Retail Foodservice

How crawfish paved the way for Rouses Markets’ 1st drive-thru restaurant

Third-generation CEO Donny Rouse told WGB the grocer eyed the operations of successful chains like Chick-fil-A and Raising Cane’s in launching what will likely be the first of many quick-service eateries.
Rouses Markets
Rouses Markets opened a fried chicken drive-thru restaurant at its new location in Houma, Louisiana. / Photo courtesy: Rouses Markets

When Rouses Markets cut the ribbon Wednesday on its newest store in Houma, Louisiana, it did more than just debut a new supermarket. It hatched its first drive-thru restaurant.

“It all kind of came about because of crawfish,” CEO Donny Rouse told WGB Thursday. “We sell a lot of crawfish in Louisiana, and we were wanting to do a drive-thru for customers during crawfish season so they didn’t have to walk in the store to get all the fixings.”

But since crawfish is a seasonal delicacy that kicks off around Lent, Rouse said, the grocer wanted to broaden the drive-thru’s operations. So, Houma da Chicken was born, a quick-service restaurant attached to the 60,000-square-foot grocery store, selling Rouses’ double-battered fried chicken made from a recipe that goes back three generations.

“During crawfish season, we’ll add bulk seafood,” Rouse said. “It’s a great location for a quick-service type restaurant with a drive-thru.”

The key to this expansion for the family-owned grocer, which operates 63 supermarkets across three states? A few extra fryers, some holding boxes and some solid employee training.

Chicken chains Chick-fil-A and Raising Cane’s “do it the best,” Rouse, the grocer’s third-generation operator, noted. “We’re just watching what they do, watching how they train their employees.”

Rouse is already bullish on the drive-thru concept, saying more drive-thrus will likely be added to existing stores and will be included in new builds.

“The planning and execution has been pretty easy for us because our stores rely heavily on fresh food,” he said. “We do a lot of deli business and have a large seating area already. For us to add a drive-thru, we just had to train those team members.”

Rouses Market-Houma

Rouses Markets opened its newest store in Houma, Louisiana, on Wednesday. / Photo courtesy: Rouses Markets

Besides Rouses’ grand opening, there was some other significant grocery news Wednesday—one that impacts Rouses’ competition in the Southeastern U.S.: Aldi announced plans to acquire Winn-Dixie and Harveys supermarkets.

“I don’t think anyone was expecting Aldi to attempt to get into the traditional supermarket space,” he said. “We’re going to watch closely.”

Rouses currently has four stores under construction, all in Louisiana. Locations in Lafayette and Baton Rouge are on tap to open later this year and stores in Biloxi and Picayune are on the schedule for next year.

Rouse said he could not comment on whether his company could be in line to pick up any divested stores as part of the pending Kroger-Albertsons merger.

As grocery competition intensifies, particularly in his part of the country, Rouse said his chain focuses on being local to the Gulf Coast, working with local farmers and local food manufacturers, since what is now Rouses started as a produce stand more than a century ago.

“All of our competitors are not,” he said. “We’re the largest independent in our region and we capture the majority of the customers, right behind Walmart, in the markets we serve.”

The retailer also tries to keep its prices as close to those of its biggest competitor as possible.

“That’s how we price. We focus on what Walmart’s doing and we’ll stay right above Walmart,” Rouse said. “We’ve been eating a lot of the inflation ourselves … It does put stress on margins, but being a privately owned family company, we can do what we want.”




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