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CSNews Exclusive: NOCO to Leverage Local Favorites

TONAWANDA, N.Y. -- NOCO Energy Corp., operator of the NOCO Express chain of convenience stores, is expanding its foodservice offering with a local flair.

This spring, the c-store retailer will open two branded food concepts that are both new to the chain, but well established in the Buffalo, N.Y. market and Western New York area. The first is Just Pizza, a full-service pizzeria franchise with 13 existing locations throughout Western New York. The other is Mighty Taco, a restaurant chain with 16 area locations known for its "Buffalo-styled" Mexican food and quirky advertising.

"Both are real local favorites, and leaders within their [respective] food categories," Terry Messmer, merchandising manager for NOCO Express, told CSNews Online.

He said the company is starting out by adding each of the concepts to one existing store. NOCO will run Just Pizza as a franchisee, while renting out space to Mighty Taco.

Mighty Taco will be housed in NOCO's Bailey Avenue store in Buffalo, which had no branded foodservice, while Just Pizza is being added to the chain's French Road store in Depew, N.Y., where it will replace Charlie the Butcher, another local branded concept offering hand-carved meats, sandwiches, salads, wraps, side dishes and take-home dinner options. The Depew store also includes a Tim Hortons, which will stay put.

Construction is underway at both sites, and Messmer said ideally the new food concepts will open in early May. When they do, NOCO will have a total of six stores with branded food programs. All NOCO Express stores, however, carry the retailer's proprietary Nickel City Café line. Products are prepared at two base stores and then delivered daily to the rest of the stores under a satellite commissary program.

Although NOCO is replacing the one Charlie the Butcher location, Messmer told CSNews Online that the addition of Just Pizza and Mighty Taco is meant to complement its existing foodservice lineup. The company has no plans to do away with Charlie the Butcher (now at three stores), Tim Hortons (two stores) or its Nickel City Café brand.

Rather, he said NOCO will continue working its dual foodservice strategy of partnering with reputable branded providers and offering its own proprietary line.

As for one food concept potentially cannibalizing the other -- particularly in the store that will have Mighty Taco -- Messmer said he believes both programs will come out ahead, given the increased foot traffic that is sure to be generated.

"We'll be getting so many more people in the door. Plus, they're different product offerings. One day someone might want a taco, and the next day want a sandwich," he explained.

If these first locations perform well, NOCO hopes to add Just Pizza and Mighty Taco to additional stores. The chain wants to partner with other branded providers as well.

"We're looking at [whether we] can take an existing store and with its footprint, put a branded foodservice offering in it without taking away much of the existing merchandise floor space," Messmer said. "We want to keep expanding our foodservice offering."

And if that can happen by partnering with more local concepts, that would be even better.

"Anytime we can do something local, we do," he said.

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