HIGHLAND VILLAGE, Texas -- Minyard Food Stores has opened its first full-blown food court in its newest store here, with a layout deliberately reminiscent of a typical food court in a shopping mall.
The court, composed of six branded food concepts, takes up about 1,500 square feet at one of the store's two entrances. It is visible through the front window and a sign outside identifies it as "The Food Court at Minyard." Adjacent seating, both indoors and outside, is included.
The court was designed and positioned so that shoppers know immediately that the store offers a separate facility offering fresh hot food, said officials at Minyard and at Orion Food Systems, the food court operator that is leasing space within the store. Orion specializes in food-service concepts within retail settings.
While hot food and seating are not new to Minyard, this store represents the chain's biggest commitment yet to court-style food service. Whether this particular concept will be put into other new stores and remodels has not yet been decided, said Minyard officials.
"We've wanted to try this type of concept, and this has been our first opportunity because we have enough space at this location," said Ted Fullerton, vice president for Minyard, based in Coppell, Texas. "We also felt it would do well here, and it is."
Fullerton said that establishing a full-fledged food court at the 69,000-square-foot store -- Minyard's largest to date -- demonstrates the company's dedication to making one-stop shopping possible. A branch of the U.S. post office, a bank and a dry cleaner are also offered inside the new store.
The six Orion hot-food concepts -- Moose Bros. Pizza, Joey Pagoda's Oriental Express, Eddie Pepper's Mexican Food, Chix rotisserie and fried chicken, MacGregor's Market sub shop and Cinnamon Street gourmet cinnamon rolls -- are lined up along the left wall of the store. Each sports its own brand logo in neon, a menu board and a back-lighted, poster-sized photo of the foods featured.
The inside seating area accommodates 100, at 25 tables with four chairs each. Patio seating is available outside.
Jack Murdock, Minyard's director of food service, said convenience for the customer was a prime consideration for the food court's layout, which was created jointly by Minyard and Orion.
"It can be shopped easily. I like this look better than other configurations I've seen because all the concepts are in one line. Customers see everything at once," Murdock said.
"Customers say they love it, and sales have exceeded our expectations," he added. Sales are about evenly divided between lunchtime and early evening, he noted.
Minyard executives would not reveal details about the court's sales volume so far. A source at Orion's said the food court is one of its own top performers and is grabbing a significant share of total store distribution.
"Our goal is 4% of store sales, and we're already doing 5% of store sales at the new Minyard store," said Mark Elliott, vice president of marketing and corporate operations for Orion, which is based in Sioux Falls, S.D.
The store is on a main artery that carries extensive commuter traffic back and forth from downtown Dallas. While there are no office buildings nearby, it is adjacent to an upscale residential development filled with middle- to upper-income families.
"People running in after work can grab pizza and Chinese food or other hot foods to take home, and also pick up milk and bread without having to make several stops along the way," Fullerton said.
Fullerton said Orion's track record and existing relationship with Minyard led the chain to work with the food-service provider on the new project, rather than put together a food court with its own programs or assemble a combination of quick-service brands on its own.
"We've had Moose Bros. pizza shops in several of our stores for a long time. Orion also has food-service experience," Fullerton explained.
Orion's Elliott said the proximity to the entrance is a key to success. "I had the opportunity to spend eight hours one day at the Minyard food court, and I estimate that two out of 10 customers were destination customers," Elliott said.
Howard Solganik, a Dayton, Ohio-based consultant who works with supermarkets on food-service concepts, agreed that both the entrance and the sign outside are important.
"From the outside of the store, you can tell they're in the quick-service meal business. Supermarkets should be doing things like that to make it easy for the customer to understand what they're offering," Solganik said.
Elliott said the variety of hot foods offered is also a strength.
"You want enough variety to appeal to different tastes and to capture all the day parts. I saw families come into the Minyard store and the kids and parents would all go to different concepts," he said.
Elliott also noted that the food court design in the Minyard store, with its clear food court identity, will serve as the prototype for future Orion ventures in supermarkets.
"It's important to the consumer for a food court to look like what it is," Elliott said. "Research, on which we've based our five-year strategic marketing plan, has shown that consumers want a food court in a supermarket to look like the food courts they've become familiar with elsewhere."
Until last year, Orion had done the bulk of its business with convenience stores, but has begun to further develop its business in supermarkets, he added.
Minyard operates 48 stores under the Minyard Food Stores banner, 19 Sack-n-Save warehouse format stores and 13 smaller Carnival stores.