Smithfield Foods has opened its own restaurant—a first and likely CH only for the pork and peanuts company.

The restaurant shares a building on the main street of Smithfield, Virginia, with the meat processor’s retail location—one of five the company owns. The other four are located in mid-Atlantic states.

Taste of Smithfield is a hybrid full-service and fast-casual restaurant. Customers order and pay at a counter, but a server brings their food and continue to service them. Alcohol is served.

Pete Booker, vice president and general manager of the Smithfield Specialty Foods Group talks to Restaurant Management:

Why did Smithfield decide to open a restaurant?

When we made the announcement it was to get the noise for the town. We also saw an opportunity to upgrade our retail facility (which grew from around 600 square feet of retail to around 1,100 square feet) and we also had 2,400 square feet for a hybrid restaurant.

The restaurant allows us to put some of our products out there.

Who is coming to the restaurant?

We’re finding it’s a good mix of people. Locals come because it’s something new in town. And from a tourist perspective, we’re pulling people from Washington, D.C., Maryland, Eastern and Southern Pennsylvania, day-trippers are coming down or people from the beach, and we’re having folks come up from Raleigh-Durham. So it’s a good mix of hometown folks and people coming to the region.

How are the restaurant and retail operation doing?

We’ve seen a 50 percent increase in retail sales for the same store year-over-year. We’re really pleased with the cross merchandising between the retail and restaurant operation.

What are you serving at the restaurant and what’s popular?

Our pork burgers are doing really well, our pork tenderloin and our pulled pork shoulder with different sauces. We’re working with some sea salt bacon on BLTs and salads. We have some really nice ideations given the summer fruits and vegetables. We also have an amuse bouche—a trio of ham types that gets people interested in our food

What knowledge does Smithfield have that it can capitalize on to run a successful restaurant?

We have a strong foodservice background and have chefs and culinarians that have that background. Margaret Carroll [the restaurant’s manager] has a long track record in the foodservice business so it made sense to partner with her and because she has some following.

What knowledge have you had to look for outside the company?

With the size of pork company that we are we have more information than we need. It was about understanding the region, the tourism. It’s been about being flexible enough to know going in from day one that our menu would be fluid, that we would be changing it regularly for seasonality, ideality and menu trends. Like trying the sea salt bacon that we’re doing right now. 

We’re trying things like lard in place of different fats in our retail items and are going to do it in the restaurant so customers know how different it tastes—like a sweet potato biscuit made with lard.

What kids’ food and non-meat foods do you offer?

For kids we have grilled cheese, hot dogs and might do a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

And we have some veggie items like quiche and salads. If you bring a family of four there might be someone who wants to go meatless or they might be on a restricted diet. So we want to be able to take care of everyone who comes to see us.

How will the restaurant help your retail business?

As we evolve, we’ll listen to our customers and try to evolve with them to have different offerings because the customer is king. It is always helpful to get the immediate feedback from your customers because you can see what you’re doing right and wrong and what you need to work on. They can see with a different set of eyes what’s working. It’s critical to connect with your customers and understand their needs and wants.

We have comment cards with some questions to get some immediate feedback on items but long term it will be through SKU rationalization—what’s moving, what the time frame for the movements are.

[The restaurant] also gives people ideas of what they can do at home. So they might buy something different in the retail store and have a restaurant quality meal at home.

You are a blend of full-service and fast casual; why this restaurant model?

It has seemed to be what works at this time.

Saturdays and Sundays are really busy for the restaurant and Mondays tend to be the slowest day of the week. Our lunch business is extreme busy on the restaurant side and we have a lot of employees who have lunch there—our corporate offices are there. Dinner we get a small rush in the evening, too. But weekends tend to be the highest revenue days.

By Amanda Baltazar

Industry News, NextGen Casual