E-Z Mart 's 'Dixie Chicks'

Two Chicks Caf concept carries Texas chain into full-fledged foodservice

Steve Dwyer, CSP Reporter

TEXARKANA, Texas -- E-Z Mart Stores' EZ-Eatz proprietary deli program is getting a sister programTwo Chicks Cafe. The chain of 303 locations in five southwestern states unveiled on Tuesday a new, full-service restaurant program with sitdown accommodations, connected to one of its Texarkana, Texas, convenience stores. "We said we would do something of this magnitude one of these days and one of these days has arrived," J. "Bubba" Kirkland, vice president of merchandising for E-Z Mart Stores Inc., told CSP Daily News. "This may be a one-shot deal or it may provide a vehicle [image-nocss] for expansion."

Kirkland would not divulge what the company's expectations were in regard to weekly or monthly food sales. He was also not able to provide a ballpark figure on the capital expense to launch Two Chicks Caf a, which has seating capacity to accommodate 68 patrons.

The opportunity to launch the concept occurred when the former proprietor opted not to renew his lease at the restaurant, formerly known as The Old Tyme Burger Shop. The restaurant footprint is a standalone structure, but is directly connected to the E-Z Mart station, a Shell-branded unit situated on a busy thoroughfare near I-30. E-Z Mart owns the land and building, so when the lease was not renewed, the chain pounced on the opportunity to cultivate its own full-service foodservice brand, Kirkland said. Old Tyme Burger Shop, which was considered a successful business, had been in operation for 14 years.

The Texarkana-based convenience chain, which has stores in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas and Arkansas, currently has about 50 of its stores equipped with either the proprietary EZ-Eatz deli or branded foodservice, such as Hot Stuff Foods. The company has nine locations in and around Texarkana.

The Two Chicks Caf a name "was inspired by our CEO [Sonja Hubbard] and CFO [Stacy Yates], who are sisters," said Kirkland. "It was available for trademark, so we went with it." The personalized moniker is consistent with the company's family approach to naming profit centers in its stores. Its proprietary coffee program is branded FaEllenafter the company's chairwoman. E-Z Mart's fountain drink program contains the names of its chairwoman's grandchildren, said Kirkland.

On the menu, Two Chicks Caf a offers chicken fried steak, chicken strips, chicken sandwiches and an array of burgers, the signature item for which the chain is known. Going forward, the food emporium plans to offer a daily lunch special for $6, featuring such offerings as pot roast, Rueben sandwiches, meatloaf and fish, said Kirkland. To sustain food sales during the dinner daypart, the lunch special will extend to evening hours, said Kirkland.

Prior to opening on Tuesday, E-Z Mart had a "dry run" where it prepared foods for its employees, and also distributed meals at lunchtime to local businesses, handing out coupons in the process.
The chain has hired 10 dedicated employees to support Two Chicks Caf a, including five people with food preparation experience and one that has attended culinary school. The program, Kirkland said, also has the capability to cater to grab-and-go consumers, as the facility offers drive-through service.

Kirkland told CSP Daily News that E-Z Mart's intention is to create a synergy between fuel/merchandise and the full-service restaurant. "This is something that we never felt had been done under the past ownership," he said. "For starters, the hours were more limited and the restaurant was only open six days a week. We're looking to get some spillover from the store to the restaurant, and the other way around. We could also envision Two Chicks Caf a serving as sort of a test kitchen for our existing proprietary deli program."

Added Kirkland, "One worry we have is trafficthere might be some ingress and egress problems." There is also an array of local competition nearby in the form of Appleby's, a Valero Subway and a Waffle House, he said.

Kirkland said that the chain will take six months to determine whether to expand Two Chicks Caf a. He said E-Z Mart would not be willing to retrofit a full-scale restaurant into an existing c-store configurationexpansion would have to be part of either a new build or the chain would have to fall into a situation where a standalone restaurant in one of its markets came available.