- Whole Foods will open its first standalone restaurant next Thursday in Atlanta, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The Roast is a Brazilian restaurant concept that offers a fast-casual take on the country’s style of grilled beef, or “churrasco.”
- Located next to the retailer’s Ponce de Leon Avenue store in Midtown, the new restaurant will let customers order from digital kiosks, and will feature a rotating lineup of seasonal ingredients. Each “bowl” customers create will incorporate a protein, greens, a grain and a sauce, and will cost between $7 and $8.
- Whole Foods has partnered with Atlanta chefs to produce some of its featured bowls. First up is a “Flavor of the Andes” bowl from chef Kevin Gillespie that includes roasted purple potatoes, Peruvian red chicken, golden beets, peanuts and mint.
Standalone restaurants can be challenging for retailers to pull off. Customers don’t always trust that a company that sells milk and cereal can also cook up a good steak. Also, restaurants are a different sort of business for supermarkets to run, with staffing, operational and regulatory challenges that are quite different from day-to-day grocery work.
But some, like Hy-Vee, which operates more a hundred Market Grille and Market Grille Express restaurants, have shown that retailers can be successful restaurateurs. The Midwest retailer’s success here is attributable to numerous factors, all of which can be summed up this way: It knows what its customers want.
Done right, restaurants can build brand loyalty and invite shoppers to see a different side of the retailer. There can also be profitable cross-pollination between the restaurant and the supermarket, both in terms of foot traffic and food offerings.
Whole Foods, which offers all sorts of sophisticated prepared food offerings, and has dabbled in everything from wine bars to burger stands in its stores, should be a natural at the restaurant game. Indeed, Brazilian churrasco is a natural evolution of the grocers’ numerous ethnic prepared foods. This restaurant also borrows a build-your-own concept familiar to anyone who’s ever visited a Chipotle.
The company could certainly use a hit right now considering its recent struggles. With sales growth down lately and investors voicing their displeasure, Whole Foods has instituted many retail blocking-and-tackling measures it has long resisted. But many worry the company may sacrifice its core values in the process. The Roast, however, is vintage Whole Foods: trendy, flavor-forward, unique. It should appeal to the retailer’s core customers, and could be a sign that the retailer’s identity is still very much intact.