A Deli-Driven, Fisherman-Friendly Fusion

Brookshire Brothers seized the opportunity to turn a family-run, single grocery/c-store into its first "hybrid" concept

In southwest Louisiana, a mile or so from where Brookshire Brothers CEO and President Jerry Johnson grew up, a successful, family-owned grocery/convenience store that was also part deli, part restaurant and part bait shop, operated for 35 years.

In early 2011, though, tragedy struck Cormie's, the South Lake Charles neighborhood mom-and-pop shop, when it burned to the ground from a fire. Rather than shut down, it instead continued operating out of a foodservice trailer for nearly a year, primarily selling its family-recipe deli items. That's when Brookshire Brothers, operator of nearly 30 convenience stores and more than 70 supermarkets, stepped in.

"Jerry knew the family and he knew the area. We saw the opportunity to retain the Cormie's name and reconstruct the store. We knew the promise it offered," Bruce Bryant, vice president of marketing for Lufkin, Texas-based Brookshire Brothers Ltd., recalled in an exclusive interview with Convenience Store News.

And so, Brookshire Brothers took over the operation this past summer, reconstruction began and the 7,800-square-foot store was reopened in November. Its banner is still Cormie's, but now it operates as a unique Brookshire Brothers "hybrid" store.

"It combines the best of a lot of the different channels," Bryant relayed.

Situated in the "fairly affluent" South Lake Charles neighborhood, close to the port of Lake Charles and across the street from the local country club, Cormie's draws its traffic from nearby industrial employees, as well as residential customers.


At the core of Cormie's is its deli, which offers three family-recipe signature items: chicken salad, Italian sausage and bread pudding. "The three belly items are what they're known for, and they all do quite well," Bryant said, noting that Cormie's bread pudding has the most notoriety. The family still owns the proprietary recipes.

Customers don't mind queuing up for these belly items — and lots more deli goodies. Brookshire Brothers took note of this and accommodated for the usual lines when it reopened the store. "We adjusted the shelving near the deli to give folks more room to stand in line for these items," Bryant explained.

While the deli generates the majority of sales at Cormie's (about 50 percent to 55 percent), the second-largest sales driver is grocery and convenience items, which account for 15 percent to 20 percent. There is also limited produce, fresh meat, beer, wine and hard liquor, novelty items like T-shirts and decorative items such as wall plaques.

Next to the deli, the key focal point of the store is its fisherman-friendly section. Cormie's sports 12 feet of fishing supplies and four cooler doors of bait.

"We will have this section all year long for the die-hard fishermen, but right now, we're coming into the true fishing season for the first time since we reopened the store, and we're anticipating it to be really good," said Bryant. He noted the area's fishing season starts in early May, goes through the summer and peaks in September/October. "I'm a fisherman and I'm looking forward to the impact of the season on the store. It's warm enough now; I think the store is going to go to new heights," he said.


These expected new heights are just part of what Johnson refers to as the "new normal" in retail, with Cormie's being the poster child. "It carries what the customers in that area want: amazing home-prepared convenience foods, the staples, gas and a wide variety of fishing supplies," the Lake Charles native stated. "Shopping there is a social experience. Everyone knows everybody else, and it feels like home."

Expanding on the "new normal" definition, Bryant explained that "people today live in such a world of immediate gratification. They want everything quickly and as high quality as possible. That's why we have high-quality items in our deli. They are restaurant-quality items, but offered in a much more convenient way."

Prior to Brookshire Brothers' ownership, Cormie's had a catering service whereby customers could come in and pick up preordered meals and platters. Now, under the new ownership, that aspect of the store has been expanded, according to Bryant.

"The store would cook and have special things prepared for its family customers. That reputation and some customization were built, and then we carried it further when we took over," he said. "Now, we're actually delivering to local businesses and local events, and that has done more to expand the reputation of [Cormie's] being more than a deli than anything else. We are very in touch with the local trade through that process."


As for the growth plan around Cormie's, Brookshire Brothers is definitely looking to expand this distinctive concept and banner to other locations. Given the store's hybrid format and deli/grocery items that are somewhat unique to southern Louisiana, the company is looking at sites within a 50-mile radius of the flagship store.

"There are some Cajun-type cuisine items, such as Boudin Balls — a combination of rice and seafood — that do extremely well in southern Louisiana," said Bryant. "Given the product mix, our comfort zone is to stay in that part of the state. It just wouldn't work as well in Texas. We want to grow as intelligently as possible."

And so, Cormie's is in "growth mode," and the parent company is currently testing its deli items in a Brookshire Brothers store 11 miles away. Bryant said it favors building new locations from the ground up and hopes to have more by year's end.

"We'd like to have more than one additional Cormie's up and running by the end of 2013, but it is contingent on our site analysis," he said.

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