Just like canned tuna or fruit cocktail, grocery stores have a shelf life, and at age 25, the Hy-Vee supermarket at 9701 Q St. is past its pull-date, store manager Andrew Yochum says.
“The life cycle of a supermarket is about 20 years,” said Yochum. “This one is just a little bit long in the tooth.”
The 60,000-square-foot supermarket is in the midst of an extensive remodel that will flip the store's layout, add a new 11,000-square-foot wing and introduce a full-service restaurant and bar with wait-staff, offering wine and beer by the glass or bottle.
The expansion also will beef up the number of employees from 270 to 400 or 450 when the project is completed this fall.
It's the first project of its kind in greater Omaha, but other area renovations are likely in the offing.
“The Hy-Vee store at 3505 L St. would likely be the next scheduled, but there's no time line,” said Larry Ballard, a Hy-Vee spokesman.
Outside of Omaha, Hy-Vee is remodeling the store at 5020 N. 27th St. in Lincoln to include a Market Cafe. A completion date has not yet been set. And a new 87,617-square-foot Hy-Vee is under construction in Kearney. The chain's westernmost location is tentatively scheduled to open April 29. It, too, will have a full-service restaurant and bar.
Hy-Vee, which operates more than 230 stores in eight states, plans to remodel all of its stores to incorporate the new restaurant and bar format, adding either a Market Grille or smaller Market Cafe, but no timeline has been set, Ballard said.
Both formats allow customers to order food from a menu or select a meal from the hot food case or salad bar. The expanded kitchen at 96th and Q Streets will feature a new Asian food department with fresh sushi, and a new wood-fired pizza oven to complement its Italian food section, Yochum said.
The large-scale renovations shouldn't come as a surprise, supermarket analyst David Livingston said. “Hy-Vee has always been a grocer that's kept its stores up to date.”
Being up to date is important, particularly with the recent spike in competition among Omaha-area grocery stores. Six Walmart Neighborhood Markets, the retailer's smaller-format grocery stores, have opened, with a seventh scheduled to open later this year. Their target — the price conscious or convenience shopper — is unlikely to pose a threat to the more upscale Hy-Vee, Livingston said.
The city's natural and organic food options have also broadened with the addition of the Akin's Natural Foods Market at 8409 West Center Road and two Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage stores in central and west Omaha at 7831 Dodge St. and 17602 Wright St.
Not to be outdone, Hy-Vee plans to expand its natural and organic foods section at the 96th and Q store, and to add a specialty cheese department, Yochum said.
The 96th street Hy-Vee has always had a restaurant, but it's hoped the new full-service format will prove an even greater draw. Hy-Vee opened its first Market Grille in 2012 in Urbandale, Iowa.
“They've become the place to hang out and have lunch and check your email,” Livingston said.
Upscale restaurants and bars also have become popular features at Whole Foods Markets and H-E-B Supermarkets, a San Antonio-based grocer, which operates grocery stores in Texas and Mexico, Livingston said.
Nebraska's first Market Cafe, which seats 120, made its debut at the Plattsmouth Hy-Vee, which opened last November.
The Market Cafe at 96th and Q Streets will seat 150, Yochum said.
But after a glass of wine and leisurely meal, will Market Cafe patrons grab a shopping cart and hit the grocery aisles?
“If you don't buy any groceries that day, you will have had a good time, and you'll be back,” Livingston said. “It's all about getting you in the door.”
Trudi Vacek said she was “shocked” but pleased when she learned the Hy-Vee's new restaurant at 96th and Q would serve wine and beer.
“I'm afraid I'll have a glass of wine before I shop, and then shop more!” said Vacek, as she pushed a shopping cart full of groceries.
The expansion and renovation will be a graduated process: The Market Cafe and Asian Express and the Italian Food Department, along with the store's traditional kitchen, are expected to open in early April. The new meat and seafood department will debut this summer, Yochum said.
The remodel will finally consolidate Hy-Vee's entire wine and spirits selection. The separate Hy-Vee's wine and spirits storefront, which is unaccessible through the main store, will close, and its wares will move into the new east wing toward the end of the project.
The store also will add new skylights and other energy-saving innovations and, later this year, a new drive-through pharmacy.
Plans also call for the adjacent Hy-Vee gas station to be torn down and replaced with a new building, new canopy and pumps, Yochum said.
But for now it's a squeeze.
The store's 60,000-square-foot footprint was reduced to 38,000 square feet to facilitate construction. Even the parking lot was downsized to make room for construction equipment and a safety zone, although Yochum said some parking spaces have been added on the east side, near the new 11,000-square-foot wing, which will house the frozen food and dairy aisles and the wine and spirits section.
Vacek said that she knows “a lot of people are going to Bag 'N Save to shop because it's easier to park.” But overall, Yochum said, most customers appear to be taking the disruption in stride. “They're excited to have a new store.”
Said longtime shopper Ernest Hellmer: “It's a mess, but that hasn't stopped me from shopping here.”