The Butcher Shoppe has been a community institution in Chambersburg, Pa., practically since its founding over 60 years ago as a traditional retail market selling fresh meats. Since then, the business has expanded into bakery, deli and grocery lines and also developed a complementary retail café brand, Big Oak Café, which serves its own line of specialty coffees as well as sandwiches, salads, desserts and soups.
More recently, Butcher Shoppe has been opening a series of automated micromarkets, culminating in the company’s largest and most elaborate one, which opened this August at Chambersburg Hospital.
Three of the company’s micromarkets are in restricted-entry break room areas inside businesses and a fourth is in a public library. The one at Chambersburg Hospital is the first in a healthcare facility, and in the short time it’s been open, it has become the company’s largest and busiest.
“It’s about three times bigger than we thought it was going to be sales-wise,” says Butcher Shoppe Vice President/Co-owner Anne Schoenhofen. “That’s great news, but it actually also put a bit of a pressure on us because we had to scramble and figure out how we were going to make the food.”
Originally, the micromarkets had their modest restock needs filled from existing company locations, but the Chambersburg Hospital operation was an entirely different volume proposition, generating up to a thousand transactions a day during weekdays. Fortunately, Butcher Shoppe had already planned for dealing with such a ramp-up of its production needs through a separate commissary kitchen that was already under construction when the hospital micromarket launched.
That commissary is now fully functional and is not only handling the voracious volume needs of the Chambersburg Hospital location but also has plenty of additional capacity in readiness for sustaining further micromarket outlets, Schoenhofen says. The facility also has an event space complete with rooftop deck that the company uses to hold catered private and business functions.
Aside from its greater sales volume and larger footprint, the Chambersburg Hospital micromarket is also unique in that it isn’t always unmanned. In fact, the space serves as a fairly conventional grab-and-go café from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, when anyone can walk in and buy something. It reverts to a controlled-access unmanned micromarket the rest of the time, with entry limited to hospital staff who get in using their ID badges.
“Ordinarily, we are only [in a new micromarket location] for a couple of weeks at the beginning to set up and train people how to use the self-checkout kiosk, and then we walk away,” explains Schoenhofen. “But the hospital is so busy, and there are so many new people [coming in] every day, that we staff it from 8 to 8. They are there to do stocking, rotating, cleaning the coffee machines and help people with the [checkout] kiosk. We didn’t intend to do this, but there’s just so much traffic that I had to make that call.”
Checkout is still automated, with no manned registers, but in a concession to the many visitors who patronize the store, the hospital micromarket accepts cash as well as commercial credit/debit cards and the hospital’s declining balance accounts for staffers.
The menu is largely the same as at the company’s other micromarkets except that “it has a little more of a coffee option than our other micromarkets,” Schoenhofen offers, adding that it also offers multidiner options such as meat and cheese, vegetable and fruit trays designed for groups or families waiting on a birth or a surgery. The coffees are dispensed from the Big Oak Café unit attached to the micromarket.
Otherwise, the product mix consists of ready-to-heat meals and soups, fresh-cut fruits and vegetables, cookies and pastries made in Butcher Shoppe’s own bakery and the company’s locally famous lines of ham and chicken salads, plus a wide array of bottled beverages.
Because of the heavy sales volume, the micromarket receives two deliveries every day except Sunday from the new commissary.
Conversations between the hospital and the Butcher Shoppe on a partnership actually started several years ago.
“We reached out to let them know we had a great [micromarket] concept that was already in a number of break rooms that could provide their staff with a lot more options than they had,” Schoenhofen says.
The staff is thrilled, she reports, especially overnight staff, who really had no food options previously.
“It took us a little time to figure out how to stock for them, but we have it down now, so they have as many options at night as people do during the day. They couldn’t be happier.”