With an eye to the future, the company is testing a fully cashier-free “autonomy store” in the upscale San Diego seaside neighborhood of La Jolla. This is another one of Dhillon’s franchise stores, where he decided to experiment when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
The store is in a high-rise office building that caters to about 6,000 employees, many of whom started working from home during the pandemic. As a way to survive, reduce the store’s payroll and try to stay afloat by attracting nearby hotel clientele, Dhillon installed artificial intelligence (AI) technology whereby the door is unlocked with a credit card and items can be dropped into a virtual shopping cart.
“The goal was to have it accessible to the hotel area 24 hours a day,” he said, noting that this pilot is ongoing with the autonomy store evolving with more learnings.
All new Street Corner stores feature the Topeka, Kan.-based chain’s new made-to-order food program. Using Indian naan bread as its platform, the proprietary menu consists of sandwiches, wraps, and flatbread pizza. Varieties include Buffalo Chicken, Spinach and Pesto, Beef Bulgogi, Margarita, and Chicken Chipotle.
The new fare is cleverly marketed as “Naan Traditional,” and was created by a renowned chef and veteran food consultant who was hired to bring in more “exotic” offerings.
The new prototype stores will also serve breakfast foods and gourmet salads, along with providing catering services. The goal, according to Dhillon, is to make every store a local destination for food and essentials. “People will go out of their way, or at least make a special trip, for food they like and see as a good value,” he said.
As part of the urban market’s “more upscale market feel,” wine tastings and wine pairings will be a recommended store element, one that is already underway at a New York location, and will be part of the Tempe flagship store owned by Dhillon.
“Because craft beer and wine will be a big focus, we will have local vendors come in and do the pairings, put the menu together for us, and set up tables on a monthly or weekly basis. It won’t be a mandatory part of the franchise program because at the end of the day, we want franchisees to control their business. But I’ll be doing them and recommending them as a way to increase sales,” he said.