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Welcome to Boomshack Market

New St. Paul bodega makes itself a neighborhood gathering place
Photography by David Bowman

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Walk into Boomshack Market on a chilly November Monday and you’ll find seniors breaking bread, a customer from the nearby Jimmy John’s buying chips and an energy drink, and owner-operator Trish McGovern ringing up turkey soup—her house-made “penicillin”—for a dad whose daughter is suffering from appendicitis at the hospital around the corner.

It’s “Cheers” on fast-forward, a place for sustenance in all definitions of the word. McGovern grew up in restaurant kitchens and paid her dues on the corporate clock before directing her curiosity, cash and every waking hour toward Boomshack. Opened in May 2017, the 1,200-square-foot store and cafe is located in the West Seventh neighborhood of St. Paul, Minn., on the edge of downtown, and surrounded by hotels, hospitals, a pro sports arena and restaurants. Foodservice is an anchor of the store, and McGovern and her staff make everything on-site, from the made-to-order brisket breakfast burritos to the boomdog, which is best eaten with pickled carrots and jalapenos from the store’s extensive toppings bar.

The product mix on Boomshack’s shelves can be found nowhere else, and that’s because McGovern tailors it to her people. It’s a model for any retailer hoping to get closer to the customer. What’s her trick? Observing, tweaking and trying—again and again.

Q: What’s the business model for Boomshack, particularly its foodservice offering?

A: The value proposition is small-batch cooking, made close to the source. We reverse-engineered the Kwik Trip model. Even if I am lucky enough to have more than one Boomshack, we would always have the ventless/hoodless kitchen concept. It was the years in the Dairy Queen business with my mom [that taught me that mode]. Most convenience stores cannot afford to put in the hoods and all the fancy equipment, so I figured out how to stretch a kitchen with a ventless/hoodless concept.

Q: Who is your customer, and what do they gravitate toward?

A: Boomshack is where it is because you can’t get a better microcosm. Two thousand to 3,000 people walk by this store every day, aggregated. I didn’t believe it until I sat in the window and watched. We are close to the Xcel Energy Center [where the Minnesota Wild plays], so concert nights and hockey games are huge for us. Some of our biggest days have been when conventions are at Xcel. Customers are getting batteries, cellphone chargers, even nylons. I’ve had to learn to carry stuff that I [normally] wouldn’t carry.

After that it’s the workforce—waitresses, bartenders, auto-body and construction workers—and a huge hospital clientele. And then you’ve got tourists like crazy. That makes it really difficult to decide what the product mix is. Listening has been better than the raw data.

Q: You’re gearing up for the Super Bowl in neighboring city Minneapolis, your first St. Patrick’s Day, and your first Red Bull Crashed Ice (in which skaters race down a 1,600-foot-long track to a 12-story drop in front of St. Paul Cathedral). What will those days entail?

A: We have 9,000 volunteers staying in St. Paul around the Super Bowl—and for that I am giving them free coffee. My private-label bottled water will sell by the thousands on St. Patrick’s Day. And we know when we have to do window service: The booth in front of one of the windows slides out and we set up a second register. We have a menu board and condiments outside, and we just fly the food out the window. People still come in the regular entrance, and if they want to order food too, we figure it out.

Q: What’s your social-media strategy?

A: It’s every day, all day long. We invest in Yelp and get a lot from it. No one is parking here to come to Boomshack; it’s all walk traffic. So we have to get them when they come in here through hospitality.

Q: What’s next for you and Boomshack?

A: I call this not even an innovation lab; it’s an observation lab. I won’t know until I get there, because I’ve already had so many surprises. What I’m really trying to do is observe, take action and try. [Take] more calculated risks. I give away food and snack boxes all day long and I say, “Can you please tell me what you think?”

Everything I do is with a business perspective. But all those years in business strategy is not helping me one iota because you always have the black swan. There’s always something you don’t see. There’s always something you don’t know.

Store Stats

Store: Boomshack Market

Location: 237 7th Street West, St. Paul, Minn.

Size: 1,200 square feet

Fuel: No forecourt

Key details:

  • Made-to-order and grab-and-go foods, all made in a small-footprint, ventless/hoodless kitchen
  • A section of gifts, toys and cards for guests of nearby hospitals
  • A window that opens up and turns into a second register for high-traffic days such as St. Patrick’s Day and Red Bull Crashed Ice
  • A burgeoning private-label line, including Boomshack water, of which McGovern will sell thousands during big event days

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