BRISTOL FARMS OPENS BIGGEST STORE TO DATE

SAN DIEGO - Here in ritzy La Jolla, Bristol Farms' newest store is not your average supermarket.Even by the company's own upscale standards, the store is out of the ordinary. For example, how many supermarket managers can brag about their made-to-order crepe station? It's a first for Bristol Farms. Shoppers can choose from among eight different crepes at the station adjacent to the cheese department.The

SAN DIEGO - Here in ritzy La Jolla, Bristol Farms' newest store is not your average supermarket.

Even by the company's own upscale standards, the store is out of the ordinary. For example, how many supermarket managers can brag about their made-to-order crepe station? It's a first for Bristol Farms. Shoppers can choose from among eight different crepes at the station adjacent to the cheese department.

The 27,000-square-foot store, the retailer's biggest store and first one in San Diego County, opened late last month in a former Albertsons' store that was gutted completely. Renovations took about five months. With colorful wall murals, tile and wider aisles, the store looks nothing like a conventional supermarket.

"Many customers said, 'Is this the same store?'" said Patrick Posey, senior director of sales and advertising at Bristol Farms, a wholly owned subsidiary of Supervalu. "It's completely different."

The food-service department, including the deli, in-store cafe, cheese department and catering, is the No. 1 department in sales for the chain, and that's true for this store, Posey said. To date, officials have been pleased with overall store sales.

"The community has really embraced the store so far," he said. "It's exceeding our sales expectations."

The offerings here are similar to what's available at the retailer's other stores, except in many cases, the assortment is bigger. The fresh produce department boasts the largest selection of organics available at any of the Bristol Farms stores.

Likewise, there's more choice of conventional and organic products in the dairy department here than at the other stores. The meat and seafood departments feature organic and free-range poultry; antibiotic- and hormone-free, air-chilled poultry; and hormone- and antibiotic-free, American-raised natural beef, including prime and aged prime with a dry-aged beef locker on site. The store receives daily deliveries of fresh seafood, and even has what's known internally as a pokie bar, or salad bar featuring prepared chilled seafood dishes.

Grocery aisles offer a much larger selection of specialty foods. Olives from all over the world are displayed on a self-serve bar. There's a Peet's coffee cafe with a stand-alone coffee bar; a rotisserie carving station featuring choice beef, pork and poultry; European artisan hearth-style breads, baked fresh daily; a full-service floral shop staffed with floral designers; a gourmet cheese section with more than 300 varieties; and a cafe that seats 64 in addition to outdoor seating and a sit-down area near the checkout lines.

"It's a Disneyland of food," Posey said.

The decor acknowledges its location. Wall murals feature scenes of San Diego from the 1940s and 1950s.

On opening day, the lines were long. Many shoppers visiting the store for the first time were so impressed they got on their cell phones and, later in the day, returned with their friends tagging along, Posey said.

The store encourages lingering, and not just with the tempting assortment of food. It features wireless Internet connection, so it's common to see shoppers sipping coffee and working on their laptops.

Bristol Farms competes with Whole Foods Market, Henry's and traditional supermarkets in this wealthy area of white sand beaches, sandy coves and rocky cliffs.

"La Jolla is such a high-income area," Posey said. "It needs a store like this."

The retailer plans to open two other stores, but they won't be as large as this one. The Palm Desert store will be nearly as big, and a store planned for San Francisco will be about three-fourths the size of La Jolla. That store will be split into two shops in the same shopping center, Posey said.