EMILY'S CLOSES, BUT CONCEPT IS STILL RUNNING

CHANDLER, Ariz. -- The doors to experimental fresh meals store Emily's Market here have been closed -- but the concept's future is still wide open, according to a new batch of owners with plans for a second generation and multiple units.The 4,000-square-foot store had been attracting major food industry notice ever since it was opened here last spring by convenience store chain Circle K Corp., Phoenix.

CHANDLER, Ariz. -- The doors to experimental fresh meals store Emily's Market here have been closed -- but the concept's future is still wide open, according to a new batch of owners with plans for a second generation and multiple units.

The 4,000-square-foot store had been attracting major food industry notice ever since it was opened here last spring by convenience store chain Circle K Corp., Phoenix. Now the site and the concept behind it have been acquired by a newly formed investment group that includes two former Circle K executives, local financial backers and Circle K as a more minor player.

The first action taken by the new ownership, called Meal Market Inc., was to close Emily's to customer traffic. Meanwhile, plans are under way for a second-generation prototype of Emily's to be developed in Scottsdale, Ariz.

The new owners said they will retain the Emily's name and further develop the concept. They said they will open five to 10 stores at Phoenix locations over the next two years.

"The Emily's concept is far from dead," said Gary Pryor, president and chief executive officer of Meal Market and one of the executives involved in the original project. "The Emily's in Chandler was a test site. We did research there and it was successful. We learned significant things that we can apply in the prototype."

A spokeswoman for Circle K said, "We still believe strongly in the viability of the Emily's concept, but we have a renewed commitment to our core business, which is convenience retailing and gasoline retailing.

"We've retained an equity interest, and we feel good about The Meal Market group's operation of the concept. We're confident in their ability to take Emily's to the next level."

Pryor was the director of the Emily's concept for Circle K. Mark Cain, former director of development at Emily's, is now chief operating officer of Meal Market.

Other principals include Eddie Lynch, a general partner in the Phoenix Suns basketball team and Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team, and Bruce Merrill, professor of mass communications at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, Arizona State University, Tempe, Ariz.

While Emily's is closed to retail traffic, it is still being utilized as a test site, Pryor said. New product development is under way there now and focus groups will be convened there.