Article By Julia M. Johnson
Events that put a guest’s creativity to work are often the most stimulating and memorable. They allow your attendees to relax and learn something new, hands-on, while networking in an enjoyable environment.
You might not think of a grocery store as the most likely spot for such a gathering. But some of Missouri’s most prominent store chains have recognized the value of “bringing groups to market” for social events, meetings, team building, cooking classes and tastings, all spiced with a dash of networking and cameraderie.
Some grocery companies have been building learning and socialization space into new and renovated stores – and that means fresh opportunities for small groups to build morale, get to know business partners, and take home new culinary skills. Not surprisingly, the results tend to be delicious.
The market milieu
Creating space for small-group events may be a relatively modern idea in the supermarket world, but it’s one that makes sense. Everyone loves to eat and drink, and when you combine that kind of sensory pleasure with the goals of a small-group gathering, everyone benefits. Hosting groups also is a win-win for stores, which can welcome potential customers and capture their interest in unique products. They can create displays of foods, wines and other items appropriate for a group that is visiting, and can use the occasion to gauge how new food and beverage offerings are received. Some stores even offer cooking classes led by culinary experts.
“We opened our first cooking school in 1978, and have since grown to five schools and a Culinary Event Center,” says Barb Ridenhour, director of consumer affairs for the St. Louis-based Dierbergs Markets chain. “Our owner and president, Bob Dierberg, thought it made sense to help people learn to cook and appreciate good food at the source where they purchase it.”
The Culinary Event Center has flexible dining and meeting space that can accommodate groups of up to 38 guests. It opened in 2013 at the chain’s Des Peres location. Marissa Fawcett, a company spokesperson, says the other five stores that feature cooking schools are its Bogey Hills; Clarkson; Southroads; West Oak; and Edwardsville, Ill., locations. These five can accommodate groups of up to 18. Each school features attractive kitchen space where classes and private events are held. “The kitchens also can be used as informal meeting and gathering spaces,” says Christie Maggie, Culinary Event Center chef.
“Planning an event at Dierbergs is a seamless process,” says Marianne Moore, creative director for the chain’s culinary program. “We have staff who assist the client from initial event concept through menu planning and execution.”
Pricing is based on a per-person charge, which includes staffing and service, and beverages are available on-site. The Des Peres location even features live music in its mezzanine area on Friday and Saturday evenings.
“We are seeing lots of corporate team-building events, as well as groups cooking together as part of a conference agenda,” Moore says. “We’re also seeing quite a few adult celebrations such as birthdays and retirement parties. Everyone learns new tips and tricks, and all attendees get great recipes to start what we hope will be great personal collections.”
Paul Simon, senior communications specialist for St. Louis-based Schnuck Markets Inc., says providing gathering space at select stores is a great way for the company to give back to the communities it serves. “We hope that when groups do take advantage of these meeting rooms, they also will enjoy some of the many foods and drinks we have to offer,” he says. “It’s really about connecting with our customers. The feedback we get from this is very positive.”
Simon says space sizes vary by location, and there is no charge for use of its rooms, but groups must schedule with a particular store in advance. “Our Party Planning Guide is available in-store or online,” he says. “We work with each individual group to fill its needs.”
Schnucks can provide a wide range of palate-pleasing foods, and Simon particularly recommends group-friendly items such as fried chicken and chicken tenders; sandwiches on dollar, sub, torpedo and pretzel rolls; and a variety of deli salads. Stores also offer a wide choice of beverages.
According to Simon, the chain’s Des Peres, Kehrs Mill and Culinaria stores have open seating areas, which it occasionally can devote to private events with advance reservations. The Culinaria store is located in downtown St. Louis.
The company’s Des Peres store offers classes and demonstrations as part of its “Schnucks Cooks” cooking school program. St. Louis-based Missouri Foundation for Health is among the organizations that have held staff team-building events there. Gatherings have featured a chef instructor who interactively demonstrates how to craft a meal from appetizer to dessert; then, guests enjoy their own creations. Wines can be paired with the menu, too.
Other chains such as Iowa-based Hy-Vee Inc. have gathering space as well, with certain Missouri locations providing cooking classes or catering for off-site events. (In fact, guests enjoyed Hy-Vee’s catered breakfast offerings at MM&E’s Kansas City Regional Expo in Independence in November 2015.) According to a company spokesperson, the chain has expansion plans for some of its stores and spaces in the coming months.
Hy-Vee also offers a colorful Catering Guide on its website. The chain features Missouri stores in areas such as Springfield, Lake of the Ozarks, Columbia, Jefferson City, Independence, St. Joseph, and Kansas City.
See what’s in store
With any of the grocery chains, it’s best to contact an individual location in advance to learn which space or catering options it may offer. Today’s stores enjoy helping groups stir up memorable outings, and most have staff dedicated to assist planners with that goal.
“It seems a party always starts and ends in the kitchen,” says Dierbergs’ Moore. “Food is definitely a connector, and event and meeting planners are always looking for new and different ideas to entertain guests and create that ‘Wow’ experience. What better way to bring members of a group together than to let them channel that inner Julia Child or Iron Chef?”
Cooking school information: (636) 812-1336
Schnuck Markets Inc.
Cooking school information: (314) 909-1704
Customer care: (800) 772-4098