PHOTO GALLERY: Foxtrot Brings the Modern C-store to Life

The retailer combines a traditional store with a neighborhood café to offer an all-day experience.

NATIONAL REPORT — The idea was to marry a modern convenience store with a local café in such a way that when patrons walk in during any daypart, the vibe to stay awhile would be extraordinary.

In the morning, the neighborhood place would be hopping with coffee connoisseurs and breakfast sandwich grabbers. Hours later, customers would munch on salads, chicken bowls and other freshly prepared foods, while sitting with open books, laptops, friends and colleagues. In the early evening, after a quick ambiance change of dim lighting and "happy hour" music, the space would be transformed into the ideal spot to meet up for a glass of wine or beer, accompanied by gourmet dips and snacks.

Foxtrot is this idea come to life. Currently a chain of 26 stores across Chicago, Washington, D.C., Dallas and Austin, Texas, the retailer's offering ranges from a signature all-day café experience to local craft beers and fine wines selected by an in-house sommelier, to everyday essentials. All of its offerings are available to enjoy in-store, for pickup or for on-demand delivery through the brand's proprietary app.

"It is modern c-store meets café meets modern coffee shop, plus rapid delivery mixed in," said Liz Williams, who was recently promoted to CEO. She joined the Chicago-based company in June of last year as its president and chief financial officer.

"The space is inviting, welcoming and really thoughtful for each of the neighborhoods that we're in," she told Convenience Store News. "We're so excited about bringing convenience retail and the local café together; we want to create places where people can congregate and enjoy a meal or snack."

At the same time, e-commerce is what the company was founded on nearly 10 years ago and so when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, rapid delivery really kicked off at its stores. "Our e-commerce core really helped us thrive and since COVID, we've kept the momentum up," Williams said. All Foxtrot stores offer five-minute pickup, 30-minute delivery of goods from its locations through the Foxtrot App or website, and nationwide shipping via Foxtrot Anywhere.

Thoughtful Tweaks

Company co-founder, former CEO and current chairman Mike LaVitola credits Williams, who has roots in the food and beverage industry, with taking Foxtrot to new heights and new neighborhoods. She will oversee continued growth of the brand within its current markets, as well as in new markets across the country.

"We continue to alter the format based on neighborhood and local needs," Williams explained, noting that the team recently learned that some locations would benefit from adding more seating space, while others needed more grab-and-go food factored into the mix. The retailer quickly adjusted accordingly.

"Some sites had customers that wanted to congregate more, and some needed more on-the-go delicious foods and snacks," she said. "In both cases, there was less of a need for take-home ingredients, which we cut back on. Store by store, that's been the macro trend."

[Read more: Foxtrot's Latest Store Boasts Its Largest Product Assortment]

During the height of the pandemic, more consumers were cooking at home and seeking out a convenient place to pick up grocery items, which Foxtrot accommodated. But now, the need state has reverted to pre-pandemic times, according to Williams. "Our lives somehow got hectic again, and it's more of a grab-and-go world," she said.

Foxtrot is also starting to improve its supply chain and operational capabilities as the company has its sights set on moving beyond the definition of a small operator.

"We think there's a world where there is a Foxtrot in every city, so we don't see that as small," Williams stated. "To get the growth we want to get to, we have to modernize and put discipline and rigor behind our supply chain and standards, so we can scale it and simplify it."

Scouting for Growth

By the end of 2023, Foxtrot's current 26 stores will be joined by about 10 more, already in various stages of the pipeline in existing markets. The team is also scouting for new markets. "We have a couple we're playing around with," Williams said.

At present, all stores are company-owned, but the chief executive acknowledged that "there are many routes to growth. Right now, we're pursuing that [company-owned] avenue, but we're also keeping our options open."

What kind of market is ideal for a Foxtrot store? "It can be found all over the country in vibrant neighborhoods — anywhere people want next-generation convenience and a café and coffee shop where they can meet up with other people," Williams told CSNews. "And that's not just on Main and Main. We already have suburban locations in Dallas, where most people drive instead of walk, and the sites are doing very well."

The company is currently scouting additional suburban sites in the Chicago market.

The newest Foxtrot store, its first Austin location, opened in February. Like all Foxtrot stores, the 2,500-square-foot site was uniquely designed and merchandised with local influences, while still supporting the brand's day-to-night atmosphere and incorporating signature design elements such as concrete floors, hospitality lighting, wood paneling, warm color palettes and local artwork.

In keeping with the "thoughtful" neighborhood appeal that Williams referenced, the team spent months meeting with Austin area makers, chefs, bakers and brewers to find the tastiest local items to add to the new store's shelves. Brands selected include Bola Pizza, Lick Honest Ice Creams, Teddy V Patisserie, Toasty plant-based dips, Bottle Rocket hot sauce and Chop Chop Ramen. The Austin store is also the first retail partner for Cloud Nine Bakery and Pink Sugar.

There are unique local brand partnerships, too, with Good Juju flower company, Austin Winery, Live Oak Brewing Co. and St. Elmo Brewing Co.

"We love the local makers and will continue to embrace this aspect of our stores," said Williams. "Products from around the corner and across the country are very important to our customers and we work hard to carry both."