MALVERN, Pa. -- Acme Markets here has caught such a wave of sales with sushi bars in selected stores that it plans to add at least seven more before summer gets underway.
More will be added later, bringing the total of Acme units sporting a service sushi bar to at least 30 by the end of the year, according to a source close to the chain.
The company, with 180 stores in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland, installed its first sushi bar in a store in an upscale Pennsylvania neighborhood nearly a year ago. Since then, sushi bars have been added in 13 more units. The 15th is scheduled to open in a Somers Point, N.J., Acme store this week.
A sushi bar also will be unveiled May 22 at the grand re-opening of a remodeled unit in the resort town of Seaville, N.J. Two more Acme units on the Jersey Shore will get sushi bars before the end of June, "by the time the summer crowd gets there," the source said.
In a statement late last month, Acme announced that customer response to its sushi bars "has been great." At press time, however, officials at Acme could not be reached for further comment.
The sushi bars are operated and supplied by Sushi House, Hatfield, Pa., which is owned by Sung Won Suh.
Sushi House, which has a 1,700-square-foot production facility in Hatfield, will also deliver prepacked sushi each day to a number of Acme stores that are too small to accommodate a service sushi bar, Suh said. Right now the number of stores getting such a delivery is two, but that will be expanded to 20 by the end of the year, he said.
Sushi House, in a lease arrangement with Acme, pays the chain a flat rate plus a percentage of its sales at each location, Suh said. Suh had owned Japanese restaurants in Pennsylvania before starting up Sushi House as a supplier to supermarkets. He contracts with local sushi chefs at each of the Acme locations to run the operations.
The sushi bars are situated in the seafood department at each of the stores, but a sign in some of the units is displayed in the deli to tell customers that sushi is available in the seafood department, Suh said.
Although some sushi suppliers and supermarket executives believe sushi sells best in the deli or prepared-foods department, Suh disagrees. He said he thinks it's best to offer sushi in the seafood department, wherever that department is located within the store.
"We're handling fish and so is the department. There's a sink right there. It just makes sense. We can use the same freezer and refrigeration the seafood department uses," Suh said.
The sushi bars, where prices range from $3.35 for a 12-piece vegetable roll to $8.45 for a 15-piece "jumbo" mix of seafood and vegetable rolls, are open in Acme stores from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and packages of sushi are available from a self-service case later in the evening.
Suh said he chooses Asian chefs to run the in-store bars because "because people realize Oriental people already know how to make sushi," so it inspires confidence that the job is being done right. Confidence also is boosted by the use of the Sushi House brand and logo, he added.
The black-and-red logo and name of Sushi House is displayed prominently at the sushi bars to give customers a sense of consistency, Suh said. That's different than with many sushi bars run by outside companies inside supermarkets. Most do not display a brand, making them blend in with the other elements in the supermarket.
"We think the brand is important. It's good for customers to see the same name in whatever Acme they go into," Suh said.
He said he approached Acme officials last year with the proposal to install sushi bars in the chain's stores.
"I noticed that all the other supermarkets in the area, like Genuardi's and Clemens and ShopRite, had sushi, but Acme didn't," he said, adding that he saw a good opportunity for both his company and Acme.