As retailers strive to cater to customers’ food needs wherever they are, more supermarkets and seafood markets are adding successful full-service restaurants. 

Wegmans, which is based in Rochester, New York, runs several thriving restaurants, including Next Door by Wegmans (across the street from its Pittsford, New York, store), the Pub at Wegmans, and the Seafood Bar. Its latest foodservice concept, Amore Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar, opened recently in its East Avenue store in Rochester. Similar to traditional full-service Italian eateries, Amore features upscale seafood, pastas, pizzas, wine, and beer.

West Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee plans to open its first full-service restaurant, Market Fresh Grille, next month in its new 93,000-sq.-ft. Urbandale, Iowa, store. The company has said it will be a casual-dining restaurant that converts to a full-service restaurant at 4 p.m.

Eataly, the retail and full-service restaurant concept from Mario Batali’s hospitality company, B & B Hospitality Group, is another shining example of a successful retail and foodservice mix.  The New York-based gourmet store and full-service eatery is a foodie’s dream. As the customer shops, she can taste foods along the way. Seven different restaurant areas with tables and bar seating, such as La Pizza and Pasta and Manzo Ristorante, are featured next to their corresponding fresh food retail department.

 “The average consumer today is time-starved and doesn’t have the skill set to cook the type of foods they would like to eat,” says Steven Johnson, grocerant guru and owner of Tacoma, Washington-based Foodservice Solutions. More retailers are also adding restaurants so they can provide one stop for consumers who want to eat out and buy their groceries at the same time. “Many people go to Wegmans, for example, and have their dinner and then buy their groceries,” Johnson says.

Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods market is also doing a great job with its foodservice operation, according to Johnson. “A lot of Whole Foods may not have a sit-down restaurant but they have areas now where you can buy your food and sit down and eat it. In the customer’s eye, that is a restaurant,” Johnson says.

The interactivity of the combination retail and restaurant concepts is part of what makes them so popular with consumers. EatZi’s Market & Bakery, Dallas, Texas, was one of the first to the scene with a successful mix of retail and restaurant. Here, guests can order “chef-crafted” European-style meals daily and eat it in the store’s café or take it home. 

 “Both Eataly and EatZi’s have display cooking areas. When you go into Eataly and watch them make the food, it is interactive and participatory. Their sales are outrageous,” Johnson says.  

Since one of Wegmans’ restaurants is located and branded separate from its stores, Johnson foresees Wegmans and other supermarkets operating or acquiring restaurant companies in the future. “The restaurant industry should be more concerned about it. They [these retailers] obviously have the financial wherewithal to do it,” Johnson says.

Upscale seafood markets that offer gourmet, prepared food-to-go for their shoppers are also branching out with full-service restaurants. A number of them–including Santa Monica Seafood in Santa Monica, California; Cod & Capers Seafood Marketplace and Café in West Palm Beach, Florida; and The Lobster Place in New York City–operate full-service eateries.

When The Lobster Place in the popular Chelsea Market neighborhood in New York expanded its retail operation and kitchen this spring, it also added a 4,000-sq.-ft., 47-seat restaurant, Cull & Pistol. 

“As the largest seafood specialty market in New York City, we serve roughly 3,000 customers a day, so our landlord encouraged us to reconfigure the place,” says Ian MacGregor, owner of The Lobster Place. The retailer already was selling 15,000 pounds of cooked lobster a week–primarily to tourists–and operated a successful quick-service seafood operation, the “Shack in the Back,” with lobster rolls, fish and chips, and other seafood specialties. 

Recognizing that the restaurant business “is a completely different business” from retail and limited foodservice, MacGregor and his management team hired Chef David Siegal, who worked for Chef Jean Georges and was previously the chef at The Tangled Vine in New York City. They also hired a skilled general manager who had worked at Eataly and other top New York City restaurants.

The Lobster Place executives phased in the restaurant, opening for lunch only in April, and then for lunch and dinner in May. “The advantage of having multiple business lines [The Lobster Place also operates a profitable seafood wholesale operation] is that we never had pressure where we had to worry about filling seats, unlike a conventional restaurateur [starting out],” MacGregor says.

As a result, Cull & Pistol is already earning ahead of expectations. “We were hoping to turn the place three times a day, with a $32 to $33 check average. But we are turning it four times a day with a $40 check average,” MacGregor says.

By Christine Blank

Industry News, NextGen Casual