Nice N Easy Chefs Up Ante

Chain's foodservice upgrade, success could lead to "full-blown restaurants"

CANASTOTA, N.Y. -- Like many of its peers in the convenience store industry, Canastota. N.Y.-based Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes is putting a big focus on its in-store quick-serve meals. Once the bastion of overpriced potato chips, pretzels and soggy hot dogs, c-stores have looked at everything from menus to presentation, all while growing the footprint of each store and the number of stores in their network, said a report by The Post-Standard.

John MacDougall's operation of more than 80 Nice N Easy stores in New York calls its in-store quick-serve food section Easy [image-nocss] Street Eatery.

"Easy Street Eatery...has been a boon to our business, with many food ops exceeding [NACS State of the Industry] average store volume in foodservice sales only," Fran Duskiewicz, senior vice president of Nice N Easy, added in note to CSP Daily News. He said that the company has expanded the Easy Street name into its own brand chips, alternative snacks and sweet snacks.

But to go further, the company has put together a creative team with extensive food-industry backgrounds. Joining executive vice president of foodservice Dr. Jack Cushman, who has his Ph.D. in hospitality, the chain has hired three chefs:

Chef Doug Walters has been the executive chef at Arad Evans in Fayetteville, N.Y. "We always take...visitors to Arad Evans because it is a special place to dine, and the bistro menu is endlessly creative," said Duskiewicz. "We want that kind of creativity in our menu, things that no other chain in our industry would think to offer." Walters will act as foodservice creative director.

Chef Andrew Franco comes to Nice N Easy from P&C (Penn Traffic), where he was the HRM chef. "We believe that attacking the take-home dinner meal will help us expand our food sales beyond the traditional breakfast/lunch/snack dayparts where we are already strong." Duskiewicz said. "We have always been huge Wegman's fans, and they have done very well with their $6 take-home dinners. We think we can do the same thing, because we are more convenient and we can advertise our Three Chefs to get the program the proper attention. Andrew has already created a new line of upscale salads for us."

Chef David Haynes is running the Easy Street Diner in Constableville, N.Y. "He has owned his own restaurant and has completely revamped our menu from our traditional fare to something truly special. He is also a first-rate pastry chef, which could open even more doors for us," said Duskiewicz.

"Foodservice has been Nice N Easy's salvation the past five years or so, as traditional sources of c-store income from cigarettes and fuel have faded badly," MacDougall told the Post-Standard. "But like anything else in our business, if we don't continue to grow and evolve in foodservice, we'll get stale and predictable and we can't afford to let that happen. Our new foodservice creative team is designed to keep us fresh, interesting and continually moving forward."

Added Duskiewicz: "Will we expand from our current diner to something more ambitious? Full-blown restaurants, maybe? Who knows?"

In other company news, the North Country American Heart Walk raised approximately $190,000 with 1,000 fundraising participants. The Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes Walk Team, led by Lori Folgers of the Watertown store was the No. 1 fundraising team, raising $12,381. Her fundraising team included all 11 of the Valentine's Shoppes as well as the Herzig-owned locations of Lowville, Croghan and Harrisville, N.Y.

"We sold hearts for the first week, then made a lottery tree, then raffled off an Easter Basket. We held various competitions among the staff and kept everyone informed of the amount raised and that helped them to want to raise more and more money. Everyone did a tremendous job and it was truly a team effort," she said.