PARSIPPANY, N.J. — Kings Super Markets here has successfully launched a unique, event-packed meal solution program at its flagship store in Short Hills, N.J., amid accolades from its customers.
Fresh seafood pinwheels, King's exclusive “naked” lobsters and demo cooking by New York restaurant owner and celebrity chef Cesare Casella took center stage on kick-off day, Nov. 12.
As noted in SN's online newsletter, the 24-unit chain's new Dining Solutions for the 21st Century program — also referred to as Experience Food — includes practical food prep instruction, cooking tips and meal preparation by chefs, including celebrity chefs.
The multi-event program “is designed to showcase our food expertise, our featured products and our use of modern technology to help customers with meal solutions in every way we can,” Kings' director of training Jessica Gasser told SN.
Built around the chain's seafood and meat departments, the program got its send-off with a value-added seafood demo by Chef Andrew Paules of supplier South Bay Seafood. He showed customers how he makes fresh salmon pinwheels and salmon patties, and he told them how to cook them. Each day, the value-added items — already assembled and ready for the customers' home kitchens — are delivered to Kings.
Another attention-getter that day was a talk about Kings' “naked” lobsters. The shell-less whole-body lobsters are brought in frozen. Their supplier explained to customers the process of de-shelling. Then he poached one of the lobsters, and made a Cobb salad with the meat from it.
“We sampled everything that we made, and we received so much feedback from customers,” Gasser said. “They were particularly happy that they could ask questions and get answers right there.”
The opening day's events culminated in a cooking demo at 4 p.m. by New York City restaurateur Cesare Casella.
“The Chef Cesare event was a huge success. Many customers that had already begun their shopping, ‘parked’ their shopping carts to sit for an hour and a half, and watch this high-profile chef prepare four dishes,” Gasser said.
Cesare prepared an appetizer — a pear wrapped in gorgonzola and truffle ham — and then cavolini con prosciutto, pumpkin risotto and veal marsala.
“We handed out recipes, and customers said they loved having the ability to also take home some of the items already prepared,” Gasser said.
For every item chefs prepare, customers are given a recipe and the opportunity to buy the ingredients, displayed right at the cooking stage, or they can purchase the separate items, or the whole meal already cooked, ready for reheating at home.
Gasser said each event that first day drew an audience of 25 to 30 people who sat through the demos. Several people were seen taking notes. Gasser said that on Friday she saw one woman who attended all three of the day's events.
“She [the customer] told me she often shops three times a week in the Short Hills store, but she said that was the first time she'd ever come to the store three times in one day,” Gasser said.
“Attendance was very good considering we hadn't done any promoting of the events outside the store.” Only bag-stuffers, the company website and other notices in-store had alerted customers.
All weekend, the store was in excitement mode, Gasser pointed out. Television monitors placed in different parts of the store showed what was going on the “cooking stage,” which is part of a retrofit of the store's cooking class studio.
Over the weekend, pumpkin risotto and shrimp creole were big hits, Gasser said.
One of the remarkable things about this Kings' endeavor is that it's not just for weekends. It's daily. Three separate events are scheduled for most days between now and the end of the year — such as one that demonstrates how to tie, roast or carve a turkey, as well as cooking demos by chefs.
In fact, 70 separate events are on the agenda between now and Dec. 31, Gasser pointed out.
Last Monday, Augie Bono, produce manager at the Short Hills store, stepped into the stage's spotlight to show customers how to prepare and stuff an artichoke and cook it in a way that keeps it tender.
Bono is one of 21 “Food Masters” recruited by Gasser and her core team, from among officials and employees chainwide.
The 21 Food Masters include some corporate officials, store department managers, and full-time and part-time associates. Communications were sent out to everybody in the company several weeks ago, describing Meal Solutions for the 21st Century aka Experience Food project. Employees at all levels were invited to describe what, and how, they could contribute to the project. From many applications, the 21 were chosen, Gasser said.
“It's real teamwork and I think that's why everybody is so excited. The team was chosen for their food knowledge, but also for their interest, and their ability to communicate their excitement about food,” Gasser said.
“We're all in this together, from the planning stages on,” and that, Gasser said, is one of the things that makes the program unique.
The Food Masters are encouraged to bring their own ideas to the table.
One of the next weekday events as this issue went to press was an Apple Pie Contest, orchestrated by Ken Downey, Kings' director of bakery sales and merchandising. Downey, one of the Food Masters, had the idea, got sponsors for it and was to supervise the event on Nov. 18.
Kings' customers were invited to enter their best apple pie recipe in a contest that was to be judged at the Short Hills store by outside bakery experts. SN will report on the results in a later issue.
The jam-packed line-up of events is a companywide effort with the full support of Kings' executive team — Judy Spires, chief executive officer; Fred Brohm, executive vice president, merchandising and marketing; and Rich Durante, senior vice president of operations.