ROGERS, Ark. -- A fresh meals/specialty food market in the genre of EatZi's and New York's Dean & DeLuca has been launched here by the man who helped pioneer Wal-Mart's SuperCenter concept.
Richard Donckers, who served as vice president of food retailing for the retail giant until he left in 1993 to form his own consulting company, launched the new meals store concept with two business partners. His consulting firm, Retail Strategies International, also based here, will oversee the operation of the 15,800-square-foot store.
Called The Market at Pinnacle Point, the hybrid specialty grocery-fresh meals concept is situated practically in Wal-Mart's backyard. The town of Rogers borders Bentonville, Wal-Mart's home base, and two Wal-Mart SuperCenters lie within four miles of The Market. But Donckers doesn't see them as competition.
"We're on a totally opposite spectrum of retailing. Instead of being large with a lot of self-service and national brands, we're small with a high level of service and mostly specialty [rather than national-brand] items," Donckers said.
"We've carved out our own unique niche here. We're sort of an EatZi's 'plus' or a sized-down Central Market," he added, referring respectively to the Dallas-based hybrid grocery-restaurant chain and to San Antonio-based H.E. Butt Grocery Co.'s fresh, all-food concept.
Indeed, The Market at Pinnacle Point combines many of the best-received features of other alternate meals formats around the country, and features a complement of chefs, a full bakery with fancy desserts, its own espresso bar/cafe, a large specialty cheese selection, produce with a variety of exotics, a menu of prepared, chilled food and a hot menu, too.
Ironically, some Wal-Mart executives, as well as executives and employees from Tyson and other food manufacturers that are headquartered nearby, are regularly shopping the store, Donckers said.
The location of The Market is definitely an important key to making the concept work, he added. This unit sits on the edge of a residential section that boasts the highest per-capita income in Arkansas. The Market site is also adjacent to a commercial office complex that draws nearly 2,000 workers five days a week, and will bring in at least a thousand more by the end of next year when the new office building will be more fully occupied, Donckers said.
"That captive audience is great for us. We're doing a tremendous lunch business. Sometimes all our tables are filled at lunchtime," Donckers noted.
The store has seating for 95 people inside and additional seating outside that accommodates 35.
"We offer a convenient lunch option and also provide convenient shopping for people who live in the area," Donckers said.
A large produce section shows off more than 400 varieties and includes such things as lichee nuts and baby squash as well as some organic items. The linear feet of produce here at The Market dwarfs that at EatZi's .
"I'd say our display is at least three to four times the size of EatZi's, and one of the unique things is that our varieties of lettuce are offered at a service counter, not in self-service. The lettuces, displayed in a very vertical, multi-deck case, form a backdrop for the service salad station," Donckers said.
The Market at Pinnacle Point -- ringing up sales that have exceeded projections ever since it was unveiled June 7 -- has received rave reviews from the local consumer and business press as well as from shoppers. Donckers explained why.
"People say they just have never seen anything like this around here. We have such a huge selection of specialty items and we have service seafood and meat. Nobody in Northwest Arkansas besides us has prime beef and we even have aged, natural beef. We also have the biggest selection of cheeses in Arkansas and Oklahoma."
Just as they are at EatZi's, all entrees, side dishes, and salads at The Market at Pinnacle Point are prepared from scratch, on-site. A service chef's case, like at EatZi's, is the main feature here, and a hot meal of the day is offered. Hamburgers and hot sandwiches are turned out at a grill.
While the bakery features open production and a large selection of bake-off breads, the spotlight is on desserts, many of which are imported from France and Italy. The most popular, forest fruit cake, comes from Italy. A crisp-crust cake, it has a cream filling and is topped with whole currants, blackberries and raspberries and is dusted with powdered sugar. It retails for $4 a slice, $46 for a whole cake.
Desserts of that ilk, plus a full menu of espresso-based, trendy beverages, attract an after-dinner crowd as well as provide add-ons for meals customers.
"People who have gone out to a restaurant for dinner are stopping by here on their way home for dessert and coffee. Our espresso cafe is very comfortable. There are leather couches and we have a small jazz group that plays in the evenings," Donckers said.
The cafe also features a large television screen, computer terminals with free on-line access and a fireplace.
Another feature at The Market that's in the works right now will be a separate pick-up door for called-in or faxed-in orders, Donckers said.