- California-based grocer Save Mart is experimenting with a "guest chef" program to spur shopper interest and support local restaurateurs hit hard by the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to a company announcement issued last week.
- Save Mart tested out the program at The Tipping Point, the on-site restaurant at its flagship store in Modesto, California, last weekend with local chef John Surla of Surla’s for two pop-up brunch services. All of the brunch sales, except for alcohol, went to Surla’s.
- The program intends to assist local chefs and broaden guests’ culinary experiences, said Hal Levitt, senior vice president of retail operations for The Save Mart Companies, which operates 206 stores and four banners across California and Nevada. The company said it will soon announce future guest chefs as restaurants struggle to keep the lights on during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Beyond cultivating goodwill among the local community and generating positive publicity, Save Mart’s guest chef program is aimed at generating greater foot traffic and long-term consumer interest in their stores, including the grocer's on-site restaurant.
Save Mart’s Modesto location, which opened its doors last year, spans 54,000 square feet and operates as the brand’s innovation center. As well as its in-store restaurant, the store offers shopper personalization with fresh produce and meat prepared to order.
Incorporating prominent local names, like Surla, can bring a higher culinary pedigree to in-store eateries. Save Mart’s model of passing on food revenue to guest chefs helps support local restaurants, while keeping alcohol revenue from the pop-up draws shoppers to the grocer’s new alcoholic offerings, who may then stock up on bottles from the grocery aisle.
Before the pandemic, Surla’s bar, dining room and cocktail lounge in Modesto could seat 120 people, as well as two banquet rooms that accommodated another 100 guests. With indoor dining restrictions due to the pandemic, Surla's and other local restaurants have faced capacity limits.
In-store restaurants like The Tipping Point round out a one-stop shopping experience for busy consumers and have been particularly popular among younger shoppers. But the pandemic has challenged their ability to offer a lively in-store experience, and many establishments have had to pivot to takeout service. In June, Wegmans announced the closure of The Pub, its in-store bar and restaurant concept that had dozens of locations, to focus on more in-demand fast-casual meals for pickup and delivery.