Price Chopper is embarking on its most ambitious project yet — a concept store unlike any other supermarket in the region.
The Latham store will be the centerpiece of the chain’s future growth and the store by which “all others in the area will be judged,” company officials said Friday.
Although the prototype has been several years in the making, its unveiling comes in the midst of an intensifying grocery boom in the Capital Region. Price Chopper is fighting to maintain its hometown lead with the new store, which will kick off a two-year campaign to expand and remodel 11 other local stores.
“We have to learn how to outrun the other guys, and that’s what we’re going to be doing,” said Neil Golub, executive chairman of Price Chopper’s board.
In the next two months, workers will start construction on a 10,000-square-foot addition to the Latham store that will feature a restaurant row with fresh, made-to-order food and a bevy of new amenities and offerings. The store will have a new name, which officials have yet to announce.
Restaurant row will have indoor seating for 140 people and 16 fast-casual dining options. These include a Chef’s Grill with steak, seafood and antipasto; a design-your-own burger and hotdog station; a New England-style fish fry; international cuisine ranging from burritos and quesadillas to Indian dishes; a salad garden and vegetarian/vegan bar; sandwiches and subs; a classic pizzeria; and a meat rotisserie station.
The prototype will also feature a cooking school at the front of the store, where local and national chefs are already lined up to teach recipes, techniques and food trends. Price Chopper will also jump on the organic food craze, with an organic bazaar that will feature produce grown and harvested right in the store.
Other new offerings include a smokehouse, Starbucks cafe, drive-through pharmacy, “floral living wall” and “seafood waterfall.” There will also be outdoor seating for 40 to 50 people.
Price Chopper officials are leaving some details to the imagination, with a few surprise amenities in store for customers — like a “spectacular” addition to the deli that’s “too special” to disclose just yet.
“It will be a shopping trip designed to entertain,” hinted Golub. “I’ve not talked about entertainment yet because that’s part of the surprise. What I have shared is just the tip of the iceberg. What I haven’t shared is stunning, and it all comes alive next fall.”
Price Chopper President and CEO Jerry Golub joined his cousin at a news conference Friday inside the vacant space adjacent to the Latham store on Route 9.
The Golubs were clear: the concept store is the most ambitious makeover project in the chain’s 80 years. Price Chopper’s investment in the region will total $61 million by the time it’s done with the prototype and two-year renovation campaign. This comes on top of a $46 million local investment at 11 stores over the last four years.
It creates 60 food service jobs at the Latham store alone, which already employs about 350. Officials couldn’t provide an overall figure for expected job growth from the campaign. Price Chopper currently employs about 10,000 in the Capital Region.
Choosing a location for the major investment and concept store was easy, they said.
Price Chopper was first established in the Capital Region and has its headquarters in Schenectady. Officials began brainstorming about a new concept store in 2009 after signing a lease for the former Bon Ton space next to their Latham store.
But in the last three years, the region has experienced what many describe as “grocery wars” between longtime stores and new ones moving in practically next door. There are three new ShopRites, with a fourth being planned, a Fresh Market and Trader Joe’s in Colonie, a Whole Foods planned for Colonie Center, and the state’s first all-grocery Walmart store planned for Niskayuna.
As more stores entered the market, Price Chopper officials were traveling the country. They visited markets in Seattle and Ontario, seaside resorts along the coasts, restaurants in Chicago and stores in San Antonio and Dallas.
“What we did was took what we considered to be the most popular items that our customers, and Americans, like the most,” said Neil Golub. “We looked at 10 different ways to make pizza. We tested different things, but kept in mind the taste buds of the people in this region.”
A consultant introduced store officials to a “concept officer” — a man who had worked in restaurants and hospitality for years and whose job is to dream up new concepts for fast-casual dining.
Price Chopper implements a new concept store every decade or so, said Golub. The ever-increasing gamut of competitors was just part of the impetus behind the new idea.
The lion’s share of Price Chopper’s 130 stores are located in the Capital Region.
“In our industry, there are those who lead and those who follow,” said Golub. “And over time, the followers tend to catch up. So we have to step up again and take a giant step forward.”
The Latham concept store will be used as a “learning laboratory” to test new ideas and roll them out to the rest of the chain. It will remain open during construction, which is expected to take a year to 14 months to complete.
“Our commitment to this area remains very strong and is going to get even stronger over the coming years,” said Jerry Golub. “We have plans for virtually all of our Capital Region stores over the years to come, and are very excited about our future as a company.”