CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- After testing the waters, Harris Teeter here is pushing further afield with sushi bars.
The 140-unit chain is set to open its fourth sushi bar in the Charlotte area within the next few weeks. That will make a total of seven sushi bars chainwide.
"The sushi bars we opened earlier this year are doing well," said Ruth Kinzey, Harris Teeter spokeswoman.
The chain's sushi wave began in an Atlanta unit nearly two years ago. A second sushi bar was launched in another unit in that market late last year. Then on February 21 this year, a sushi bar was included when the chain opened a new store in Cary, N.C.
Based on customer acceptance there, a store-level source said, the chain opened three in the same week here in early March, operated by Advanced Fresh Concepts, Long Beach, Calif. The agreement with AFC is a lease arrangement tied to a percentage of sales. The other Harris Teeter sushi bars are run by Harris Teeter, with the sushi prepared by its own chefs.
Kinzey noted that Harris Teeter would open other sushi bars where demographics are right for them. "We've been doing this so far in response to customer requests. People who had shopped our store in Atlanta came back home and wanted them in our stores here. We survey customers frequently, and we also make an 800 number available to them for suggestions. It's printed on every grocery receipt," she said.
Last month, Harris Teeter's sushi bars were mentioned in the food editor's column in the Charlotte Oberver, the daily newspaper. And more recently, they were touted on the Bob & Sheri Show, a morning drive-time talk radio program.
"We have paid advertising occasionally on the Bob & Sheri Show. We give them the information and they use it in a way that sounds informal, like a little dialogue," Kinzey said. Asked how many more sushi bars Harris Teeter would open this year, Kinzey said it would depend on customer requests. "We move slowly on these types of things and, as you know, we customize to the particular neighborhood. Each store is different," she said.
At a Harris Teeter unit in the Morrocroft Village shopping center here, a store-level source told SN that the sushi bar there "does unbelievably well." He said the sushi bar is so busy on weekends that the sushi chef sometimes doesn't have time to break for lunch. On a weekend day, the sushi bar sells more than 400 packs, which contain six or eight pieces of sushi, he said.
That's particularly good considering that 300 packs per day is Advanced Fresh Concepts' benchmark for good sales in a supermarket, according to Elsie Pon, assistant to the president of AFC. The company operates sushi bars in major supermarkets across the U.S.
Sushi party trays also are popular. At the Morrocroft Harris Teeter location, the sushi chef has sold five to 10 sushi party trays each weekend since the bar was opened, the store-level source said.
"We had a man from a business nearby tell us just this week that our sushi is a real bargain for him. He had been paying $60 for a party tray at a local Japanese restaurant, and now, he said, he can get a comparable tray from us for $20," the source said.