"On Special" is a monthly look at top store categories and the retailers that specialize in them.
At its flagship store in Meridian, Idaho, Albertsons is toasting to a new year at Talon Tap & Spirits, its bright and busy in-store bar.
Whether they’re looking to warm up from the chill of winter, catch a Boise State Broncos game or sample a craft brew, customers can come to Talon Tap & Spirits to enjoy libations and freshly made food.
Bar manager Kris Westergard has been overseeing the bar since the store opened last spring. He told Grocery Dive the company's priority is offering a welcoming environment that brings in customers and encourages them to spend more time dining and shopping with them.
Talon serves up all the classics — beer on tap, cocktails and wine — but Westergard said photo-worthy drinks and seasonal inspiration help the bar staff stay on trend.
"There’s a lot of social media out there these days and people are attracted to pictures. People are attracted to pretty things, pretty drinks," he said. That means staff regularly Googles, scrolls and searches to learn what people are looking for and what’s becoming popular.
To cater to the current season, Talon’s winter menu includes a cranberry sparkler, a signature cocktail that incorporates champagne and a cranberry shrub simple syrup made with apple cider vinegar. The festive drink is garnished with rosemary and cranberry to finish it off.
With a liquor license that covers the entire store, shoppers can also order their drinks and take them along as they shop for groceries.
One of the bar’s best-sellers is a vodka lemonade — but it has a twist. "We put activated charcoal in it to make it black, and we put it in a mason jar for a different presentation. People love that," Westergard said.
Another popular drink is the Alley Cat, which is similar to a Moscow Mule but made with fresh peaches.
Talon also offers a food menu with pub favorites like crispy wings, flatbreads, burgers and other made-to-order selections from Albertsons’ chef-prepared foods section.
Off the rocks
Beyond serving up drinks, Talon Tap & Spirits is a gathering place for locals. The bar has a steady schedule of events, from Game Days to live music on Friday and Saturday nights. There are also beer and spirits tasting events three times a week on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Westergard said.
The grocery store has become a hot spot in Meridian — a place where some couples will even go for a date night, said Kathy Holland, spokesperson for Albertsons’ Intermountain Division.
The grocer also operates an in-store bar called Broadway on the Rocks at its nearby Boise flagship.
"People come here to do work, they break out their laptops," Westergard said. "It’s a comfortable experience that other grocery stores don’t have."
From the shelves
Talon staff have the advantage of being able to pick ingredients off Albertsons’ store shelves for their creations, and Westergard said the bartenders use local products in the cocktails.
Over the summer, for example, the store had fresh, local huckleberries available and Talon crafted a special cocktail with the berries. There’s also a Hatch Chili week when the bar pours spicy margaritas as its signature cocktail.
"Everything that the store does we try to do as well," Westergard said. "Right now is Citrus Week, so we have lemon drops, mimosas, gimlets, and again it goes back to the products that are off the shelves that people can get themselves."
Service with a smile
The novelty of a full-service bar inside a grocery store draws people to the space, but the inviting atmosphere and strong customer service keeps them coming back, Westergard said.
All bartenders and servers are trained for customer service and focus on talking to guests. "Customer service is number one, whether they’re here for a meeting, a lunch, or a date night," he said.