NEW YORK - Really Cool Foods, a new retail concept built upon component cooking, offers Manhattanites an easy, quick solution for healthy home-cooked meals.
Located in Manhattan's Upper East Side, the 4,000-square-foot store, which opened earlier this year, displays in-store kiosks that hold recipe cards for dozens of salad, pasta, stir fry and risotto dishes. Customers - typically busy urbanities looking for ways to speed up the process of cooking dinner, according to owner and founder Michael Recanati - can choose a recipe card and find all of the ingredients or components in the store; they are pre-cut, portioned and seasoned. All recipes are designed to be prepared at home in 20 minutes or less. As an added bonus, everything in the store is natural or organic.
Observers might view the concept as an outgrowth of the easy-meal preparation companies that have sprung up across the country, but Recanati believes the concept is different. "Our primary motivation was that there was nothing catering to people who want an alternative to cooking from scratch."
The difference between RCF and easy meal prep companies, according to David Starr, vice president, retail operations, RCF, is that with the easy-meal companies, consumers are essentially putting leftovers in the freezer and heating them up days later for dinner. RCF offers a quick meal made that day from fresh ingredients. "Our case ingredients are ready to go, and the recipes are completely customizable," he said. "[However,] it's not take-out - we still require you to spend 10 minutes and a pot [at home]." Recipes in the store are easy and flexible, he said, allowing customers to be "masters of their own destiny."
For those who want to spend even less time in the store, "dish kits" are available, which are pre-bagged recipes with all the ingredients. Dish kits can feed three to four people, and cost $12-$15 per person.
The upscale store also offers a variety of premium cheeses, pastas imported from Italy, natural and organic pet food and baby food, and a small variety of pots, pans and other kitchen necessities. An in-house bakery with over two dozen specialty breads is also featured.
Recanati believes three reasons make the store stand out among other retailers. First is a service model that "really thinks old- fashioned." Customers are well taken care of and employees are knowledgeable and helpful. Second, because the store sells all-natural and organic products, "You know in our store you'll find something better for you," he said. Third, the store offers a wide range of products. "You can buy all the things that help you eat without having to go to different locations."
"We opened because we believe in the concept," Starr said. "We figured there might be a reason someone else didn't do this before, so we didn't know how it would turn out, but people are actually thanking us." Because it is a new concept, Starr said the biggest challenge was educating customers and employees simultaneously. RCF advertises in local print media, health clubs and phone kiosks, among other outlets.
Sales are "better than expected," Recanati said. "Since we just opened in May, we have yet to go through a full cycle, but if sales stay as they are, we would be very pleased."
"We thought we'd start with more products, and then cut down depending on what sells," Starr said. However, "We have 1,000 SKUs, and all of them are selling."
RCF also sells a private-label line of premium chocolates and a "drizzle" line, which can be used in stir fry dishes or as salad dressings. Recanati and Starr believe this could ultimately turn into a product line sold at other retailers.
The retailer has a distribution center in Syosset, N.Y., where all of the preparation is done by chefs and shipped to the store daily.