As luck would have it, a business trip brought me down to Charlotte, NC and given I don't get down here that often, I took a day off to hit up IKEA on the way back home. I had already grabbed some sandwiches at Le's Vietnamese but really wanted to do some shopping and eating at this Swedish big-box furniture store. While IKEA is a huge chain in Europe, its presence here in the States is somewhat limited, they tend to be located in suburban areas of large, hip US metro's. This particular location is well-planned, right off the highway with easy access and egress to the parking lot. The royal blue exterior and bright yellow lettering draws you in and plays off of the colors of the Swedish flag!
It's been a while since I've shopped at IKEA so I was pretty excited. The one thing you have to realize is that IKEA is a testament to Swedish pragmatism and efficiency. In a country where everything is quite expensive, IKEA is about maximizing your space, materials and money. Most everything is self-serve here so there's minimal staffing. Upon entering, check-in at the kiosk for a IKEA family card, grab a yellow bag and you're ready to shop. There's an IKEA cafe right at the entrance but it's not open right now at 11am. On the upper floor is all the showcases for your kitchen, living room, bathroom and bedroom. The bigger furniture, they're all set up as display models and if you like something, scratch it down on a paper pad or take a photo of the tag. You can shop and pick up all the items at the end. Walking through IKEA is a bit like a maze, you get forced through on a path and stop and browse when you see something you like, very cool.
But it's a big showfloor and you could spend hours here which is why they offer their patrons some eats! At the halfway point is the second IKEA cafe and now that I've been shopping a bit, I guess it's ok to grab a bite. IKEA does it's food all cafeteria-style, remember the self-serve mantra. At the front are cash registers and the dessert case. You can choose from traditional entrees like Swedish meatballs, salmon, ribs and chicken tenders. I grab the meataballas with mashies for my meal, add in a drink and it comes to a little over $5. Pay up at the register, grab your drink at the soda fountain and find a table. As you walk around IKEA it's odd to see so few employees in this big space but they run lean. Again, think self-serve. The dining room is light, airy and open with mod Scandinavian type decors, lots of white, chrome and organic shapes. My meal is a nice pile of plump, browned meatballs, 15 to be exact. A scoop of red-skin potato mashies and a spoonful of tangy, sweet and tart lingonberry which adds some acid to the meal. And it's tasty: meat, carbs and a little bit of fruit making for some Swedish comfort food. Definitely a good deal for $5, it's a lot of food. I self-bus my plates and glasses, then it's back to shopping!
The lower floor at IKEA is where you pick up all the smaller household items ranging from kitchen gadgets, vases, picture frames, rugs and bedding. Once you're done there, you enter the main self-serve warehouse where you grab your larger, flat-packed items. Everything at IKEA is designed for efficiency, you grab an odd wheeled cart and pull the boxes off the shelves. At the end, I hit a long line (not that many cash registers open) and there's one final cafe where you can bring home a hot dog, ice cream similar to what you might find at Costco. And then it's back home with your stylish and cheap Swedish shwag! While I wouldn't come here on a weekly basis, shopping and eating at IKEA is a lot of fun. It might be crazy to come visit on the weekends but if you can shop during off-periods, it can be a relaxing, fun and tasty outing! And who can argue against a delicious plate of swedish meatballs?!
8300 Ikea Blvd
Charlotte, NC 28262