WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — Hy-Vee Food Stores is making good on a promise executives made earlier this year to shake-up its foodservice chainwide.
Over the next three years, the retailer will remodel 75 stores to add a full-service restaurant and bar concept called Market Grille.
The remaining Hy-Vee locations will incorporate a Market Cafe, which features a more limited menu and fewer alcoholic beverage options.
“We’ve had foodservice since the 1950s. And so we have a customer base that’s very well trained and very well acquainted with how we’ve always done foodservice,” Randy Edeker, Hy-Vee chairman, president and CEO, told SN in a recent interview.
To oversee the foodservice transition, Hy-Vee hired restaurant industry veteran Brooke Barnes as director of restaurant development in November 2012. Barnes handles the on-the-ground details for Market Grille and Market Cafe, from menu development to staff training to layout design, as well as the big picture aspects of marketing and sales.
“We are a company focused on fresh and embarking on a new initiative with restaurants to continue building on this. The ‘Market’ represents the place you go for fresh ingredients and ‘Grille’ introduces the restaurant into the mix,” said Barnes.
The first Market Grille opened in Urbandale, Iowa, in August 2012.
“So in the Urbandale store that we remodeled, it was a very, very strong foodservice store. We had some time to explain what we were doing and why we were doing it. And now we think customers just completely embrace it,” said Edeker.
New Hy-Vee stores in Overland Park, Kan., and Madison, Wis. — that opened in February and May, respectively — have piloted Market Cafe.
“In the Overland Park store that we opened, it was just gangbusters from day one. The customers just loved it. And it really, really confirmed that we’re heading down the right direction with our foodservice,” said Edeker.
Both Market Grille and Market Cafe offer table service for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Urbandale restaurant seats 175, and future Market Grilles will have a similar footprint. In the warmer months, customers can also dine on an outdoor patio, which seats 56.
Although Edeker was hesitant to compare Market Grille to a sports bar, there are several TVs around the restaurant and bar area.
“Our goal is to serve some great food, great value, in a fantastic new atmosphere. Just to blow people’s minds as to what Hy-Vee is, what Hy-Vee can do. And it’s a dining experience, not just a grocery store experience,” John Weiler, a chef at the Urbandale Market Grille, said in a Hy-Vee video introducing the Market Grille concept.
Edeker also talked about updating the foodservice experience to meet changing customer expectations.
“So it’s like many other places you’ve gone, but really the main focus is that it was really the effort to modernize the atmosphere, create the atmosphere that customers want today with the food that customers want today,” said Edeker.
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At the restaurant, customers can find a mix of American and Italian favorites alongside Asian appetizers and entrees.
“The menu is rather extensive, I’d say. We cover everything from burgers to steaks, plenty of kids’ options, from pizzas and pastas, chicken, options from the sushi bar — you name it, we can do it,” said Weiler.
The menu also includes salads, a portabella burger and simple chicken and salmon meals. Edeker said it was important to serve some healthier dishes for those who were looking for them.
“We studied many concepts and took elements from the ones we liked most. We wanted the offerings to be a representation of all we are known for, while offering new and surprising elements to attract a different customer at the same time,” said Barnes.
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Both Market Grille and Market Cafe include full bars with an extensive wine list — served by the glass or by the bottle — and local beers on tap. Edeker said the restaurants begin serving alcohol at 11 a.m.
“This is breaking ground, putting a bar into a grocery store,” said Weiler.
Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y., and Whole Foods Market, Austin, Texas, have multiple locations with bars, though so far none in Hy-Vee’s market area.
Hy-Vee plans to open the next Market Grille restaurants in new stores in the Des Moines, Iowa, area, including Waukee in August and Ankeny in September.
Known for allowing individual stores a high degree of autonomy, Hy-Vee is making sure its members understand the benefits of adding the restaurants.
“I think obviously this transformation of our foodservice is a big undertaking for us. And so we’ve really been working through the process of explaining the direction and buy-in with our company, and now starting to roll that in,” said Edeker.
The initial restaurants have been a learning experience for the chain and new outposts will take those lessons into account, Barnes said.
“They reflect how we plan to approach each of our stores’ unique situations and offer the key elements that represent the Market Grille and Market Cafe concepts. It’s about the food and attracting new customers while maintaining the base we have,” said Barnes.
Edeker sees Hy-Vee’s restaurants as the next step in retail foodservice.
“Really it’s taking our foodservice to an entirely new level. And I think we’ve been exceptional in the past, but it’s really just bringing us into a modern day of a modern diet and … really modern experience.”
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