HOUSTON -- A recent one-two punch of food and floral upgrades at Rice Epicurean Market here has boosted the company's high-end retail edibles department with specialty caviar kiosks and reinvigorated its custom floral division under a newly hired design specialist and name change.
Two Rice Epicurean stores, at 3745 Westheimer and 5016 San Felipe, have just begun featuring Petrossian Paris caviar, as well as other exotic delicacies unique to the Houston area.
The Petrossian Paris company, with a restaurant and a boutique in New York City, has been a family-run business for more than 80 years, and gained its reputation in the early 1920s by bringing French aristocrats Russian caviar. Today, the company remains the principal buyer and importer of Russian caviar worldwide, and family members continue to handpick the top-quality caviar while maintaining exclusive importing agreements with France and North America.
At Rice stores, the Petrossian Paris kiosks offer three types of Russian caviar to customers, with prices ranging from $39.99 for 30 grams of Sevruga to $449.99 for 250 grams of Beluga. Other items available include Winter Truffles from Perigord for $99.99 per eight ounces and 80 grams of Whole Goose Duck or Goose Foie Gras for $39.99.
The two new, in-store kiosks are composed of shelved, four-foot refrigerated service cases that are located in the deli department of each store, according to Douglas Dick, the retailer's vice president of food service operations. The stations are strategically positioned near deli cases containing gourmet cheeses, mousse, tofu, truffles and other high-end products in hopes of maintaining and adding to the themed selection of foods in that area of the store.
The kiosks in both stores are staffed by Rice Epicurean employees, each having taken part in informational meetings with Petrossian Paris managers, who discussed the various products and their handling with each associate, said Dick.
Rice Epicurean is the sole Houston food market offering the Petrossian Paris products, and Dick believes they are one of only a minute number of retailers in the entire country who sell the items through kiosks.
Sales have been soaring over the holiday season, and should continue through New Year's Eve, according to Dick. It will be the following month's sales that will tell whether Houston consumers are a true marketing match for such products.
"We're experimenting with it right now, for at least a year," said Dick. "After that, it is up to the shoppers to tell us what they think through their purchasing."
Rice Epicurean has always carried some caviar selections in its deli departments, but Dick said that consumer interest in a wider variety of delicacies, such as truffles, prompted the introduction of the new stations.
In keeping with the aristocratic airs of the caviar kiosks, Rice Epicurean Market has also improved its custom floral division by handing the reigns over to Mark Miller, a popular florist and design specialist known for his grand-opening celebration flower arrangements throughout the Houston area.
With the department now known by its new name, Epicurean Custom Floral Designs by Mark Miller, the company strategy is to refocus attention on detail and creativity, using the freshest local and imported flowers available when planning arrangements for customers.
The department concentrates its efforts on creating floral arrangements for special events, parties and other festivities. Under Miller, it will oversee each Rice Epicurean store individually, based on a store's need for floral assistance and special orders, said Bruce Levy, Rice's chief financial officer.
According to Levy, the company "saw a great opportunity to better serve customers on a custom basis" by bringing Miller aboard, and his reputation as a top-notch designer brought a wide following of loyal clients and consumers to the Rice Epicurean name.
"Those who deal in flowers and buy flowers in this area know Mark and know that his work is the best," said Levy. "He adds a new dimension to our own efforts."
Headquartered at 5323 Gulfton in Houston, the new design studio will act as the department's business and production hub, he added. While in-store floral departments at all seven locations continue to prepare small-scale floral designs and offer pre-made arrangements and flowers, the custom department will handle most major events and orders that require extensive amounts of planning and preparation, said Levy.
The new custom design department also works independently of the in-store departments in generating its own client base throughout the Houston area while continuing to "complement" the floral department efforts at each store.
Miller, who earned degrees in art education and horticulture, has been in the floral industry for more than 23 years and is now the chief designer of the custom floral division at Rice Epicurean.
"Mark has worked with us in the past on various projects, and when we realized that a more concrete relationship could be developed, we jumped at the opportunity," said Levy.
Though the company has always had outside custom floral design separate from its in-store departments, the new Mark Miller version will be viewed as the best around, said Levy, and the company is excited having someone with such "creativity and enthusiasm" on board.