Grocery Stores, Cafés, and Restaurants – All-In-One Hybrids

By Ross Perkins, Foodable Contributor

Yes, you can have your cake and eat it too. Or at least eat your cake at the café and then order another slice – or more –to enjoy later. And you can also pick up some produce and sauces while you are eating your cake. This is because there are a profusion of café-restaurant-grocery store hybrids popping up on the coasts and everywhere in between. Instead of deciding to be just one thing, these hybrids are a bit of everything to everyone. This business diversification helps bring potential customers through the doors no matter if they just want a bite to eat or a gallon of milk.

Nothing New But Becoming A Bigger Trend

These hybrids aren’t necessarily anything new, but how ubiquitous they have become is something noteworthy. Whole Foods is one of the primary examples of this hybrid form. While people consider it just a grocery store, shoppers often forget – until they are inside – that is also has a café component to its design. Shoppers can grab heirloom tomatoes and ready-to-eat food or create a salad at the prepared foods bar and eat it inside the store or take it home. And in urban environments where an affordable and quick lunch option may not exist, Whole Foods has become the de facto neighborhood takeout joint. Look no further than at the bustling Whole Foods on Washington, DC’s P Street where both freelancers and people in business attire are carrying to-go containers during the lunch hour.

And these business hybrids run the spectrum – from little holes-in-the-wall where shoppers can pick up a few items and order a small meal to go to larger full-service grocery stores, such as Whole Foods, with a full-service café available on site. Some of these hybrids even have supper club pop-ups to entice serious diners into the store.

Independent Businesses Get In on the Action

On one end of that spectrum is Seasonal Pantry in Washington, DC’s Shaw neighborhood. It’s not a full-service market, but it has a couple items that shoppers can buy to add a bit of flair to their meals. But what Seasonal Pantry is really known for is its intimate supper club pop-up that it hosts several days a week for a dozen diners. The store-slash-supper-club also retails some of its branded items, such as its pasta, to other retail outlets to add to the business’s revenue streams.   

In the middle of this spectrum is Glen’s Garden Market near Dupont Circle. It’s primarily a grocery store that sells products from the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, but it also has a bar area and a sizable selection of in-house ready-to-eat foods showcasing the store’s products. Additionally, for two nights every month, Glen’s Garden Market has a supper club that showcases the talents of its noma-trained chef. But unlike Seasonal Pantry, Glen’s Garden Market doesn’t have any store brand products that it sells at other retail locations.

Beer on tap at Glen's Garden Market  | YELP, Meredith W. 

Beer on tap at Glen's Garden Market | YELP, Meredith W. 

And Chicago’s Southport Grocery and Café in the city’s Lake View neighborhood is a bit of everything. It has a full-service café with banana pudding pancakes that bring the masses in droves. Southport has a selection of store brand products in its grocery section, including its green strawberry salsa, so diners can have a taste of the salsa during their meals and then spring for the whole bottle to take home. And just like other hybrids, it too has an event called the “secret supper”, which is pretty much a supper club but there is no regularity to the time, date or menu for the event. Customers can stock their pantries and whet their appetites in one stop.

Of course, the West Coast has its own versions of these grocery-café-restaurant hybrids. Los Angeles’ has Erewhon Natural Foods Market that bills itself as a grocery store and café and has two locations in the metro area. San Francisco’s Haight St. Market is just one of many examples of this hybrid form of business in the city. And food trend originator Portland has the Ross Island Grocery & Café, the Warehouse Café & Market, and many others.

Why It Will Stick Around

This hybrid business model of being both a store and a café or restaurant isn’t going away anytime soon. Just like a well-rounded investment portfolio relies on diversification, a well-structured business needs to have multiple reasons to get customers inside and opening up their wallets. From the big chains, like Whole Foods, to the litany of mom-and-pop outlets looking to sell products and get people to spend more money on meals and drinks while in the store, being a bit of everything to everyone seems to be paying off.

Note: The author once worked at Glen’s Garden Market.