CHESTERFIELD, Mo. -- After a successful run of more than a year at its flagship store, Dierbergs Markets here has expanded its partnership with a renowned local Chinese restaurant to a second store.
As reported in SN, the first partnership with Yen Ching -- a local single-unit operator -- got under way at Dierbergs' 71,500-square-foot flagship unit in the Warson Woods section of St. Louis, in January 1996.
Yen Ching is so popular among local residents it has captured a regional magazine's People's Choice Award for nine consecutive years -- most recently this spring. The restaurant's reputation and the quality of its food had spurred Dierbergs to initiate the deal, chain officials said.
"They've been an asset to us at Warson Woods," said Greg Dierberg, director of perishables at the 16-unit Dierbergs, of the restaurant operator. The partnership with Yen Ching involves a lease arrangement based on a percentage of sales, Dierberg said.
He told SN a key to the success of the Yen Ching operation in the Warson Woods store is that everything is cooked to order. Customers are supplied with a beeper so they can go about their shopping and be alerted when their order is ready.
"People like having their food cooked for them. They don't mind waiting," he said.
Cooked-to-order preparation is also a feature at the second Yen Ching operation within a Dierbergs, this time in a remodeled unit in St. Louis' West Oak section. Yen Ching opened there the week before Labor Day.
However, the program is altered in other ways to accommodate what Dierberg called "a tremendous lunch crowd" that the chain is targeting at the second store.
At West Oak, a selection of already-prepared entrees is available from a hot service counter, from 11:30 to 1 in the afternoon and again from 4:30 to 7 in the evening. Another change is that the second store provides seating for 120, compared with seating for 46 at Warson Woods.
"Our plan is to have up to 12 hot items ready for the lunch crowd, and between 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. But customers can also order any of the other 10 items on the menu and they'll be prepared for them in five to seven minutes," Dierberg said.
"We'll be cooking to order in the afternoon -- actually, all day," he said.
At West Oak 20 beepers are available, double the number at Warson Woods, and the beeper model has been upgraded. "They're the same kind Macaroni Grill and Outback Steak House use. They're more durable," Dierberg said. The choice of sturdier beepers also reflects the increased use the devices are expected to have at the second store.
"The lunch volume is probably 10 times what it is at Warson Woods. There's an office park right across the street and the influx of people at lunchtime is amazing. Our salad bar at that store does twice the volume our average does," Dierberg said.
The menu at the West Oak location is the same as that at Warson Woods, comprised of 22 entrees and four appetizers. All entrees are $4.79, except those with shrimp, which are 30 cents more. In the remodeled store, the Yen Ching operation replaces a different, less well-known Chinese restaurant operation.
Besides substantially adding to the number of seats, Dierberg's has improved the placement and type of seating at the remodel. The seating area, which occupies 1,440 square feet, was moved to the front and features booths instead of the few round tables that had previously been provided.
"We've found at Warson Woods that people like to sit in booths," Dierberg explained. He also pointed out that the seating in the West Oak remodel is placed against the front window so people can see out while they're eating.
"In most of our stores, the video section is up front, but at this store we didn't want to sacrifice that space because of the lunch volume, so we moved video over to the side," Dierberg said.
The deli was also moved from the back wall of the remodeled unit to the first traffic aisle, adjacent to the Yen Ching operation. That mirrors the location of the deli and its adjacency to Yen Ching at Warson Woods, Dierberg said. Traditional hot food is offered from the deli, as it is at the flagship store, he added.
About 5,000 square feet have been added to the original 72,000-square-foot West Oak store to create more space for perishables departments and food service in the remodel, Dierberg said.