ROUSES

THIBODAUX, La. -- Rouses Supermarkets here has begun construction on a new format that emphasizes fresh items.According to Donald Rouse, president, two 62,000-square-foot Epicurean Markets are currently under construction, the first of which is scheduled to open in spring 1999.Rouse said that fresh foods will make up almost 50% of the space in the new format, featuring greater choices in a marketplace

THIBODAUX, La. -- Rouses Supermarkets here has begun construction on a new format that emphasizes fresh items.

According to Donald Rouse, president, two 62,000-square-foot Epicurean Markets are currently under construction, the first of which is scheduled to open in spring 1999.

Rouse said that fresh foods will make up almost 50% of the space in the new format, featuring greater choices in a marketplace type of atmosphere.

Upon entering the store, customers will walk right into the specially designed section, which will include new and expanded themed-departments such as the Smoke House and Cajun Sausage Kitchen, Quizno's Italian Deli, an in-house bakery, and an extensive wine and cheese selection.

"We wanted our specialty items to be visible to the customers immediately," said Rouse. "This layout really showcases the high quality products we have to offer."

The Smoke House and Cajun Sausage Kitchen feature menu choices which reflect the robust tastes of the region. Offering area specialties such as Hoghead cheese and Boudin -- a local sausage stuffed with meat and rice -- the department also features smoked and fresh sausage and beef jerky.

"Of course the cajun and smoked items are very popular in this area and so we like to offer a variety of choices for our customers," Rouse said.

The Smoke House also offers the Rouses signature "Turducken" -- a boneless chicken, stuffed inside a boneless duckling, which is then stuffed inside a boneless turkey and filled with Rouses fresh green onion sausage stuffing. All preparation is done on-site.

One other item -- in this case sold out of the in-store bakery -- will also help to define the store's image. King Cakes, the official cake of the Mardi Gras season, are an annual bestseller, according to Rouse. Decorated in the carnival colors of green, yellow and purple, the specialty cakes are made only once a year, to celebrate the Epiphany, also known as King's Day. And while New Orleans may be known the as the hub of Mardi Gras festivities, the demand for the cakes extends far beyond the region.

"We do a great deal of business with the King Cakes," Rouse said. "We get thousands of orders, by fax, phone, and e-mail. We ship cakes all over the country."

According to Rouse, current locations which operate a wine and cheese department show strong profits in the area. The new Epicurean Markets will feature expanded offerings in this section, as well as custom-made wooden shelving. On- and off-premises wine tastings will be conducted in the new stores, as they are in Rousers units in the more upscale areas.

"We do very well in this area," he said. "We have several locations already that offer extensive wine selections and the tastings are always well received."

A first at the new locations will be the premiere of Quizno's Italian Deli, a franchise Rouses acquired from Quizno's Corp. in Colorado. Rouse said the company is strong in Colorado and California and was selected due to the quality of their menu selections.

Rouses will handle all hiring and maintenance for the branded deli, and management staff will attend training seminars in Colorado. The Deli will feature a variety of Italian favorites, specializing in hot Italian sandwiches.

"We are catering to a very upscale clientele," said Rouse. "We wanted to offer them more than just another sandwich shop."

In addition to Quizno's, the new markets will feature Rouses' own hot meals operation -- Tony's Cafe. The Cafe offers items such as seafood gumbo, corn and shrimp soup and crawfish etouffe. Customers can also purchase party trays from the department.

The new fresh area will include seating where customers can relax and enjoy the fresh foods and prepared meals available from the various departments. Some existing locations already incorporate seating areas that have proven to be popular, said Rouse. Current stores are subject to heavy lunch traffic which Rouse expects to be substantial at the new locations as well, especially with the addition of the Italian deli.

Design and layout of the new markets was handled by Dinesh Doshi of Farmingdale, N.Y.-based Architechtonics Intl. Doshi has been working with Rouses for about 10 years and said the new format represents a whole new concept for the supermarket chain.

"The whole layout has a very theatrical feel," said Doshi. "Fluidity was very important to the design. Customers should feel they are moving gracefully from one area to the next. There will be no harsh transitions."

The design needed to be ornate enough to showcase the high-end products, yet practical enough to accommodate the general grocery sections of the stores. Doshi said flooring and lighting schemes played a large part in the presentation of the various products. The lighting is unique and dramatic and blends with the terrace-like ceilings adding character to the design.