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To market, to market

Shopping for business ideas in the grocery aisle.

If our team spends one more hour at Chicago’s Eataly, we’ll have to start forwarding our mail there.

The Italian grocery-emporium-slash-food-hall, which we’ve covered several times in the pages of Restaurant Business, was the place to be for a number of offsite events and tours during the National Restaurant Association Show in the city last month. We were there, as were many operators from out of town who came to see for themselves what the latest iteration of the restaurant-retail craze looked like in the expert hands of Mario Batali and Lidia and Joe Bastianich. Those who came left with more than just a suitcase crammed with jars of pasta sauce, bottles of vinegar and funky new kitchen tools. They left with ideas for their own concepts, be they quaint urban bakeries, college dining halls or large restaurant chains looking to boost their own grab-and-go business and bring more customers in the door.

That’s why a place like Eataly, which in many respects is the model for the growing category of eat-and-shop hybrids, warrants more than one visit­—in person and in print. The first time, you might pick up a few pointers about counter service; on the next visit you may notice some new product you’d like to source; another time you’ll find ideas for staging the new display cases you recently installed. The blurring of the lines between foodservice segments means your best inspiration can come from concepts in any city, any category or any industry.

The genre of new-age restaurant-retailers extends well beyond Eataly, too, counting among its variations multiconcept food halls and retailers with in-store dining spaces, such as Tommy Bahama and Urban Outfitters. Fortunately for Joe Average operator, the industry’s major players have been willing to dip their toes—and their dollars—into the waters and put their lessons on display for the rest of us. In addition to Batali-Bastianich-led Eataly, Seattle’s Tom Douglas is rolling out Assembly Hall with a restaurant, coffee and juice bar, flower shop and 2,000-square-foot market under one roof. Anthony Bourdain is bringing a Singapore-inspired, multiconcept food hall to New York City sometime in the future. Even Paula Deen is putting her faith in the genre for her first post-scandal venture. Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen, a 20,000-square-foot restaurant and retail shop in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., will open this summer.

One of the draws to this model, as you’ll read in our story “Market forces," is that restaurants bring a time-tested customer-service perspective to the retail experience. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, at 45 years old, is the granddaddy of these concepts, with one-fifth of its revenues coming from retail sales at its on-premise country-theme shops. It led all midscale brands in our January ranking (with Technomic) of consumers’ favorite chains, and it came in third among all chains, earning high scores for service and hospitality, food and beverage, ambiance and value.

Even if you don’t have plans to take a sledgehammer to the wall between your restaurant and the retail space for lease next door, we invite you to cherry-pick ideas from the operators in our story and throughout this issue who dared to think beyond their dining rooms’ four walls. 

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