ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Wegmans Food Markets here has applied to the New York State Liquor Authority for licenses that would enable it to serve alcoholic beverages in two of its five in-store cafes.
The aim is simply to complement the food offered on the cafe menus, a Wegmans' spokeswoman said, and not to open bars. "We have no intention of having a bar in the Market Cafes," said Jo Natale, coordinator of consumer services for the 48-unit chain. "We just want to offer people the choices they can find in other family restaurants."
Food at the cafes, which go by the name of Market Cafe and include in-store seating, includes grilled seafood and steaks, freshly made pizza and pasta with a variety of gourmet toppings, as well as fresh Chinese and Thai selections. All are Wegmans' programs, presided over by resident chefs. There's a children's menu, and child-sized pizza slices.
The liquor licenses would allow the retailer to serve hard liquor as well as beer and wine, "but we'll only serve beer and wine and that will be by the glass," Natale said.
At the cafes, which are designed to look like European markets, freshly prepared food is offered up at a number of different preparation stations. Customers make their choices at the stations, pay in the cafe area rather than at the front-end checkouts, and seat themselves at booths, tables or counters that are situated among artificial trees, strings of lights and other decor. In one Market Cafe, seating accommodates upward of 200.
SN has profiled two of the Market Cafes in previous issues: Sept. 14, 1992 and June 21, 1993.
When asked late last month if Wegmans would restrict itself to New York State wines, Natale said, "We don't have the licenses yet. When we get them, we'll decide what types and brands we'll offer."
She emphasized that the chain views selling wine and beer by the glass as an experiment.
"That's why we'll start with just the two Market Cafes," she said. Liquor is intended for units at Canandaigua, N.Y., a lake-side resort community, and in Pennfield, a small community on the edge of Rochester.
Natale said the demographics of the communities had nothing to do with the choice of those two Market Cafes for liquor licenses. She declined to say whether consumer demand for alcoholic beverages had spurred the chain to apply for the licenses.
While Wegmans is known for keeping its finger on the pulse of the community and for running frequent consumer focus groups, Natale declined to offer any information garnered from focus groups or surveys.
Some industry sources have speculated that the chain is gearing up to promote its Market Cafes for highly profitable wedding receptions and other large parties that would want alcoholic beverages served. But Natale said that was not the reason for applying for liquor licenses.
"We have already catered some parties in the Market Cafes and this would be a nice addition to offer, but the real intent is to offer our everyday customers more beverage choices," she added.
"The more choices we can offer, the more people will like
eating in our restaurants."
Wegmans filed the license applications May 2. It normally takes four to six weeks for processing of such an application, said an official at the Buffalo division of the New York City-based New York State Liquor Authority, which has jurisdiction over Canandaigua and Pennfield. He said it can take up to three months if any hitches are encountered, but added, "I don't foresee any problems. We know Wegmans. They're a multiple licensee. They hold other New York State licenses such as those for selling beer and wine coolers in the grocery department."
And even though the zoning board in Pennfield must approve Wegmans' selling beer and wine by the glass, Natale said she doesn't anticipate any blocks. "We don't know, of course, but we've heard of very little opposition to this move," she said. U.S. citizenship, good financial condition and freedom from any criminal arrests are prerequisites for being granted a liquor license in New York State, the Liquor Authority official said. Wegmans is the first supermarket chain in the Liquor Authority's Buffalo district that has ever applied for a license to serve alcoholic beverages by the glass. The process, however, is the same as it would be for any other person or company that's looking to acquire a license to sell liquor in the state, the official added.