CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Harper's Restaurant, a chain here that operates four Harper's restaurants as well as the more upscale Mimosa Grill, is making a go at providing its popular meals for patrons on the run.
Harper's is a family-style chain that offers medium-priced fare, with two locations here, and one each in Columbia, S.C., and Louisville, Ky. The single-unit Mimosa Grill operates out of Charlotte.
Under the banner ToGoGo, the new takeout idea brings elements of both concepts' menus and other exclusive dishes to a single location.
According to Tom Sasser, president of Harper's, the idea behind the first meals-to-go unit was to build on an existing takeout program at the Harper's located in the Southpark section here, where fresh meals prepared in the restaurant are literally walked over to the ToGoGo outlet, he said.
"We have a very strong 'to-go' business at our Southpark restaurant and we wanted to make that more convenient for our guests," said Sasser.
Since the back of the 1,200-square-foot ToGoGo concept is connected to the back door of the 7,000-square-foot Harper's Restaurant by a short path, patrons can conveniently access both facilities.
"I think we had an opportunity to take a very high-profile piece of property right beside the restaurant," he said of the proximity of the ToGoGo unit. "We are trying to offer something our guests were obviously demanding, plus we think we can open ourselves up to a lot of new guests."
Sasser said fresh-meals outlets are a popular concept in the Charlotte area -- local competitors include Harris Teeter Express, Reed's Better Foods, and New York-based Dean & Deluca. ToGoGo, Sasser explained, plans to stay ahead of its competition by offering meals solutions directly off the Harper's menu.
"One thing that we're doing is we're actually preparing foods that we serve in both our concepts, Harper's [Restaurant] and Mimosa Grill," he said. "Many of those items that have been very popular in the restaurant we've taken into the ToGoGo facility. Now, people can get those things in a hurry, served in the portion that they want."
ToGoGo's 20-item, hot-and-cold bar is the centerpiece for half of the concept's footprint. The walkaround offers entrees and vegetable sides for $4.25 a pound. Customers can grab a container and fill it with such items as penne pasta with six cheeses, chicken pot pie with a corn bread crust, Harper's signature meatloaf with gravy or house-pulled barbecued pork. They can also add to that a host of sides such as yellow squash casserole, slow-cooked green beans, Carolina coleslaw or Southern succotash.
On the salad side of the bar, customers can create a number of options from the various types of greens and dressings, also for $4.25 a pound. They can also choose premade deli salads like pasta or potato salad, or roasted marinated vegetables for the same price.
Soups are also on the menu, including chili vegetable or the soup of the day, ranging in price from $1.25 to $4.95. Customers can also get sandwiches, costing between $5.95 and $6.50, either premade from the refrigerated case or freshly prepared at the service deli counter. The sandwich menu includes items like oven-roasted turkey, Southwest chicken salad and Pannini of the day, all served with a choice of cheeses, toppings and breads from the local bakery, Nova's.
Against one wall at ToGoGo is a line of grab-and-go selections. The first of three cases houses premade pizzas and sandwiches that include "Cook at Home" pizza, each built upon Harper's signature crust, for $8.95 each. Varieties include barbecue, spicy shrimp and traditional Sicilian pies.
The next case merchandises "Salads-Sweets-Dips," where desserts and premade salads are found. Desserts include Mimosa Grill's signature pecan tart for $4.50 and apple pie for $3.75 a slice.The last case in the line holds the concept's grab-and-go selections. This cold prepared-foods case offers entrees at various prices, like Harper's Danish baby back ribs for $12.95, smoked trout and crab cakes for $9.95, and whole roasted chicken and half chickens for $8.95 and $4.95, respectively. Each of the prepared meals and chickens comes in black-bottom, clear-top containers that are microwaveable.
On the opposite wall, there is a self-service beverage center that includes gourmet coffees and a cappuccino/espresso maker. Soda fountain drinks and juices are also available. A specialty beer and wine selection is located closer to the food cases, next to the pizza and sandwich case.
According to Sasser, one of the operational benefits of the ToGoGo format lies in the ability to treat it as a research-and-development lab, where recipes can be tested and sales monitored before the company undertakes the expense of incorporating the successful item into the restaurants' regular menu mix.
"We're working right now on a new stuffed pepper that we think will go over well," he said.
Sasser said that he plans to add 10 small cafe tables out in front of ToGoGo for customers who would rather eat the food on the site.