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The Pub brings full-service dining to Wegmans supermarket chain

The Pub brings full-service dining to Wegmans supermarket chain

COLLEGEVILLE PA. Wegmans has joined the small collection of supermarket brands that have made the leap into the full-service restaurant arena, experts doubt such in-store eateries pose a significant threat to foodservice operators. —While upscale grocery chain

However, many acknowledge that supermarkets are doing a more effective job upgrading prepared-food offerings for takeout or eat-in and, as a result, are capturing a greater share of the away-from-home food dollar. —While upscale grocery chain

Wegmans Markets Inc., the 74-unit chain based in Rochester, N.Y., debuted The Pub, a table-service restaurant and bar, in the chain’s newest outlet, a 132,000-square-foot store in the Providence Town Center shopping mall here. The restaurant is housed in the store’s sprawling Market Café area, which offers shoppers an extensive range of prepared foods. —While upscale grocery chain

Wegmans, which opened the new location earlier this month near Philadelphia, is the latest grocery chain to test its mettle against local restaurant operators. Other grocery brands operating on-premise full-service restaurants include Whole Foods, Bristol Farms, Buehler’s and Lunds/Bylerly’s. —While upscale grocery chain

Whole Foods recently opened a new store in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood that offers several in-store restaurants specializing in the cuisines of Mexico, Italy and Asia as well as operations offering barbecued meats and sandwiches. —While upscale grocery chain

Supermarkets have long been portrayed as serious competition for foodservice operators in the battle for the consumer food dollar. According to Technomic Inc., the Chicago-based foodservice research and consulting firm, ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat prepared foods in supermarkets generated about $14.7 billion in sales in 2008. Between 2006 and 2008 supermarket sales of those items rose 7 percent to 8 percent annually, Technomic said. —While upscale grocery chain

But while supermarkets are ratcheting up competition with regard to prepared-food sales, observers don’t see grocery chains emerging as significant rivals within the table-service arena. —While upscale grocery chain

“It’s just a modest development, not really that significant,” said Ron Paul, president of Technomic Inc. “As a restaurateur I wouldn’t give it a second thought.” —While upscale grocery chain

Experts cite the wide operational gulf that exists between restaurants and grocery stores, making it unattractive for many supermarket brands to embark on a potentially costly full-service venture. —While upscale grocery chain

“The economics of running a restaurant are very different than those of running a grocery business,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research for the National Restaurant Association. “Labor demands and economics are dramatically different. Some [supermarkets] have entered it and withdrawn.” —While upscale grocery chain

David J. Livingston of DJL Research, a supermarket location research firm in Waukesha, Wis., noted that the trend toward opening full-service supermarket restaurants “is not widespread.” —While upscale grocery chain

“Not a lot of grocery stores can put forth restaurant-quality food,” he said. “It takes a lot of commitment and the right staff. The ones that are squeezing dollars don’t do it very well. Wegmans is an exception to the rule.” —While upscale grocery chain

Wegmans, in fact, said it is planning to build a second Pub operation in its soon-to-open Malvern, Pa., store. Jo Natale, a Wegmans’ spokeswoman, told Bnet that, following that opening, the company plans to evaluate the concept before making the commitment to open additional outlets. —While upscale grocery chain

In the Collegeville Wegmans, The Pub is part of the Market Café, which offers shoppers a wide range of prepared foods for takeout or eat-in, such as burritos, panini sandwiches, sushi, pizza and a buffet of Asian-inspired dishes. The entire section has combined indoor and outdoor seating for 300. —While upscale grocery chain

The Pub is modeled after traditional Irish pubs, and offers beer, wine or liquor in addition to food items. The restaurant features an open kitchen. Shoppers also can sit at the 24-seat bar and order from the restaurant menu. —While upscale grocery chain

Chris Happel, the Collegeville store’s executive chef, said in a statement: “We want this to be a great place for families to dine. Our philosophy is to start with the best ingredients, go easy on sauces and seasoning, and let those simply prepared foods shine on the plate. Customers can watch dinner being cooked in The Pub and ask the chef any questions they like.” —While upscale grocery chain

The Pub’s menu offers a broad range of food items, priced competitively with some casual-dining operations. For instance, the menu features such main dishes as signature crab cake with remoulade sauce for $10.99; Vietnamese black tiger shrimp with bouillabaisse sauce, $9.99; grilled 6-ounce New York strip steak with chimichurri sauce or demi-glace for $10.99; and Australian lamb chops, also with chimichurri sauce or demi-glace, for $11.99. —While upscale grocery chain

All food items list calorie counts. —While upscale grocery chain

The drink menu features single-malt scotches, wines by the glass and handcrafted beers. —While upscale grocery chain

Both the food and drink menus advise customers “No tipping necessary,” which is likely to appeal to value shoppers. —While upscale grocery chain

Nancy Kruse, president of The Kruse Co., a menu trends analyst based in Atlanta, called the menu “unexpected” and “interesting.” —While upscale grocery chain

“Wegmans is a best-in-class operation,” she said. “If anyone can pull off [operating a full-service restaurant], they could.” —While upscale grocery chain

Nevertheless, she added: “My take on it is a little guarded. At the end of the day, I don’t believe someone would go there for the experience, for the service, for the escape factor. I don’t know that even a very good supermarket restaurant will be very competitive.” —While upscale grocery chain

However, she also observed that there has been “a major shift in foodservice dynamics.” —While upscale grocery chain

“Consumer behavior has shifted radically,” she said. “So it’s not inconceivable that there might be the makings of a small but highly niched segment there.”— [email protected] —While upscale grocery chain

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