Retailers

CHEF’STORE's John Mathews on At-Home Chefs, Labor and Expansion

'We are planning to open new stores in more than five locations in FY 2022 and accelerate openings further in FY 2023'
John Mathews
Photograph courtesy of CHEF’STORE

An alternative to wholesale clubs, which beat back inflation during the latest round of earnings as shoppers continue to seek out ways to save as grocery prices continue to soar, US Foods' CHEF’STORE is open to the public seven days a week with no membership required. And CHEF’STORE, which offers customers baking ingredients, beverages, catering essentials, janitorial supplies and other restaurant essentials, is expanding as the at-home trend is sticking. John Mathews, VP of sales and marketing for CHEF’STORE, spoke with Winsight Grocery Business recently about the company’s brick-and-mortar footprint expansion, labor woes and the rise of at-home chefs.

Diane Adam: In April 2020, US Foods acquired Smart Foodservice Warehouse Stores to accelerate growth in the cash and carry market. Then in March 2021, the stores were rebranded as US Foods CHEF’STORE. In May 2022, CHEF’STORE celebrated the opening of its first location in Virginia and announced plans for a store in Montana to open in 2023. What has been the intent and journey for the recent rebrand, new locations and expansion of the company’s brick-and-mortar footprint?

John Mathews: US Foods acquired Smart Foodservice Warehouse Stores in 2020 with the goal of expanding its footprint in the cash and carry channel to provide an omnichannel experience to more customers. US Foods already operated six cash and carry stores under the CHEF’STORE banner at the time; the company converted the Smart Foodservice stores to CHEF’STOREs to streamline brands across all cash and carry stores. The CHEF’STORE name is closely associated with the US Foods broadline business, and we wanted to reinforce that message in the market.

We are planning to open new stores in more than five locations in FY 2022 and accelerate openings further in FY 2023 to help us expand the CHEF’STORE footprint and accelerate our growth in the cash & carry market. 

US Foods is committed to providing best-in-class service to our broad CHEF’STORE customer base, which includes restaurant operators, foodservice professionals and even home cooks. We are excited about the benefits and stores we will offer our customers.

At US Foods, we are committed to helping our customers “make it.” Part of [that] commitment means offering our customers multiple channels to interact with us. For example, we know a significant number of our customers get products through cash and carry stores, so we want to ensure that the quality products they expect from US Foods are available to them seven days a week in the most convenient way.

Our mission with CHEF’STORE is to make it easier for restaurant operators, food industry professionals and at-home chefs across the city to quickly stock up or replenish ingredients and supplies anytime they need them. We realize that sometimes our restaurant operators are shopping for a weekend rush, but other times, they only need one or two items.

CHEF’STORE offers customers the convenience of buying products both by the case and in individual quantities. If you need an item and need it right away, CHEF’STORE is the answer. Each CHEF’STORE has seamlessly integrated into the local markets, restaurant industries and broader communities, quickly becoming the go-to food and supplies source.

The CHEF'STORE is as big or small as you need it to be. The stock is easy to peruse from full cases to individual items and is safely stored in temperature-controlled areas.

Unlike many warehouse-style stores, CHEF'STORE does not require customers to purchase a membership to shop and is open to not only restaurant operators and foodservice professionals but the public as well. What is on the horizon for CHEF’STORE and what sets it apart?

CHEF’STORE offers customers the convenience of buying products both by the case and in individual quantities. If you need an item and need it right away, CHEF’STORE is the answer. CHEF’STORE is designed to make the shopping experience as easy as possible for customers—and provide great value. CHEF’STORE features an intuitive layout with wide aisles for fast, easy maneuvering, specifically designed with customers in mind.

US Foods understands that restaurant operators are constantly working to keep business costs down. Because of this, CHEF'STORE offers wholesale pricing throughout the store and weekly specials, including both national and exclusive brands. Shoppers won't find a better value or superior quality anywhere else.

Inflation and labor shortages have wreaked havoc on the brick-and-mortar footprint of the grocery industry. How and what is CHEF’STORE doing to navigate these inflationary times and workforce woes?

We are always looking for new and creative ways to reach potential new associates. For example, we have expanded our online presence to reach a broader range of candidates. Other areas of focus have been on associate retention and recruitment. With numerous choices for the workforce, it is more important than ever that we focus on the retention of our associates once we get them on board.

CHEF’STORE is committed to offering compensation and benefits that respect and reward our associates for their dedication and hard work. To increase retention, we:

  • Enhance employee engagement by empowering our front-line team to bring forward ideas and insights that have helped them elevate their local store teams and share across the organization.
  • Continue the investment and enhancements of our training and development programs.
  • Enhance work-life balance for our store leadership teams. 

To increase recruitment, we:

  • Make wage enhancements based on geography.
  • Tell the story of our differentiated and positive company culture. We believe in putting relationships first, and our cultural beliefs and actions we take every day in the stores reflect that.

At the foundation of those efforts are our cultural beliefs, the pillars that define our work ethic, collaborative spirit and commitment to service.

One of our cultural beliefs is “you matter.” That’s not just words on a page. It’s how we engage with each other every day. The other four cultural beliefs are except excellence, stop waste, team up and talk straight.  

Inflation has been an industrywide challenge. Our goal is to partner with our customers to help them be successful. We focus on offering value while focusing on the three pillars, which are service, selection and convenience. 

CHEF’STORE is owned by US Foods and offers 82 locations nationwide across 13 states and prides itself as a convenient one-stop shop for home cooks as well. Due to the pandemic, at-home cooking is sticking. As a grocery retailer for the public this has been a positive for many in the industry but troubling for the restaurant industry, how has this affected CHEF’STORE?

As the number of meals eaten at home increases due to the pandemic, we see a rise in the interest in CHEF’STORE by the retail consumer. With our larger pack sizes, the average consumer does not need our larger-size products on a regular basis.

CHEF’STORE has primarily been a source for our home-chef customer’s larger events, parties, family gatherings, etc. However, as the number of meals prepared at home increases, we see more people able to utilize our larger pack sizes. In addition, as people are cooking more at home, we see more of an interest in products they might not find at a traditional retailer, including paper products, to-go containers and kitchen supplies.

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