Isabella Eatery
Chef and restaurateur Mike Isabella will open Isabella Eatery in the Washington, D.C., area in October.

Restaurateurs expand with retail markets

With competition from all sides, operators let customers bring the dining experience home

With everyone from grocery stores to meal kits trying to steal the thunder — and customers — of restaurants, a growing number of operators are opening restaurant-retail-hybrids that offer customers the ability to bring the restaurant experience home.

“There is a lot of competition out there,” said Bonnie Morales, chef and co-owner of Kachka, an upscale restaurant in Portland, Ore., that serves the cuisine of the former Soviet Union. “Anything you can do to diversify makes a huge impact on your ability to thrive.”

To keep thriving, Morales will open a second location of Kachka in Southeast Portland in February that will include a retail space offering quick-service deli sandwiches; frozen pelmeni (meat dumplings) and vareniki (cheese or fruit dumplings); smetana (sour cream); cured meats, pickles and other shelf-stable goods; and the restaurant’s line of Troika Spirits (Kachka horseradish vodka).

The second iteration of Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar opened in August and features grab-and-go items.

In the Washington, D.C., area, chef and restaurateur Mike Isabella will open Isabella Eatery, a multi-concept food hall with a side of retail, at Tysons Galleria in October.

“Someone is not going to eat at my restaurants every day,” Isabella said, explaining why the Eatery will include retail options.

The main retail component will be Kapnos Marketa, a market and carryout concept offering prepared Greek foods, such as spit-roasted meats by the pound, grape leaves and Greek yogurt parfaits; as well as packaged spreads and sides, and hard-to-find, imported Mediterranean goods. However, several of the restaurants will also offer retail items, like caviar and cured fish at Requin Raw Bar, ice cream by the carton at Retro Creamery and pasta sauces at Graffiato.

In the same vein, a number of restaurateurs have opened or plan to open culinary extravaganzas. Already open is Richard Sandoval’s Latinicity in Chicago, which has a full-service tapas restaurant, a café, a market, a bar and a lounge. Jose Andres’ ThinkFoodGroup is set to open an all-Spanish food hall in Hudson Yards in New York City next year, and Jose Garces has a Latin food hall planned for Washington, D.C., in 2019.

Diners who don’t always want to eat out are also part of what motivated Troy Guard, chef and owner of Denver-based TAG Restaurant Group, to add a retail component to his forthcoming FNG concept.

“I’m a chef and I don’t want to eat out, go to a restaurant all the time,” he said. “[FNG] is a neighborhood spot with good food you can bring back home and eat together as a family.”

Ousia To Go is a retail spinoff of Ousia, the Livanos Restaurant Group's Mediterranean restaurant in New York City, scheduled to open in January.

When it opens later this fall, FNG (kitchen lingo for “F’ing New Guy,” according to Guard) will have a retail area selling handmade brats, salumi, cured beef, pork and duck; various sauces, mustards and stocks; and a variety of cheeses. It will also eventually sell hats and T-shirts with the restaurant’s logo and motto of “Dine Hard.”

Ousia To Go is a retail spinoff of Ousia, the Livanos Restaurant Group’s Mediterranean restaurant in New York City, opening this month. Located down the street from the restaurant in the ground floor of a residential building, the retail space will have a small counter and serve prepared sandwiches, flatbreads, pastries and other foods similar to those offered at the restaurant. 

“Every neighborhood needs a place nearby to grab a cup of coffee or a quick bite to eat,” said Ousia general manager Johnny Livanos. “As the area around us has more residents moving in, we want to provide them with what is now a basic necessity to any neighborhood.”

Similarly, D. Brandon Walker, executive chef of The Mar Vista in Los Angeles, said a lack of “good fast food, made-from-scratch options in the neighborhood” inspired The MV Grab & Go, a retail spinoff of the farm-to-table restaurant.

Opened in May, The MV Grab & Go’s chef-driven fare includes the bestselling Frico Tacos, cheese tuile with an egg, corn tortilla, choice of protein and sauces served with a salad; made-from-scratch family-style dinners for four; freshly pressed juices; locally made artisan desserts; sandwiches; and freshly cut flowers.  

The MV Grab & Go is a retail spinoff of the farm-to-table restaurant in Los Angeles.

The second iteration of Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar, a casual version of brothers Bruce and Eric Bromberg’s sushi and Japanese concepts, opened in August and features an 11-seat sushi bar, a small counter dining area, a design-your-own-bowl assembly section, and grab-and-go items.

To-go choices include everything from customizable bento bowls and pre-made, boxed lunches to soups and housemade tofu with ginger sauce. A retail section is stocked with Japanese snacks and packaged goods, housemade wasabi honey and tamari soy sauce, canned sake and plum wine, instant udon noodle bowls, and Japanese ceramic tableware.

“After 20 years of serving Blue Ribbon sushi in NYC, many of our guests have grown up with us as regulars in our restaurant,” said Bowie Fu, general manager of Blue Ribbon Sushi. “By offering some of the ingredients and tableware we use every day as retail options, we are extending the special experience of dining in Blue Ribbon Sushi to our customers’ homes.”

Correction: Sept. 11, 2017  An earlier version of this story misstated the opening date of Ousia To Go. It will open in September.  

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