A Luxury Supermarket Woos Its Upscale Clients with a Yuppie Credo—You Are What You Eat!
Notwithstanding the fact that groceries are sold there, FJ's in Blackhawk, Calif., is definitely not your average neighborhood supermarket. And some of the grace notes that set it apart are immediately apparent. There is, for instance, no piped-in Muzak here. Instead, a tuxedoed pianist soothes customers with a suitably civilized shopping Liszt. So when they put on the Ritz at FJ's, you can be sure they are not referring to crackers.
Look around and you'll see some of the shoppers chatting with their stockbrokers via cellular phones—supplied by the store. And FJ's has a resident wine steward to counsel on the relative merits, say, of a '59 Château Margaux ($400) versus a Chateau Lafite-Rothschild of the same year ($500). Fresh flowers are flown in from Maui three times a week, and an offensive-smelling lobster tank was once scented daily with perfume.
If the little touches—such as an attendant who offers patrons a cup of coffee and the bow-tied escorts who cart every customer's black-and-gold grocery bags out to the car—seem luxurious, well, that's what the clientele expects. This, after all, is Blackhawk, an exclusive development about 35 miles east of San Francisco, where the median family income is about $100,000 and average homes go for $450,000 to $2 million.
FJ's is named for its owner and president, Frank J. Straface, 54, formerly the Blackhawk Corporation's executive VP in charge of real estate sales. Married and the father of two sons, Straface says he took on the $6 million supermarket project because "I got the bug to do a store." He and his associates visited seven of the fanciest stores in the U.S., as well as Harrods in London, for inspiration. "We have taken upscaling to a new level," says Greg Pereira, VP and director of operations.
Shoppers at FJ's should be prepared to spend a lot: Excellence does not come cheaply. Some of the Petrossian caviars sell for $756 a pound. The dried porcini are $190 a pound, and the Saint Laurent perfume goes for $67 a quarter-ounce. The emporium stocks 50 kinds of vinegar and 70 varieties of mustard.
There are no candy or magazine racks anywhere in sight, but there are large potted palms and brass fixtures. FJ's occasionally lures patrons with art exhibits or fashion shows, and it recently held a Dog Food Tasting Day at which pampered party animals sampled such taste treats as bone-shaped gingerbread cookies. Another booth offered pesticide-free flea shampoo scented with orange blossom.
FJ's opulent approach to food purveyance seems to work. In its first year of operation it grossed $10 million, says Pereira. Regular folks shop here, too, though some come mainly for a different experience. "I came to eat," said Josh Hanson, 7, who accompanied his parents on a visit from nearby Walnut Creek. Yet when Josh was offered FJ's free sample of that day—raw goat's milk—he turned up his nose and decided not to have any.
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