SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — Stewart's Shops will meet growing demand for prepared food by tripling the size of the commercial kitchen at its dairy in Greenfield, N.Y. The move will allow the convenience store retailer to better supply its network with menu items such as sandwiches, soups, salads and more, Stewart's Shops announced.
"The variety of food-to-go items that people are looking for — everything from chili to hot dogs and stews — has been growing for a long time, but it really accelerated because of COVID," Stewart's Chairman Bill Dake told the Albany Business Review. "COVID made the process of eating out of our shops more logical."
Dake noted that Stewart's vertical integration has paid off for the company during a time when many small retailers are struggling due to a lack of control over their supply chain or ability to buy in large quantities.
The commercial kitchen will grow from an approximately 3,500 square feet to around 9,500 square feet. Stewart's will also add nearly 3,000 square feet of refrigeration dedicated to the kitchen. Construction of the kitchen expansion is scheduled to begin this summer with the goal of completion by spring 2024.
Approximately 45 people currently work at the commercial kitchen, but the retailer expects to add more employees.
"Food in the shops has been growing fantastic for us. We need to make sure we are able to support that growth," said Jim Norton, vice president of plant operations. "There is no doubt we will be hiring."
The expansion of its commercial kitchen ties in with Stewart's recent expansion efforts. Over the last five years, the company went from 337 stores to 357 stores through a mix of new builds and acquisitions. In 2022, Stewart's spent $50 million remodeling 30 stores and replacing 11, along with building or purchasing four locations in new markets.
This pace will continue in 2023, during which time company leadership plans to invest another $50 million in 18 large construction projects. Half will be new builds and half will be renovations of existing stores, according to the news outlet. Stewart's also expects to complete smaller renovation projects on around 30 stores.
"We are looking at another pretty aggressive year," said Chad Kiesow, Stewart's vice president of facilities.
Stewart's is also targeting new store locations in Utica, Gouverneur, Oneonta and Colonie, N.Y.
"We really have no specific budget or set number of stores in any given year," Kiesow added. "The schedule is based on where the opportunities are."
Saratoga Springs-based Stewart's Shops operates more than 350 convenience stores across 32 counties in New York and Vermont.