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The Food Courts of the Stars

The Food Courts of the Stars

THEY SAID IT COULDN’T BE DONE: Where can you get reasonably priced food from a Beard Award-winning chef? Rick Bayless’ Frontera Fresca is just one of three such options on the 7th floor of Macy’s in Chicago.

FAST AND FURIOUS—AND AFFORDABLE: Macy’s Culinary Council member Takashi Yagihashi is doing noodles in Chicago. Todd English will open a Figs in West Palm Beach.

Department stores have provided varying degrees of in-store dining opportunities for decades. But the new offerings being introduced by Macy's will soon provide dramatically expanded options for customers, with celebrity chefs figuring prominently into the mix. The move helps demonstrates there is yet another avenue by which operators might leverage a personal or restaurant's brand.

The retail giant says it will debut Macy's Taste Bars in eight of its Florida stores, where signature food items and Macy's-branded gelato and coffee offerings will soon tempt hungry shoppers. Also in the offing is a Wolfgang Puck Express outlet at a yet-to-be-announced Broward County store and a unit of Todd English's Figs, which will open in a Palm Beach County store. Expect more to follow from there.

"It's another way to serve our customers and differentiate us so that customers come to our stores rather than going to others," says Macy's spokesperson Melissa Goff.

Note that these Florida units won't be breaking new culinary ground for this retailer. It has had success with celebrity chefs before. A lot of it.

The seventh floor of Macy's flagship State Street store in Chicago houses Frontera Fresco, a fast casual concept helmed by Rick Bayless. Its lineup of regional Mexican favorites, all priced at $7.50or less, has been a magnet for shoppers and diners for the past couple of years. Who wouldn't want to eat this chef's food at these prices?

Gracing the same upscale food court are an outpost of Nancy Silverton's La Brea Bakery and, the most recent addition, a noodle stand from

Takashi Yagihashi. Who's he? Holder of a Beard Award for his work at Tribute in Detroit, Yagihashi recently returned to Chicago from a stint at Okada at the Wynn Las Vegas. If there's another food court offering this kind of talent, please let us know where it might be.

Not that high-profile chefs and restaurant brands arean automatic hit in retail store settings. Ace nuevo Latino chef and restaurateur deluxe Doug Rodriguez gave it a try with Chicama, a restaurant located inside the baroque ABC Carpet & Home store in New York City.

The reviews were great, but Chicama didn't last. Similarly, the chef-driven Eatzi's concept failed to catch onat Macy's flagship Herald Square location in Manhattan. But the Florida moves taken by Macy's indicate that there's a big future for high-quality foodservice in upscale retail locations.

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