Business Brief: Restaurant Openings; Winn-Dixie Tries To Reinvent Itself

Jun 22, 2018

Many new restaurants are coming to the First Coast.

That’s as a troubled local grocery chain is trying to reinvent itself.

Jacksonville Daily Record Editor Karen Mathis joined WJCT News Director Jessica Palombo to talk about these food trends in this week’s Business Brief.

Five restaurants are planning to open Jacksonville, most of them in locations where other restaurants have recently closed.

The latest to make its intentions known is the Orlando-based chain Keke’s Breakfast Cafe, which is capitalizing on what Mathis said is a strong and growing dining segment: breakfast and lunch.  After opening in St. Augustine, Keke’s has its sights set on locations at The Pavilion at Durbin Park in northern St. Johns County and at The Strand across from the St. Johns Town Center.

The four other additions to Jacksonville are:

  • Miller’s Ale House is replacing Buca di Beppo at The Avenues
  • Woody’s Bar-B-Q is replacing Sticky Fingers Ribhouse in Baymeadows
  • Panera Bread will replace an Applebee’s on Atlantic Boulevard near the Queen’s Harbour Yacht and Country Club
  • True Food Kitchen will open where Mitchell’s Fish Market was at the St. Johns Town Center.

“It means that the locations are good,” Mathis said. “Restaurant companies see that the demographics in that area and the need for a restaurant in that area are very strong. They look at the demographics, they look at the traffic, they study what is in that area that would feed off of their restaurant, so to speak.”

But while many restaurant operators are seeing opportunity, the Jacksonville-based parent of Winn-Dixie is looking for a way forward in the increasingly competitive grocery industry after its second Chapter 11 bankruptcy in about 12 years, as the Jacksonville Daily Record reported. 

Now that Southeastern Grocers successfully reorganized its finances, customers will see the supermarket operator ramp up its pace of store upgrades, CEO Anthony Hucker said.

“We're now able to move with a much more powerful velocity,” Hucker said in an interview after the company unveiled a newly remodeled Winn-Dixie supermarket in the Brierwood neighborhood on Thursday, at the intersection of Baymeadows and Old Kings roads.

Southeastern operates about 575 supermarkets in seven states under the Winn-Dixie, Bi-Lo, Harveys and Fresco y Mas brands.

Hucker said the company plans to upgrade 100 stores this year.  The company uses focus groups with customers to find out what they want in their local stores, and the upgrades attempt to address their needs.

“I always believe the customer is the boss,” he said.

One suggestion from customers in the Brierwood neighborhood led to the creation of a “Dollar Shop” in that store, a section with hundreds of low-priced and convenient items.

Southeastern operated three Winn-Dixie supermarkets along Baymeadows Road, but in the Chapter 11 reorganization, it closed 94 stores, including the one near the intersection of Baymeadows and Southside Boulevard.

Hucker said he didn’t have specific information about which other stores will be upgraded this year.

Mathis said the remodels can’t hurt, but the chain still faces fierce competition in an industry with razor-thin margins. Among those vying for pieces of the grocery pie in Jacksonville are:

  • Lucky’s Market plans to open a second store at OakLeaf Station after opening in Neptune Beach in late 2016
  • Discount supermarket chain Aldi has announced or identified 11 sites for stores, with the most recent opening this month in Regency at 9337 Atlantic Blvd.
  • Trader Joe’s has added a second location in Mandarin after opening at Jacksonville Beach
  • Earth Fare also opened a second location in Mandarin after opening at Atlantic Boulevard and Kernan Boulevard
  • Sprouts Farmers Market wants to open several locations in Northeast Florida
  • Publix continues to expand and upgrade its stores
  • Walmart is opening a Neighborhood Market in Baymeadows

“That industry’s gotten a lot tougher in the last few years,” Mathis said.