There’s a delicacy that originated in Buffalo, NY, called a Roast Beef on Weck sandwich. It’s a hot roast beef sandwich where the meat is aged three to four weeks in a cooler and hand-carved on a kaiser roll encrusted with caraway seeds and pretzel salt. It sounds like a mouthwatering delight, but seems a little too time consuming for a convenience store foodservice operation. But NOCO Express knew it absolutely could be done in a c-store environmentprovided it had a full-service butcher on its side who knew the beef business inside and out.
After remodeling one of its stores, NOCO Express (Tonawanda, NY) was on the lookout for a unique foodservice offering, and Real Estate Development Manager Tim Boyle thought he’d found it. He had had a taste of the Roast Beef on Weck sandwich at a Charlie the Butcher restaurant and convinced General Manager Henry Bays to do the same. The rest, as they say, is history.
“This is NOCO’s first venture into full-scale foodservice,” says Bays. “We tried proprietary programs in the past, but nothing stuck. We didn’t really have a place to start, but we knew we wanted something that would be unique for our customers.
“Charlie the Butcher prepares the best-tasting roast beef you’ll ever eat,” he continues. “I’ve been in the c-store business a number of years and I’ve seen fast-food offers all overthey all look pretty much the same. But Charlie the Butcher is extremely hard to duplicate because of the quality and type of food he’s serving. Customers walk up to the counter and a butcher carves the meat right in front of you, and in 12 to 15 seconds, we’ve created a hand-carved sandwich for them.”
Charles Roesch, president of Charlie the Butcher (and Charlie the Butcher himself), is carrying on a business started by his great grandfather back in 1913. The concept has evolved from an inner city butcher shop to a restaurant chain responsible for perfecting the Roast Beef on Weck sandwich that captivated NOCO Express. Charlie’s side of the business is a “two to three person operation,” but he is the only trained butcher. His staff consists solely of restaurateurs with food safety knowledge and customer service experience. But the key to his operation is the Alto-Shaam Combitherm oven and blast chiller, which allows Charlie to naturally tenderize and age pieces of meat overnight in an oven that would take three to four weeks to do in a meat cooler. With his set-up, he can prepare two days’ worth of meals, which are then brought down in temperature, held and then “rethermed” to serve with no loss in flavor profile.
In NOCO’s stores, sandwiches are available all day with an array of homemade sides that are prepared on site. Some, like the chef, Caesar, spring mix and pasta salads, are available as grabandgo items. But the core of the offer focuses on quality home meal replacement at reasonable prices. After 4 p.m. customers can get fresh, hand-carved roast beef and turkey dinners every day, with a third meat option that changes daily; Monday it’s baked ham, Tuesday it’s meatloaf, Wednesday it’s corned beef and Thursday it’s prime rib. Potatoes, like garlic roasted red skin or mashed, and veggies, like corn or roasted root vegetables, complete the meal, along with desserts like bread pudding and rice pudding. And nothing goes to waste at Charlie the Butcher. Left-over meats are used to prepare breakfast sandwiches for the next day, and unused trimmings from the carving bar are used in homemade soups. Charlie even offers mini-sandwiches for children.
Due to zoning restrictions, NOCO couldn’t get Charlie into the original location it had planned, but it was still eager to use the concept to create an eating destination for customers in one of its stores. The company provided 900 sq. ft., which includes seating for 16 to 18 people, in an existing store in Orchard Park, NY. Charlie skewed down the offer based on the room NOCO could provide.
With the first store up and running, NOCO is anxious to integrate Charlie into two more locations. Both are new builds (one is the original location the company had in mind in Aurora, NY) and will afford Charlie more room to work as well as increase his offer to include some fried items. The other new location that will house the Charlie the Butcher concept is in a food court with a Tim Hortons, scheduled to open this month in Depew, NY. Sandwiches start at $4.79, and dinners range from $6.99 to $9.99, depending on the meat. All items are bar-coded and rung up through NOCO’s registers, and the two parties have a revenue-sharing agreement. NOCO provides the space and counters, but Charlie comes with his own food preparation and serving equipment. Charlie the Butcher has been in the Orchard Park store since September and serves up 200 to 300 meals and sandwiches a day, which has exceeded both NOCO’s and Charlie the Butcher’s expectations.
“The customer reaction has been fantastic,” says Bays. “Charlie has already exceeded what he thought would be his maximum sales in the first couple of weeks he was open. We had a soft opening-no coupons or anything, just hung a signand the people came rolling in. It’s been a learning process on both sides of this partnership, but after seeing how well it’s working out we couldn’t be happier.”
There are two freestanding Charlie the Butcher restaurants in the Buffalo area, as well as three eateries within Wegmans grocery stores. It’s this established presence, coupled with an extraordinary offer, that NOCO believes has given it a leg up on the competition.
“Rather than implementing a national offering, we went with something that’s unique to Buffalo, and it’s given us a real edge,” says Bays. “His area is eyecatching and the appearance of the food and quality of his presentation really grabs customers. Even if they didn’t come in for food originally, the seed of quality has been planted and they’ll be back for it.”