Founding Farmers Restaurants Pivot to Groceries

The upscale chain converted to mini-markets to rehire workers and shore up its bottom line. 

May 15, 2020

WASHINGTON—What’s an upscale-casual-dining chain to do when its dining rooms are shuttered because of the coronavirus pandemic? Perhaps try selling food in a different way. That’s what the Founding Farmers restaurant chain did with its transformation into small grocery stores, the National Restaurant Association reports.

The company now averages about $125,000 per day in grocery sales from five locations, which allowed the chain to rehire staff with benefits. Dan Simons and Michael Vucurevich, co-owners of Farmers Restaurant Group, took a chance that customers in the metro Washington, D.C., area and in Pennsylvania would purchase groceries and prepared foods not available at typical supermarkets.

“Initially, when this COVID insanity hit, we went through a moment of feeling like we’d gotten hit with a knockout punch,” Simons said. “Pretty quickly we realized that with the size of our restaurants and facilities, restaurant menu-to-go sales would not be a business model.

“We asked ourselves, ‘Are we going to get knocked out, or do what we were built to do?’ And that’s how Founding Farmers Market & Grocery was born.”

For retailers considering adding grocery sales, Simmons suggests:

  • Capitalizing on supplier relations.
  • Picking the right e-commerce platform.
  • Planning your storage space.
  • Getting your pricing and product line right.
  • Knowing the tax implications of selling groceries. 
  • Labeling your items correctly.
  • Selling products in set amounts.
  • Being creative with provision boxes.
  • Using social media for marketing.
  • Keeping your motives straight and employees safe.

“This story is about conscious capitalism; it isn’t about profit. It’s about deciding to become part of the essential infrastructure to the community, hire back the people we lost, [and] feed and provide them with income and health insurance,” Simons said. “And, we’re doing it safely. We’ve got PPE as well as a fogging protocol that kills the virus. I’m doing that proactively at all of my stores. It’s so important.”

Coronavirus Resources

NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.