One C-store Owner, Four Foodservice Ventures
EAGAN, Minn. —Tony Donatell, owner of Lone Oak Market convenience store in Eagan, who already operates three foodservice ventures Farmer’s Grandson Eatery, Burgers And Bottles, and Volstead House — all utilizing the same kitchen — recently decided to expand his operations with a new standalone restaurant in Farmington, Minn.
“It’s more of a restaurant and cocktail setting called Bourbon Butcher,” Donatell said. “The concept is a combination of our existing Burgers And Bottles and Volstead House.”
The entrepreneur started as a store manager in the convenience store industry after college and opened up his own space, Lone Oak Market, in 2008. He immediately revamped the existing foodservice program at the store, and continued to open up new concepts connected to the c-store within its strip mall location.
Lone Oak’s foodservice program, Farmer’s Grandson Eatery, makes everything from scratch, including cutting their own French fries. The menu includes made-to-order subs, barbeque sandwiches, burgers, salads, and homemade breakfast sandwiches and burritos. Lone Oak Market also offers an espresso bar, and bakes fresh cookies onsite every day.
Burgers And Bottles utilizes the same kitchen, chefs and management as Farmer’s Grandson Eatery, but the restaurant has a different entrance and offers its own menu. This includes flame-grilled burgers, fresh-cut fries, appetizers, beer, wine and cocktails. The No. 1-selling burger is the Wisconsin Cheese Curd Burger, a combination of breaded white cheddar cheese curds, thick-cut bacon, two grilled burger patties, and chipotle ranch sauce.
Volstead House is also connected to the same kitchen used for both the Eatery and Burgers And Bottles, so it operates with the same kitchen staff. However, Volstead House has one major difference from the other two concepts — it is a whiskey bar.
Donatell told Convenience Store News that patrons will visit his strip mall eateries multiple times a week. Farmer’s Grandson Eatery handles the breakfast and lunch crowd, while Burgers And Bottles and Volstead House pick up the nighttime crowd.
“People who come in visit three to five times a week because we offer such a variety. Even our hot food differs each day,” he said. “Our marketing is primarily word-of-mouth where people will bring in friends and coworkers because it’s in a very industrial, blue-collar neighborhood.”
Donatell also mails out postcards and gives out flyers and coupons around the area.
His advice to other c-store owners is to know what is located around their store and figure out how to fill in the gap of what is needed.
In the strip mall where his c-store is located, there is also a liquor store, preschool and a sub shop, but the made-to-order sandwiches offered at the Eatery are done in a different style. It’s also important to price the food correctly.
“If you are going to make real food from scratch, don’t give it away,” he said. “Make sure you price appropriately to cover the labor, food prep time and costs because there is waste involved and you can’t always anticipate the demand.”
For more on Tony Donatell, look in the June issue of Convenience Store News.