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It’s been a few months since a Whole Foods opened up a mere two blocks from my apartment. This Whole Foods is an edifice structured like a two-story castle, airy and palatial.
Tucked away in the escalator-accessible basement, steps away from the butcher, is a tavern that calls itself N4. It’s got wines on draft and a dazzling array of cocktail options, with a menu modeled after that of a Jewish delicatessen, potato knishes and Reubens to boot. (If you’re vegan, don’t fret: There’s a portobello pastrami.) Whenever I walk by, I hear constant chatter and human activity, as I would in any other well-populated restaurant. It's even got a weekly trivia night!
I’ve never walked inside N4. My grocery routine is stressful enough, and I don’t want to introduce an added source of anxiety that comes with dining out. But I haven’t been able to stop hearing about the "grocerant," as it's called; it's everywhere I look.
The word grocerant is a handy portmanteau of 'grocery' and 'restaurant.' It's been used to describe what has long been a thoroughfare of grocery stores in the States, wherein grocery stores offer prepared foods and, ideally, an environment on the premises where you can eat them. These two divergent experiences, shopping and eating, cohabitate the same space. It was last summer when trend pieces began to pick up on the rise of grocery-restaurant hybrid and anoint the grocerant a trend.
In the past week, I've seen two pieces on the grocerant and where it's headed—one in Mother Jones, another in Eater. The Mother Jones story identities a potential pitfall of these grocerants. Grocery stores sometimes aren’t trained in the same way restaurateurs are about food safety rules, and the piece outlines the very recent history of aspirant grocerants not safeguarding well enough against these problems.
But the Eater piece gestures towards something more compelling: an evolution around what the grocerant even is. In his piece, Eater’s data reporter, Vince Dixon, reports on the influx of grocerants across the whole country—and, crucially, not just in moneyed, heavily gentrified urban areas where one may expect them to thrive.
The new grocerant is a formalized dining experience, fast-casual and ambient, a bougie step above a food court. You’re usually interacting with bartender or waitstaff, creating an experience so spellbinding that you’re almost compelled to forget you’re in a grocery store at all. It is demographic-responsive; in my corner of Brooklyn, which is congested with twenty-somethings who drink as much as they eat, that necessitates the presence of a full bar. Supermarket chains like Whole Foods have begun to partner with big-name chefs who can orchestrate these dining experiences as they would in a restaurant. Dixon attributes the recent formalization of the grocerant to the demands of millennials like me, who've grown up taking the existence of prepared foods and hot bars in grocery stores for granted. Now, we clamor for more.
I don't know if you live near a grocerant, but if you do, I'm wondering what yours looks like—and whether it's different from my own. Perhaps you'll bristle at a portmanteau as silly as the word 'grocerant,' as I first did. But add it to your vocabulary if you haven’t yet. I've got no clue what the grocerant will look like next year, or what that word will come to mean.
Do you live near a 'grocerant'? What's the one in your area like? Let us know in the comments.