“Our goal is for a guest to experience something new in the prepared foods department, whether it be hot chili or a fig or something’s that’s uber-local, and then go seek that out in the produce department, meat department or the grocery department,” says Melissa Darpino, brand ambassador for Vintage Grocers, with three stores in Southern California. “I come from the restaurant world, so having your source material there at your fingertips, whenever you need it or want to try something new or experiment, is the best of both worlds.”
Upon opening its third location in 2018, Vintage Grocers took the opportunity to revamp its prepared food program. The new menu, introduced at the Pacific Palisades location, will roll out to the Malibu and Westlake Village stores in the first or second quarter of this year. To create the menu, which uses ingredients that can be sourced from the stores’ other departments — about 75 percent of the ingredients are directly from the store — the company hired a consulting chef and interviewed customers to find out what they wanted from the department.
“We have deli-standard favorites that are now prepared in a way that is elevated from your standard fare,” Darpino explains. For example, the stores offer a pastrami sandwich that tastes like one from a traditional Jewish deli, and instead of tuna salad, the menu offers tuna conserva.
The revamped department includes a poké bar that has proved popular, and an ancient-grain bowl station that offers products from a variety of influences, including the Middle East and Asia. The station offers about 20 items to create a custom bowl, and includes vegetables from local farmers, as well as Korean short ribs.
The stores also do a booming business for breakfast. The combination of the popular organic juice bar, coffee bar and deli-prepared grab-and-go breakfast items has “people lined up for breakfast in all three of our stores as we open,” Darpino notes.
“Many folks are drawn to the grab-and-go department to try something new, and then search the rest of the store for that item,” she adds. “Dinners now can be comprised of things from grab-and-go and things from the center of the store. That’s just how people shop now. So [prepared foods are] a very important part of our store for that reason.”