BETHESDA, Md. -- Former Star Market and Sutton Place Gourmet executive Philip Masiello and a business partner purchased two Prego Gourmet Markets at prime Washington locations that they will turn into retail meal outlets.
The acquisition brings to three the stores that Masiello and his partner, food-industry entrepreneur Steven Krane, will develop for their takeout meals company, Your Ultimate Meals Store, which they launched last fall here [SN Dec. 23, 1996].
By the end of April, the markets will begin operating under the banner of Your Ultimate Meals Store, according to Masiello. Another unit, soon to be under construction in another part of Washington, is set to open in July.
The purchase of the two specialty stores was completed March 12. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed, but Masiello said that "all parties are extremely happy." The previous owners -- Michael Wipranik and Daniel Booth -- in business since 1984, will stay on as minority partners, Masiello said.
Both markets are located at DuPont Circle, a high-income residential section that also has a preponderance of high-rung offices occupied by law and lobbying firms and consulates.
"DuPont Circle is one of the urban residential sections of Washington that has a tremendous amount of commercial presence," Masiello said.
The Prego stores -- one with 1,700 square feet of space and the other with 2,000 square feet -- are within seven blocks of each other but serve entirely different markets, Masiello said. So does a Sutton on the Run store, operated by Sutton Place Gourmet, Rockville, Md., that's within two blocks of one of the Prego stores.
"They're all in different trade areas. This part of Washington is made up of such distinct neighborhoods. You walk two or three blocks and you're in a different neighborhood," Masiello said.
He noted that there's a unit of Oakland, Calif.-based Safeway directly across the street from one of the Prego stores, but he doesn't consider it competition. Masiello said the real competition is restaurants, of which there are many.
"We're going to try to grab some of the restaurant business. We'll go after customers who are eating out six or seven times a week and get them to try us a couple of those nights," he said.
The product mix at Your Ultimate Meals Store will be about 90% ready-to-eat-or-heat meals and 10% wine, Masiello told SN.
That contrasts with the present mix: 60% salads and sandwiches, 20% dry groceries and 20% wine. Renovation and the addition of new fixtures are under way, Masiello said.
Gourmet pizza, hot and chilled, whole and by the slice, will be on the new menu. Panini, sushi, a made-to-order salad station, and a juice bar are in the plans, too, Masiello said. And made- to-order sandwiches will stay.
"Prego has been doing a phenomenal sandwich and salad business. We'll certainly retain those, and expand upon them," Masiello said.
The Your Ultimate Meals Store partners have kept the Prego stores open during renovation. When construction and retrofitting is complete, the stores' new incarnations will be heralded via local radio ads and handouts, Masiello said.
Prior to doing a year and a half stint at Cambridge, Mass.-based Star as director of fresh food, Masiello was vice president of food production at Sutton Place Gourmet.