PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Wegmans plans to enter the table-service restaurant business by opening a 70-seat establishment, complete with valet parking, at its flagship store here.
The plan, as outlined in an application the Rochester, N.Y.-based company submitted to the town, calls for building an 8,000- to 9,000-square-foot, two-story addition to the front of the 119,000-square-foot store, with an exterior entrance, said Marty Brewster, deputy commissioner of public works for the town of Pittsford. The plan has not been approved by the town yet.
"This will be an expansion of their Market Cafe seating capacity," Brewster said, referring to the retailer's prepared foods umbrella, which includes fresh meals, pizza, a Chinese buffet and gourmet deli sandwiches, among other items.
Brewster said the company wants to open the restaurant prior to the end of the year. He said he wasn't familiar with the menu, but believed the fare would be similar to the items sold in the store's Market Cafe. Wine and beer would be available during lunch and dinner.
Proposed hours of operation are 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 5:30 to 11 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 to 11 p.m. Saturdays, and 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sundays.
A spokeswoman for Wegmans declined to comment on the proposal.
While the Rochester area historically has been a tough market for restaurants -- they open and close all the time -- Wegmans has the advantage of a strong reputation, said Mark Leenhouts, formerly of Wegmans and now president of RL & Associates, a Rochester food-industry consulting firm. He noted the stores are a destination, not only for grocery shoppers but customers looking for a good meal to take home.
Done well, a restaurant could attract a new breed of customer, Leenhouts said.
"You're getting a whole different level of person coming in who doesn't want to take food home, and wants a nice experience out," Leenhouts said.
In downtown San Mateo, Calif., on the second floor of its 64,000-square-foot store, Draeger's Supermarkets operates a white-linen, 160-seat restaurant that's been featured in Bon Appetit and Gourmet magazines.
Viognier opened in 1997 with Gary Danko, a California cooking star who made his name at the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco. In 1989, he was recognized as one of the 10 best new chefs in America by Food & Wine magazine, and also earned Viognier Esquire magazine's "Best New Restaurant" award. Danko now operates his own San Francisco restaurant.
Twelve miles away, in Menlo Park, Calif., Draeger's also operates the Bistro, a casual, 80-seat restaurant that features a variety of pastas, salads and European-style sandwiches -- made with breads baked in retailer's scratch bakeries. The Bistro is also on the second floor of Draeger's 48,000-square-foot store.
The restaurants have made Draeger's a destination for people who live outside the typical five-mile radius within which supermarkets draw customers, said Richard Draeger, one of the chain's owners.
While Draeger cannot credit the restaurants directly for the recent sales increases posted in the prepared foods departments of the stores, he thinks the restaurants raise awareness of those departments.
"If you do it well in the restaurant, people subliminally take that professionalism and apply it to the rest of the food service you've got in the supermarket," he said.
One of the greatest challenges involved is creating restaurant atmosphere that bears no resemblance to a supermarket, he said.
"If you want to sell breakfast, lunch and dinner, you've got to create atmosphere, intimacy and all of that romance," Draeger said. "It better not look like a supermarket. Architecturally, you've got to create a separate, intimate space."
Lunds and Byerly's stores operate casual, family-style restaurants at seven Byerly's and one Lunds store in the Twin Cities. There, the dinner menu features familiar items, including walleye -- a favorite fish in the Midwest. For breakfast, diners can order cinnamon circle French toast, a take-off on cinnamon circle bread sold in Byerly's scratch bakeries. Some of the salads are also sold in the store delis.
"We try to showcase some of the signature items we have in the store," said Steve Vuolo, vice president of marketing for Edina, Minn.-based Lund Food Holdings.