Eat Well, Cook Well, Shop Well

Jul 12, 2013

City Grocery in Oxford, MS and American Grocery in Greenville, SC are two restaurants that pride themselves on sourcing top quality ingredients for their fine dining offerings. Their names imply that if raw materials don’t actually come directly from a retail grocer, they could.

City Grocery made intriguing use of the word "grocery," encouraging diners to buy — and use — local produce. Opened in 1992, Chef John Currence has organized a cooperative and market for local farmers as well as a network of local restaurants using their produce. The company also started a culinary education program in public schools.

American Grocery Restaurant boasts of serving "refined American Seasonal Cuisine sourced from local and regional farms and artisan producers from within the United States" accompanied by "small production boutique wines." It has had 100 reviews on giving it a 4.5 star rating since Feb. 20, 2013. Again, we see a loose definition, perhaps, of "grocery."

The recently opened 85-seat Amore in Rochester, NY, is literally next door to its chief supplier, a new Wegmans from which all ingredients are sourced. Here, everything in the kitchen is transformed by the chef into an array of tantalizing choices with ingredients customers can buy themselves.

In contrast to the modernity and anonymity of most grocery cafes, these three have taken unique approaches to history and culture. Wegmans’ new look was created by "Rochester-region artisans and interior designers," according to the Democrat and Chronicle. Design consultant and CEO’s wife, Stency Wegman, wanted to "re-create the feeling that this is an old building restored from ruin" with "Italian estate-style architecture." Spokeswoman Jo Natale described it as evocative of European restaurants researched by a team sent to tour rural Italy and Switzerland.

The venture conveniently offers both internal and external access to the adjoining grocery much the same way as its Next Door Bar & Grill on Monroe Avenue in Pittsford, NY. Wegmans’ Executive Chef, Russell Ferguson, says "the grocery will fill an auxiliary role for the restaurant." Not to mention demonstrating to diners just what can be done with all the food on the grocer’s shelves.

Will using products from Wegmans encourage customers to buy them after they’ve dined in the restaurant? Is the connotation of “grocery” an inducement to fine dining?

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8 Comments on "Eat Well, Cook Well, Shop Well"

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Ian Percy
8 years 10 months ago
I’m very glad to learn about these restaurants and hope we see a lot more. But I wonder if there isn’t a deeper issue. What I hope is that such experiences will get people back to what nature gave us in the first place. Back to what is real and healthy and fresh and good. A mindset change in other words. Of all the things humans have messed up by far the worse is the food we eat. Of course to do that we had to mess up soil, water and air as well. It’s simply time to stop and begin to fight back like it appears these restaurants are doing. These few and small examples are candles in the dark but it’s a start. We now have the commercially viable ability to produce what one company calls “virgin grade food” a phrase they coined because the word “organic” is almost meaningless. Perhaps one day patrons at a restaurant will first walk through the greenhouse to select their own salad, vegetables, etc. right out of… Read more »
Ryan Mathews
8 years 10 months ago

It’s unlikely. I enjoy sushi and I even know where my local sushi bar gets its fish, but since I don’t make my own sushi at home, why would I shop there.

In the case of Wegmans, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt since they do so many things well.

Exceptions aside, I’m afraid that when I think “grocery,” I’m not usually thinking fine dining.

Zel Bianco
8 years 10 months ago

This sounds like a great concept in which the call-to-action will initially interest folks and drive them into the store. It will be interesting to see how long that phenomena plays out with the grocery-restaurant collaborative.

Ben Ball
8 years 10 months ago

The primary impact of Amore is to show me (and others no doubt) just how poor our own culinary skills are. Obviously we should be able to create the same fantastic dishes ourselves, since we have access to all the ingredients in the store next door.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
8 years 10 months ago

When creating a fine dining meal elements include the main item, all the spices, the recipe, the chef, and the presentation. Will finding that some or all of the ingredients come from a specific store encourage patrons to shop at that store? Only if the restaurant is next door or in the store. By the time people leave the restaurant and go about their business, they will forget where the ingredients were purchased.

Susan Viamari
8 years 10 months ago

It’s great to learn about these innovative concepts! The competition for share of stomach is certainly expanding, and the landscape includes restaurants of all levels. This means that CPG and restaurant marketers alike will need to experiment with new strategies and business models in order to stay relevant and top of mind.

In-store kiosks, which allow consumers to try products before making a purchase, have proven a driver of brand selection because they take some of the “unknown” out of new products. It will be interesting to see if these restaurants have the same, perhaps even stronger, impact on purchase behavior.

Craig Sundstrom
8 years 10 months ago

Must be a Southern thing…something to offset Paula Dean’s “cuisine.”

Seriously, though, I find the “grocery” labeling problematic. People expect, I would think, for a grocery to be…well…a grocery, not a restaurant, and if the concept really catches on, much of the novelty will have been lost.

Lee Peterson
8 years 10 months ago

Okay, so, it’s a family member doing the Wegmans store design. I get it now. I’ll just stop right there.

“Grocery,” according to customers we survey, signals “chore.” “Fine dining,” on the other hand, implies high-end service and off-the-charts quality food. So, I don’t get mixing the two in terms of messaging. The term “farm” is obviously better, but over-used and mostly not true. So I guess it’s a marketing ploy more than anything to do with substance. Which could create curiosity about exactly what it is they’re trying to sell us….which will only go so far. Will be interesting in terms of long term viability vs fad.


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