NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. -- Stop & Shop has cut back its hot-food programs and has eliminated seating at a new store that opened here last month.
Ready-to-eat fare at this store is limited to pizza, sandwiches and rotisserie items with a few side dishes, and that represents a significant departure for the Quincy, Mass.-based chain.
After a dramatic entry into the meals arena three years ago with a resident chef and a 30-foot, self-service hot buffet at its Quincy flagship unit, the company has since installed fairly extensive hot programs in upwards of 15 of its more than 200 stores.
At some of those units, the company features chefs, carving stations, and made-to-order Chinese cuisine, and has even bolstered its seating capacity with added tables and chairs.
But the chain had already moved away from self-service hot foods to well-defined service counters at a store that opened two years ago in Stamford, Conn. (See "Service in the Court," SN, Oct. 20, 1997.)
"Self-service just presents more of a challenge in care and maintenance. With service, keeping the presentation right appears to be a little easier for us," said George Pauley, senior vice president for perishables, in an earlier interview.
While Stop & Shop officials declined to comment on the food-service offerings at the new store here, it's apparent the company has taken a step back toward basics just as many other supermarkets have begun to do, observers said. The challenge of store-level execution could be the driver as it has been for other chains that have talked to SN about simplifying their hot programs.
The food-service area here, situated on the right side of the store just beyond an eye-catching floral department, carries the banner, "The Kitchen Table." That designation, complete with stylized logo, was first used at the Stamford store. But unlike it, which featured an Asian chef, a made-to-order Caesar salad station and an extensive selection of "All-American" hot entrees, this store's hot focus in on pizza and rotiserrie only.
The pizza display case, about 10 feet long, is a combination self-service and service case of the type the company first started using at its Stamford store. Tiered shelves on the case's lower level show off whole, chilled pizzas. On top, at eye level, is a service shelf that holds cut pizzas. Associates can easily reach into the top shelf to cut a slice and then serve it up hot.
In addition to the old favorites like pepperoni and cheese, the pizza menu here included four "specialty" varieties the day SN visited the store. They were Hawaiian, barbecue, white (all cheese, no tomato sauce), and bacon and onion. Slices of the everyday varieties retailed for $1.19; the specialty varieties, $1.99. A whole regular pizza was $4.95 for a 10-inch and $8.95 for a 16-inch. A specialty pizza was $6.95 for a 10-inch and $10.95 for a 16-inch.
Next in line after the pizza station is a refrigerated case that displays a variety of foot-long sub sandwiches, all $5.50; and half subs, all $4.50.
A variety of wraps was also offered in that case. So were prepacked single servings of lasagna, spaghetti with sauce, rotisserie chicken parts and some side dishes such as mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese.
The hot rotisserie counter, next in line, included ribs and turkey breast, but primarily displayed chicken. A whole chicken was $4.49; four pieces, $3.49. Wings were priced by the pound, at $3.99. So were ribs, at $4.99.
Just three sides were offered hot. All varieties were $1.59 for a small container; $2.99 for a large.
Set at an angle between the floral department, which heads up the food-service aisle, and the pizza station is a small salad bar, no more than 8 feet in length. A small section at the end of that self-service bar held a few containers of prepacked salad.
Not including the salad bar, the three sections offering ready-to-eat food run no longer than 30 feet. A traditional deli that touts Boar's Head brand meats and cheeses follows. Then come the meat and seafood departments. Bakery, as it is at other Stop & Shop units, is situated on the opposite side of the store, in the front corner.
Unlike some Stop & Shop units that have chef-garbed associates on-site and more extensive hot-food service counters, the emphasis here is on self-service and chilled items. No Chinese food was on the menu and the only "theater" was provided by associates assembling pizzas. There was no focus on made-to-order sandwiches either.
The overall look is neat and clean with very visible signage designating the pizza station, the rotisserie hot counter, and the self-service sandwich case. Menu boards behind the counters are very clear, but no handout menus were available the day SN visited the store.
There is no seating here. By contrast, at the chain's Stamford location, seating at tables accommodates about 40 people. And at the Quincy flagship store, seating was bolstered with additional tables and chairs after the extensive hot buffet made its debut nearly three years ago. Space was made by trimming back the buffet table.
The demographics at the new site here, which opened May 20, are not significantly different from the Stop & Shop units where the hot-food programs are more extensive.
At this location, there is a mix of offices, high-rise apartment buildings and retail stores. A second, from-the-ground-up Stop & Shop unit is under construction just a few blocks away. Set to open the last of this month, that store will anchor a new shopping mall.