I've thought a lot about restaurant concepts. Most restaurants have one, even the ones that don't hit you over the head with a cheesy theme. (Want to ride a bucking bronco while you wait?)
I worked for an old-school formal French restaurant, a traditional steakhouse, a cheese-centric bistro, and a cozy wine bar. There you go—restaurants with whole life stories, epic mission statements, unwieldy ambitions, complicated identities summed up in a few words.
The Grocery Brand
Until now, I haven't given much thought to grocery store concepts. I watched a PowerPoint presentation with our advertising company last night, and boom: my brain was busy mulling over marketing niches and brand cohesiveness.
It's often easy to see what a grocery store is all about the moment you walk through the doors. I remember my first time in Dean & Deluca as a bright-eyed, food-loving child. The beautiful, impeccable sculptures of perfect fruits in wicker baskets. The precise, long rows of fancy chocolates. The classical music crescendoing.
And then I remember my mom's sticker shock—the laughably exorbitant price of a single cookie. It cost more than of a decent bottle of wine! One cookie!
I stopped by the Upper East Side location a few months ago and was impressed with the pristine white, crisp uniforms of the clerks, as if they were nurses in an old movie. It was late summer, the height of tomato season. I picked up a pretty pint of yellow cherry tomatoes. The price: $7.50. I put them back.
Big, Wide World of Markets
Dean and Deluca occupies the tier of the top of the top. It's the luxury car of groceries, for those who want a snazzy name and a stellar product, and for whom money is not a concern.
You know what's on the other end—the "value" places with nary a bell and whistle, the supermarkets that are cheap. They're going for cheap, and so are their shoppers.
Then there's everything in-between, which is most everything. Whole Foods might be whole paycheck, but it is also, around here, wholly busy, always. Trader Joe's has created a unique brand and a diehard following.
As food becomes a nationwide obsession, even the nothing special stores are ratcheting up their standards and selections. Just a short time ago, an olive bar was something special, and a sushi station was a rare find. Now, these things are ubiquitous. Almost a bore.
What's next? The fabulous Murray's cheese has teamed up with the ho-hum Kroger to open cheese shops within supermarkets. Prepared foods departments are becoming grander, and better. The thin crust pizza at my mom's Jersey Shoprite is better than not bad. It's awesome.
Who We Are
My impressive grocery store (my employers) never has to advertise. We're busy no matter what. And New Yorkers know who we are: a serious food mecca, with great prices. The love? Fanatical.
As we expand to suburbs near and far, it's a different game. Those non-NYC folk aren't versed in the wonders of our store. They didn't grow up in the crazy crowded aisles. They don't have happy memories of summer's first peppers and the cheese guy who always hooked them up with a taste of something ethereal.
So we have to show the world who we are. Like Trader Joe's? No: we have tenfold the number of items. Breathtaking stuff, stuff you can't find elsewhere, or at least not easily. Like Whole Foods? No: our vibe is much more down to earth, our prices comparatively bargains.
Our brand is quirky, food-obsessed, and unpretentious. What's not to like? We know New York likes it. Let's see how everyone else feels.