Kevin McCoy and his son Billy hurried through the deli at the Lincoln Heights Rosauer’s last week on their way to a football game in Freeman.
“Get some food, some snacks and chill out,” said Kevin McCoy with two man-sized dinner sandwiches in the bottom of his grocery cart.
At Albertson’s on 37th, Mary Ann Love was in a rush, too.
“Oh my God, we don’t have anything for dinner,” she said to her daughter, before picking some ready-to-eat meals from the cold case at two for $5.
Friday night dinner on the South Side - it could be anywhere in town and almost any night - often means a quick stop for something easy and tasty. Many of the meals are consumed on the go.
As the demand increases, the number of convenient, quality food choices on the South Side, as elsewhere, just continues to, well, mushroom.
To meet the demand, Albertson’s and Rosauer’s recently expanded their deli operations to include fully prepared take-out meals that are simply reheated at home.
Last week, Rosauers on 29th added a new gourmet line, including entrees like prime rib, specialty salads and elaborate desserts.
The grocery chain last week also unveiled plans for a take-out health menu at its new Huckleberry’s organic food store under construction at 9th and Monroe.
Rosauers and other supermarkets are competing more directly with restaurants, especially fast-food outlets, which have the largest share of the takeout business.
A survey by the Food Marketing Institute this year showed that restaurants now sell three of every four prepared meals that are taken home to eat.
New grocery options are giving shoppers more choices as supermarkets try to capture some of that business.
But the restaurant industry isn’t standing still.
On 29th Avenue just east of Regal, the successful Boston Market restaurant chain is building its fifth franchise operation in the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene area.
Boston Market specializes in what’s known in the industry as “comfort food,” the kind of meals people formerly cooked at home but don’t have time to make anymore. That includes prepared entrees like turkey, ham and meatloaf.
The menu caters to takeout customers, for what industry experts call “home meal replacement.”
Elsewhere, the relatively new Slickrock Burrito on Grand Boulevard near 30th offers upscale alternatives to the more traditional fast-food outlets. So does a similar eatery called Sonic Burrito on 29th Avenue in Lincoln Heights.
At Linnie’s Thai Cuisine II in Lincoln Heights (the original Linnie’s is at 13th and Grand), the owners recently opened a lunch buffet line for $5.95 featuring both Thai and Vietnamese food. Takeout meals are about 30 percent of the business at Linnie’s II.
Food retailers continue to carve their own niches to satisfy the eating habits of a diverse public.
Supermarket delis started with sliced meats and fried chicken years ago. Now they offer “Quick Fixin”’ and “Grab and Go” dinners.
Prices are competitive.
At Rosauers, dinner for four costs $9.99 and includes the entree, two side dishes and four biscuits.
Sounds like a page from Col. Sanders. And the process keeps evolving.
“This is just an extension of what’s happened over the past 10 years or longer,” said Cheri Myers, director of public relations for Safeway stores, which also offer ready-to-go foods.
For grocers, every time someone goes out to eat, it means that much less food is being purchased from the supermarket.
Rosauers Vice President Bill Haraldson said, “We want to keep them from going to Boston Market. We want to keep them from going to McDonald’s or those other places. That’s why over the years we’ve kept evolving.”
Some customers prefer just to eat in the supermarket.
Mary Boschee, who cares for a senior couple, said she likes soup and often takes her charges to Rosauers for a brothy dinner.
“The clam chowder is very good,” she said.
In a 1994 survey by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, half of the people interviewed said they ate at least one meal away from home on the day they were questioned.
A 1995 survey from the National Restaurant Association showed that one in four adults described takeout food as “essential to their way of life.”
Another trend is variety.
The USDA, which tracks consumption of basic food commodities, said the biggest dietary change during the past 17 years has been a dramatic increase in the use of grain products.
The USDA reported a 117 percent increase in the consumption of foods with grains in their mixtures, such as pizza, pasta and tortilla shells.
Yet for all the takeout trade, and even home delivery of gourmet entrees, some restaurant owners see no shortage in the number of people who want to sit down and enjoy a meal with family or friends.
The new Applebee’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill, 2007 E. 29th, has gained crowds of loyal customers after just four months in business.
“We’ve really had a warm welcome,” said manager Scott Jones.
Applebee’s is part of a nationwide chain that features a menu full of choices. It also sports a local ambiance with photos and memorabilia from neighborhood schools.
Symbolic of the need for speed and convenience, Applebee’s says the average dinnertime customer spends just 45 to 50 minutes at their table. Not exactly a spend-the-evening, European-style dining experience.
One of the first South Side businesses to capture the trend toward convenience and quality was Lindaman’s Gourmet-To-Go at 14th and Grand, which opened in 1984.
Owner David Lindaman said he originally thought he would sell mostly takeout gourmet food but quickly discovered some of his customers wanted a place to sit down and relax with choices of quality foods. Now only about 15 percent of Lindaman’s business is takeout, he said.
“The truth is people are really looking for a convenient watering hole with good food,” he said.
Slickrock Burrito owner James Gimurtu, who also runs The Birkebeiner Brewing Co. downtown, tried to open a South Hill pub and eatery when he bought the old Manito branch library earlier this year. Proximity to a school and church caused Gimurtu to drop his plans. Despite all of the new choices, he said, the South Hill still doesn’t have enough stylish places to gather and eat. , DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos (1 Color)
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