Grocery

What Is a 'Grocerant'?

March  3, 2017

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.

Shop the Story

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.

9 Comments

Windischgirl March 5, 2017
I grew up in Western New York with what I think is the original grocerant: Wegmans. We joke that since there is nothing to do or see in Buffalo, you go to the supermarket for fun and ogle the fifteen kinds of olives. I actually find it convenient when traveling; I know I can get a decent meal (better than fast food) at a do-able price, and run my errands at the same time. Have rendezvoused with family at grocerants and whomever wants to shop does and whoever doesn't nurses a coffee or enjoys a sandwich...nicer than leaving grandad in the car!
 
BerryBaby March 4, 2017
Two come to mind hetein Oregon, Zupan's and New Seasons. Both smell delicious when you walk in. Can't help but buy something to eat instantly.
 
Lynn D. March 3, 2017
We have a medium sized independent health food store in our town with a salad bar and some steam table entrees. You can take the food home or eat it in a small eating area. Most of the Mexican carnicerias and grocery stores in my town also have a kitchen and a few tables. They prepare delicious cheap food. We always take our out of town guests there. Carnicerante?
 
Whiteantlers March 3, 2017
Philadelphia just got an enormous new Whole Foods grocerant. That word is somehow unpleasant (like 'condominium' still is to me) and I have yet to shop there, but I can see a purpose and sense in making your shopping and eating a kind of social experience. It's not my thing but then I don't think I'm part of the demographic it's aimed at, either.
 
PHIL March 3, 2017
Maybe some of the Food52 staff remember Maganaro's on 8th ave. Heroboy, which was more well known, was the sandwich shop but next store was the Grosseria. It closed a few years ago but was there for 119 years. The front was an typical Italian deli , right out of a scene from the godfather. but in the back they had a little cafe run by the owners 5 daughters. They were nasty and yelled at you (a grocer - rant ) for using your cellphone or knowing what you wanted, Once they got to know you they were a little more amicable. They made some delicious food there.
 
E March 3, 2017
I know the WFs you are talking about! It is kind of overwhelming, not gonna lie. My personal experience would be with Eataly. Completely overwhelming, not super relaxing, but the food is so good that whenever I'm at Eataly (once every 4-6 weeks), I stop for a quick bite and a glass of wine. I do love their roof beer garden though, when it's open, but it's not actually IN the middle of the store so it definitely doesn't feel crazy AF. Personally, I don't care for most grocerants in NYC because if I'm hungry while grocery shopping, I pick on some snacks and then pay for them at then end. And if I'm starving while grocery shopping... well I'd have gone to a restaurant by then!! I can't shop hungry. Too many delicious options in NYC to eat at the grocery store as if it is a restaurant. As far as the hot bar and prepared options are concerned, I'm down with them - easy, quick, and just throw it in your cart! And then eat it at the cafe area if you can't wait til home! <br /><br />SO for the most part, nope, I just don't want to eat right then and there at an in store restaurant unless we are talking about the ABC line of restaurants inside ABC carpet and home (YEA TOTALLY DOWN! Gimme that pea guac and salted caramel sundae)
 
Tryumph March 3, 2017
The Fairway chain comes to mind. I always see people filling mysterious metal take out trays with prepared foods and some sitting enjoying the same. I scurry by with my cart full of organic produce and butcher finds and avoid it like the plague. I know it fits a need, but I need to cook rather than eat in a supermarket. Then again, I would rather cook than eat.<br />
 
jan2 March 3, 2017
This would be more interesting had you gone into one. Not sure what's so stressful about shopping and eating out-isn't this a foodie site.
 
Whiteantlers March 3, 2017
jan2-go clean your bathroom if you can't say something pleasant. Did you ever see the statement under Mayukh's picture? It states "I'm a terrible cook." Pay attention and you'll find that life is a wonderful and interesting place.