Opinion: Want to be Serious About Foodservice?

More questions for the foodservice-averse

By  Abbie Westra, Editor-in-Chief, Convenience Store Products

Over the past few years, I've felt the ebb and flow of excitement and frustration over c-store foodservice. During the frustrating times, one sentiment always runs through my mind: These poor retailers; if they wanted to be in the foodservice business, they probably would've done so in the first place.

Mitch Morrison's column last week asked a big question: Are you serious about foodservice? A large part of that question is financial. Are you seriously investing money, labor, resources, floor space, time and energy?

These are crucial questions. But I have a different one: Do you actually want to be serious about foodservice?

What do I mean by that? I mean having actual passion for the foodservice business. And if you don't, then finding a guy like Art Weiss.

Art is the director of kitchen operations at Stew Leonard's, a four-store grocer with a strong focus on customer service and employee appreciation. Like a lot of its employees, Art's been at Stew Leonard's for over 20 years. He has a culinary background and gets audibly excited when talking about new menu items, perusing the produce department for inspiration, or taking his team to the New York City fish markets at 4 a.m. to bring back the freshest catch for his food bar.

When he was hired to help start Stew Leonard's foodservice program, it was just Art at a little table in the meat department, trying out recipes handed down through the Leonard family. Today, each store has hot and cold food bars bursting with more than 100 items, as well as separate pizza, sushi and barbecue departments.

It takes someone with Art's passion to make a foodservice program happen. But it also takes a company like Stew Leonard's to allow him to take the program to the next level.

Do you have passion for foodservice, really? If you don't but you want to reap the rewards, hire a guy like Art -- or find him or her within your company -- and give that person some culinary carte blanche. Let him go to Little League games and pass out hot dogs with a "signature sauce" (and let him create that sauce). Let him sample at the pump, create recipe contests, conduct customer taste tests, run fun promotions -- whatever it takes to get you, your team and your customers excited about foodservice.

I know I'm not responsible for your balance sheets. I don't have to answer to your shareholders. But along with financial intelligence, you have to want to be in the foodservice game. The passion Art Weiss has? You can't pluck that out of a balance sheet; but once cultivated, it can propel your business forward.

One other thing: Have patience. That was 27 years ago that Art stood at the table in the meat department, imagining what his department could be some day. Hopefully it won't take you 27 years, but it will likely take more than a few.

What's your foodservice passion story? Email us your thoughts at awestra@cspnet.com, and we'll share them all in next week's issue of Fare Digest. You can also read the rest of Art's story in the June issue of Fare magazine.

By Abbie Westra, Editor-in-Chief, Convenience Store Products
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