NEW YORK — With the unveiling of a spectacular new flagship prototype here, The Food Emporium is returning to its upscale roots.
The chain's Bridgemarket location in Manhattan reopened after a three-week renovation Nov. 17, revealing a radically changed layout featuring an extensive new selection of imported gourmet items and specialty departments. (See photos, Page 20.) Officials of A&P, the chain's Montvale, N.J.-based parent company, said all 16 Food Emporium locations in Manhattan, as well as two locations outside the city, will get similar makeovers over the coming three years.
Other Food Emporium locations in New York state and Connecticut will be converted to the A&P fresh banner, officials said.
Founded as an upscale supermarket in New York, The Food Emporium was acquired by A&P in 1986, and in the 20 years since gradually became more conventional while the array of upscale and gourmet shopping locales in Manhattan rapidly multiplied. Hans Heer, who was named A&P's senior vice president and general manager for the Food Emporium division earlier this year, said the concept of the new store was not to replicate the efforts of competing upscale chains but to carve out a niche unique to Food Emporium.
“We don't want to copy Dean & DeLuca, Balducci's, Whole Foods and other good stores in the city,” Heer said. “We'll have our own unique profile.”
Eric Claus, the chief executive officer of A&P, recruited Heer earlier this year to lead the Food Emporium redesign. A native of Switzerland, Heer has more than 30 years of experience creating gourmet food offerings at premium food retailers such as Koufhauf Warenhous (Germany), Globus (Switzerland) and Harrods (United Kingdom).
According to Heer, the goal of the redesign was to allow for the introduction of fine foods and upscale specialty departments without alienating neighborhood shoppers who rely on Food Emporium for weekly shopping needs.
“What's special about the Food Emporium is that it's a neighborhood store where people come in every day,” Heer said. “Most of the people who go to Balducci's or Dean & DeLuca don't go every day. The store will have neighborhood customers and also get new people in — trendy people, tourists and young people.”
Balancing the needs of those groups is a design that pushes conventional items like frozen foods and canned goods to the edges of the store behind grand displays of specialty departments including a charcuterie, prime meat and seafood counters, and shops for cheese; fresh pasta; smoked fish, pate and foie gras; fresh sandwiches and juices; chocolates; and desserts.
Inside the store, traditional shelving and aisles have been replaced by display cases lit with spotlights showcasing product offerings as if they were art. Tables placed in front of those units offer cross-merchandised displays — for example, olive oil, pasta and cookbooks — in a style not unlike specialty retailers like Williams Sonoma, Heer explained.
These displays, including some imported olive oils behind a locked glass case, and black lacquer shelving for imported packaged groceries, communicate prestige and premium positioning, Heer explained. Price tags also support the positioning — Confiserre Tschirren Swiss chocolates at $50 a pound, and a selection of artisan salts at $15 for a 3.5-ounce jar, for example.
Some specially built departments, like the cheese shop and charcuterie — featuring hams dangling from hooks in the style of a European market — serve a double purpose as a wareroom for the items merchandised there, Heer said.
A newly installed mezzanine — accessible by a gently winding opaque staircase — includes displays of high-end kitchenware, a dining area and a specialty tea bar. A coffee bar co-branded with Italian coffeemaker Lavazza has replaced the Eight O'Clock coffee bar formerly at the store.
Officials did not disclose the cost of the renovation. Heer said he expects the store will do between $15 million and $20 million a year in sales, or 5% to 10% more business than it had done previously.
The Bridgemarket, distinctive for its columns and tile ceiling mimicking the arch of the Queensboro Bridge above it, opened in 1999 after years of predevelopment dating to before A&P's purchase of the Food Emporium chain in 1986. While officials said the location has always been popular with the local neighborhood, other observers noted the store didn't appear to reward the strenuous effort and costs that went into its 1999 opening. A financial analyst in SN once called the Bridgemarket “the most gorgeous white elephant in the industry.”