Town regulars walking into the remodeled Buehler’s Fresh Foods Wooster Milltown supermarket would be forgiven for thinking they’re in an entirely new store—and in a way, they wouldn’t exactly be wrong. The Ohio-based supermarket chain’s largest location recently underwent a complete transformation that’s taken it to 100,000 square feet, with expansions of customer favorites and upgraded departments designed to meet the needs and wants of today’s patrons.
“This remodel was a 14-month project, with planning starting about 18 months prior,” says Becky Foster, vice president of construction and maintenance for Buehler’s Food Markets, Inc., an arm of E&H Holdings. “We launched the process about three years ago. We expanded, updated, or reinvented most everything in the store.”
The remodel is apparent even on approach, for the store’s new front entrance is encased in glass, putting the entire interior on display. And, “we moved produce to the front of the store so [that] when a customer comes in, the first thing they see is fresh products,” Foster says.
Once inside, customers will also find new spaces, including a community room open to groups and nonprofits as a meeting area. But, perhaps the biggest change was made to an existing space: the store’s restaurant. Before the renovation, Buehler’s in-store restaurant was for seated dining and had servers, but now it’s known as the Kitchen Table and Chef’s Kitchen, and customers can walk up to its counter, choose hot food items prepared from scratch, and pay for them by weight. The restaurant also features an open seating area, cushioned lounge seating, a fireplace, a television, and a laptop counter.
“Customers are embracing the new food-service concept,” Foster says. “During the remodeling phase, it was hard for our long-time restaurant customers to understand the new concept, but they were more receptive once they experienced it. We receive compliments every day from people in our community.”
Buehler’s also significantly upped its drink offerings by purchasing the nearby Gary’s Liquor Agency and moving it inside the grocery store. The move has been a big boost for Buehler’s because all the area restaurants with wholesale accounts must go through the store to purchase their liquor. The business currently handles more than 50 wholesale accounts in the community, and they’ve brought in significant revenue.
Meanwhile, beer enthusiasts have been happy to discover that the renovation included a space for fresh lagers, ales, and porters on tap. The Big Beer Exchange is located in the store’s alcohol department, and it allows people to come in and fill their growlers—available in 32- and 64-ounce sizes—with the latest offerings from a variety of breweries. Buehler’s now has a wine license as well, and its expanded wine department is outfitted with a tasting bar. “The growler station is popular and a big deal for us,” Foster says. “We do have the proper license, so customers can get beer or wine and drink it with their meals at the Kitchen Table or the wine bar.”
Another key area Foster and her team remodeled was the bakery, where one of the bakers had the idea to pull one of the store’s mixers—originally made in the 1930s—from the warehouse, paint it pink, and place it atop a platform. For customers, it’s a great reminder of Buehler’s artisanal approach. “It is quite a vocal conversation piece for us,” Foster says. “It tells the Buehler story of handmaking everything from scratch, the way bakers used to, with no preservatives and only the freshest ingredients. It has a new finish on it, like a new car, and it’s the center focus on the sales floor for the bakery department.”
In Foster’s 15-year career with Buehler’s, she’s worked on a lot of new construction and many remodels of existing sites, but the Wooster Milltown project has quickly become her favorite. “Even though I’ve done two brand-new start-ups from the ground, I’m most proud of this remodel because it has done the 360 change in this community,” she says. “It has broken more paradigms. It’s the biggest shift of a business change for us, and a lot of it has to do with bringing produce up front and the addition of many new services, departments, and products.”
Becky Foster on … Sustainability at Buehler’s
How has Buehler’s managed to keep its refrigeration emissions under control?
We became a GreenChill [an EPA voluntary program that monitors grocery stores and other large refrigerant users] partner in 2010. We measure how much refrigerant charge we have in all of our units in all of our stores and report it to the EPA voluntarily. Then, we set a goal, which is through the GreenChill program, to capture and reduce emissions of gas into the environment so that we aren’t depleting the ozone layer.
In 2011, we won the Most Improved Emissions Rate award in the GreenChill program, and then in 2013, Buehler’s was nationally recognized with two US Environmental Protection Agency GreenChill Partnership awards. The Most Improved Emissions Rate award recognized Buehler’s for lowering its refrigerant-emissions rate more than any other supermarket in the GreenChill Partnership. Additionally, Buehler’s met its refrigerant-emissions goal for 2013 to earn the Superior Goal Achievement award.
What other sustainability efforts do E&H and Buehler’s make?
Our sustainability team is continually seeking opportunities to drive awareness to our employees and customers while setting the pace for being a responsible corporate partner. Buehler’s is engaged in hosting all community recycling events at most of our locations. We also hold community shred days at two of our locations.
How did it feel to be personally recognized by Progressive Grocer as one of the Top Women in Grocery in 2013?
I was extremely honored to be nominated and recognized at the senior executive level. That was an honor for me, especially in the grocery industry. Being a woman in the construction industry was previously not a common career path but is more accepted today.