Nice N Easy Does ItAgain

Opens doors on first Easy Street diner, begins franchising Easy Street Eatery concept

Steve Dwyer, CSP Reporter

CONSTABLEVILLE, N.Y. -- The swallows might return to Capistrano every spring, and like clockwork, every summerat least for the past several yearsNice N Easy Grocery Shoppes makes a splash at the retail level. This year's "summer project" is not the ground-up "Taj Mahal we've been building in past years," Fran Duskiewicz, senior executive vice president for the chain, told CSP Daily News. "We're taking a left turn from the high-tech store concepts of the past and going back to the future."

On July 1, Nice N Easy, a chain of 88 stores in central New York, debuted a 4,000[image-nocss] -square-foot location in rural Constableville, N.Y., that combines its proprietary Easy Street Eatery quick-serve program with the fledgling Easy Street Diner, a sitdown offering supported by two full-time cooks, dedicated waitstaff and seating for 30 patrons. The diner, which is positioned side-by-side with Easy Street Eatery, offers all the typical food fare across all three dayparts.

Regarding fuel marketing, the facility features five multi-pump dispensers under the Nice N Easy proprietary brand, with gas volume thus far registering at just under 100,000 gallons a month, said Duskiewicz, who revealed that the project was somewhere in the vicinity of $1 million to get the storeformerly a CITGO-branded unitup and running.

In late winter, Nice N Easy acquired a three-acre parcel from a local owner who was exiting the retail business in Constableville, located about an hour north of Rome, N.Y., in the shadow of the Adirondack Mountains. The former proprietor had operated a full-service store that offered food, fuel and hardwarethe latter of which Nice N Easy phased out.

After six weeks, the success of the new unit has "exceeded our expectation. It's [founder and president John MacDougall's] brand vision of how we need to morph into a company that grows into business opportunities that others abandon," Duskiewicz said.

Duskiewicz said that while the chain has mastered the art of running a quick-serve venture, it will have to establish its bearings in operating a full-service food emporium. "We have never had a cook or waitstaff before. So we're watching the labor component of this and making sure that the profit margin is sufficient enough to pay for the people manning the restaurant."

Nice N Easy's foodservice team has established metrics to monitor the correlation between profit and labor. Duskiewicz said that a "real grill" can generate 20% more in profit than a QSR format can, "so we're talking about 80% profit margin to serve breakfast foods like bacon and eggs."

Duskiewicz added that the objective early on is to emphasize profit-margin enhancement over foodservice volume until the chain fully masters labor aspects. While the chain has established, dedicated employees to oversee the diner, Duskiewicz said that all employees have been cross-trained so they can switch back and forth at any given time.

There is no brand cannibalization expected to occur affecting the eatery or the diner, Duskiewicz said, in that patrons who come to eat at the diner have probably made it a destination stop and thus would not interfere with volume at the Easy Street Eatery, which offers made-to-order subs, salads, pizza and more. He said both profit centers will have a synergy in place to complement one other. For instance, customers of Easy Street Eatery who decide they want to eat on-premise can use diner seating for convenience.

The Easy Street Eatery, which was launched in 2003, has become so popular in the stores that offer itwhich is most of themthat Nice N Easy plans to offer the program as a franchise to interested parties in the c-store industry. "We have reached the point where we fully understand the efficiencies [of operating a successful eatery] and can offer the necessary guidance to run a successful program," he said.

Canastota, N.Y.-based Nice N Easy officials were apprised of the Constableville location's availability when the former owner contacted chain officials last winter, and "we jumped right on it," said Duskiewicz.

Duskiewicz said Nice N Easy, which recently launched two ground-up stores, including one in Rome, N.Y., envisions the new location to serve as a one-stop shopping alternative for locals and travelers in that there are no food or convenience store alternatives for several miles.