COLUMBIA — Hy-Vee plans to convert the dining section of its three Columbia stores into more formal restaurants that serve alcohol.
Greg Frampton, assistant vice president of food services for Hy-Vee, outlined the Market Grille and Market Cafe concepts that are coming to 150 of the chain's 238 stores during the next three years:
Market Grilles will feature an updated menu with items such as specialty burgers, pizza, pasta and sushi along with a full bar and service with waiters. The bar will serve wine, cocktails and a variety of beer that will include local brews and many craft brands as well as domestic beers.
The Market Cafe stores will feature slightly smaller menus and seating but will be designed to feel similar to the Market Grille locations. They will serve beer and wine but not hard liquor.
One of the three Columbia Hy-Vees is in line for a Market Grille, Frampton said, but he wasn't sure which one. The other locations will likely have Market Cafes. There is no specific timeline for the project, he said, but changes are expected to start in the next one to two years.
Culinary chefs have crafted the menu for the Market Grilles, Frampton said. The restaurants will have an informal setting that lets customers eat from the store's buffet. But after 4 p.m., the formal dinner atmosphere begins inside.
Hy-Vee is making the changes to separate itself from competitors, Frampton said.
"We want this to be a place where you can come in for a great burger any week night, take your significant other out on a Saturday night for steak or your family on Sunday for pizza," Frampton said.
Columbia resident Timothy Werts, who was eating Tuesday in the Hy-Vee at the Rock Bridge Shopping Center, said a grocery store isn't the first place that comes to mind for a dinner date.
"I don't connect the two in my mind, grocery shopping and a date," Werts said.
Matt Boyce of Columbia, who was eating at the Hy-Vee on Conley Road, had similar thoughts. "Me personally, I don't think my wife would be impressed if we got a baby sitter, and then I took her out to Hy-Vee."
Boyce thinks that how the restaurants are advertised will play a big role. "I think the gourmet setting might get me to try it," he said.
Hy-Vee has promotional plans to persuade people to give the new restaurants a try including daily promotions such as "Wine Down Wednesdays" that feature half off bottles of wine and fresh sushi.
Frampton said that based on testing the concept in the past year at three locations in Des Moines, Iowa, he's confident consumers will respond.
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