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GOURMET-TO-GO COMES TO DALLAS BEFORE GOING NATIONAL

DALLAS -- An upscale St. Louis-based prepared-foods company has established a beachhead here in Eatzi's backyard, as a prelude to a national rollout.Gourmet-To-Go, which has operated three facilities in St. Louis over the last 15 years, undertook the move to Dallas after officials decided to expand nationally. They are now in the midst of a search for investors, according to Heidi Mees, director of

DALLAS -- An upscale St. Louis-based prepared-foods company has established a beachhead here in Eatzi's backyard, as a prelude to a national rollout.

Gourmet-To-Go, which has operated three facilities in St. Louis over the last 15 years, undertook the move to Dallas after officials decided to expand nationally. They are now in the midst of a search for investors, according to Heidi Mees, director of marketing for the company.

"The plan right now is to keep an eye on Dallas. We want to be as successful as possible in Dallas before we do anything else," said Mees. Company officials will then consider whether to open other shops in the Dallas area, or to establish Gourmet-To-Go operations in other cities.

Gourmet-To-Go shops are typically small -- about 3,000 square feet -- and focus on service and catering operations, although a mix of sandwiches, salads, dips, single-serving desserts and snacks is available in reach-in cases.

Entrees and soups are prepared daily and deserts are baked from scratch. Deli and grilled sandwiches are made to order. The shops offer no seating, selling food prepared and packaged for takeout solely. The home-meal replacement items are priced at a premium. "We look at our market as being made up of very high revenue people who are willing to pay a premium price for quality," said Mees. The entrees range in price from $6.99 to $9.99.

"This is not anything like fast food or Boston Market. This is very high-end gourmet. People are doing variations of it, but there isn't anything else exactly like this," said Mees.

One of the three St. Louis operations is exclusively dedicated to catering, and one of the reasons the company chose the Dallas neighborhood of University City was its mix of corporate headquarters, high-rise business offices and affluent residents. It's a neighborhood Mees said would yield a good catering base.

"When we started planning on a national expansion, we looked around for a market area with a good community base. Dallas has that and a very strong corporate headquarters base. Companies are moving there continually, and as we also do a lot of corporate catering, it was a good match," said Mees.

Rather than locate their first shop outside St. Louis in nearby cities like Chicago or Kansas City, Mo., officials determined that they should "spread their wings a little," said Mees.

Meals, especially dinner items, are designed and prepared to reach their flavor and quality peak when finished off at home.

"All our pasta is cooked so that when it is heated at home it can still be served al dente," she said. Small batch preparation allows Gourmet-To-Go to control quality and the state of finished items, she said. Some entrees, breads and appetizers are also sold frozen.

Mees rejected comparisons between Gourmet-To-Go and Dallas-based Eatzi's.

"There's a distinct difference between us and an Eatzi's. When you walk into Gourmet-To-Go, you can expect a much more intimate experience. And we don't have any seats at all for in-store dining."