New Leaders Ready to Take QuickChek's Foodservice to New Heights
WHITEHOUSE STATION, N.J. — QuickChek, which has become one of the top c-store foodservice destinations in the Northeast, is doubling down on its fresh-food-to-go image, according to Chris Smyly, the New Jersey-based chain's new director of foodservice.
Smyly, and QuickChek Corp.'s new culinary specialist, Ted Kwiecien, recently chatted with Convenience Store News about the retailer's efforts to redefine "fresh convenience" while continuing to meet the needs of its existing customer base.
"We're known for our fresh subs and fresh brewed coffee," said Smyly, who previously served as a senior category manager over four product and service categories at QuickChek. "We continue to look at fresh, healthy options. We recently introduced an exciting new fresh brewed iced coffee offer, and we'll soon be taking our fresh sub sandwiches offer to a whole new level with some exciting premium line extensions."
Kwiecien, who has more than 25 years of experience in restaurant management, including positions at upscale department store chains Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus, is closely monitoring consumer trends to determine which ones will drive QuickChek's future menu development.
"We have to understand how much of our customer base is really seeking out some of these trends, like plant-based options, gluten-free, etc.," Kwiecien said.
He noted that the retailer will soon be rolling out a vegetarian offering and testing gluten-free bread options.
Another factor on the minds of these foodservice leaders is the nation's retail labor shortage.
"Labor is definitely a big deal," said Smyly, who said the retailer is "doubling down" on its already extensive employee training program in order to keep turnover below industry average. "We've made additional efforts in our foodservice training in particular, which is a two-day program that raises the bar even higher. We want to continue to be known as a best place to work so we invest heavily in our employees and partner with them."
Kwiecien also points to the importance of company culture.
"After spending the bulk of my last 20 years at the top dogs in customer service — Nordstrom and Nieman — it's all about company culture. QuickChek is no different. We train from the top to the bottom. We have multiple layers of training from district leaders to the store associates," Kwiecien said.
QuickChek invests in creating training videos for nearly every job function and task in the store. This "soup to nuts" approach includes training on preparing soups, sandwiches, stocking merchandise, and especially food safety.
On the technology front, Smyly said that "anything that touches the customer and speeds up and enhances the customer experience is important."
QuickChek was the first convenience store chain to test and implement self-checkout stations at select stores, and is always looking at new technology like mobile payments and frictionless. "And, we're developing a new app later this year that will include new technology," Smyly shared.
"We're interested in anything that enhances the customer experience but we don't want to lose that important personal interface with customers at the store," he continued.
"You have to be alert to what's new. Millennial customers want to embrace all those new technologies. As the world changes, we have to change quickly and adapt," Kwiecien added,
"We are always looking to provide the best possible in-store experience for all of our customers, young and old," Smyly noted. "For everyone, every day."
QuickChek is a four-time winner in CSNews' Foodservice Innovators of the Year awards program, including taking home first prize as Hot Beverages Innovator of the Year in 2012 and winning the grand prize as Foodservice Innovator of the Year in 2016.
As Smyly and Kwiecien get acclimated to their new roles, the industry expect QuickChek's fresh foodservice program to become bigger and better than it's ever been.
Whitehouse Station-based QuickChek operates 159 convenience stores throughout New Jersey, New York's Hudson Valley and Long Island, including 79 locations with fuel.