids took this one really seriously.”
Last but not least, Brajtman said, “the kids were invited upstairs where the staff break room had been transformed into the coolest party room ever! Balloons, streamers, snack tables, drinks, pizzas, ice cream, and cake. They even had Peppa Pig playing on the TV and a team member singing Happy Birthday to Lev over the PA system. During that time, different staff members, Murray the owner, and Paul were there with us, making sure everyone was happy and genuinely partaking in the fun experience with us.”
As a grand finale, the staff had prepared loot bags for the kids to take home, says Brajtman. “[They] had yummy snacks, stickers, puzzles, playdough, animal figurines, a Metro shirt, an apron, and more. All this happened in two hours, and let me just say, it was everything. Metro knocked it out of the park.”
“I want to thank the staff because so many people were actually involved in the process,” Brajtman said. “When I spoke to Paul [during] the week leading up to the party, he said that, every day, the staff was coming up with a new idea and that they’d been inspired. Thank you [to them] from the bottom of my heart for taking this so seriously, for investing their time and their energy, and for just making us feel like part of the family.”
Why Metro? Brajtman said, first of all, “Lev’s a real character. People who know him are like, ‘Oh, that’s typical Lev.’ But you know, I think part of it is the timing. During COVID, grocery stores were the only place that you could go. So, it became a place that was more social than it had been before… Lev loves going to Metro. He hops in the cart, and he sees people, and it’s all colourful and fun.”
Jones said he had never thought of it that way before. “When I brought it up to people — almost in a joking manner — that this kid wants to have a birthday party here, that’s unheard of. But if you bring COVID into the conversation, it really makes a lot of sense… Lev’s mom said that every time they’re in here, they have a good time. They love the staff, they love the vibe… They’re always running into people they know. So every time they’re here, it’s almost like a party. Not a birthday party, but a party nonetheless.”