Charleston’s newest high-end eatery has two executive chefs, two cheesemongers, a pair of sushi chefs along with what chef Lucas Arthur calls “the world’s largest pantry.”
That’s because, in just a few steps, Arthur can move from his kitchen into the produce section of the Ashton Place Kroger store.
And if he needs ingredients for his Korean-style barbecue ribs or grilled blackened chicken, the store’s meat shop is only a few hundred feet away.
As part of its new multimillion-dollar renovations to its Ashton Place location, Kroger built a 17,000-square-foot addition onto the side of the store.
Most of that space is dedicated to its newly expanded deli and bakery department.
At a station near the front of the department, a pair of chefs spend their mornings making fresh sushi for both the Ashton Place and Kanawha City Kroger locations.
The store had a smaller sushi selection before the renovation. Regional manager Andrea Higginbotham said the station was extremely popular, and when it went away while workers completed renovations on the new deli, customers constantly asked when it would return.
“Kroger stepped up to the plate and gave us the deli and bakery our customers wanted,” she said.
While it still offers all the grocery store staples like cartoon character birthday cakes and big vats of macaroni salad, the new deli also features brand-new fresh food options prepared by its two full-time chefs and their assistants.
That includes entrees like the barbecue ribs and blackened chicken but also a made-to-order sandwich shop and new “Chef on the Run” bars.
There’s a soup and salad bar, plus hot food items like scalloped potatoes and fried chicken.
The bar also offers a daily “meal deal.”
Mondays are dedicated to Mexican food (with Mexican corn, pork enchiladas and chicken enchiladas this week).
Tuesdays feature southern comfort food, Wednesdays are for Italian, Thursdays are dedicated to barbecue and Fridays are for Asian food. Weekends feature a “wing bar,” with a variety of chicken wings, boneless wings and popcorn chicken.
Some people don’t even wait to get home before digging in.
Gail Stamper, chef’s assistant, said the dining area has become very popular with customers.
“I was surprised,” she said. “They’ve got their buggy full of groceries and they’ll stop and get something to eat.”
Higginbotham said the store plans to begin hosting regular wine and beer pairing events to promote both the deli offerings and the store’s expanded wine selection. These will likely occur on weekends or around big holidays.
“Times when people are looking for those special pairings,” she said.
The store also has expanded its olive bar, which now includes a variety of olives from all over the world, plus different kinds of peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic mushrooms and caprese salad.
Around the corner is the expanded cheese counter, with a variety of cheeses from around the world and two full-time “cheese stewards” to help customers decide.
“If anybody wants to sample anything, all they have to do is ask,” said cheese steward Kim Kelley.
Higginbotham said customers are encouraged to try samples at both the olive bar and the cheese station.
“We want them to try it,” Higginbotham said. “The more you can get someone to eat it, the more likely they are to buy it.”
Most of the cheese arrives at the store in half wheels and full wheels, which Kelley and fellow cheesemonger Dennis Webb cut and wrap into individual, more consumer-friendly pieces.
Their Parmigiana Reggiano arrives direct from Italy in giant, 80-pound wheels . . . which at $20 a pound would set you back about $1,600 for the whole thing.
Luckily, the store sells smaller quantities, cut into wedges or grated. You can also buy pieces of the cheese rind to use in sauces.
Before the renovations, everything in the store’s bakery section had to fit in a 12-foot-long case.
The space has now been opened up to feature all kinds of fresh-baked breads, cookies, cupcakes and other pastries.
The bakery also has a new gourmet dessert case filled with cakes, fruit-topped cheesecakes and gourmet cupcakes.
Baker Heather Lewis said the red velvet and chocolate fudge cupcakes are the most popular, but she has also come up with some popular creations on her own.
The case currently features a Nutella cupcake Lewis invented. A few weeks ago, she made a peach cobbler cupcake filled with peach pie filling. For Valentine’s Day, she made chocolate-dipped cupcakes.
“Those sold really well,” she said.
Construction at Ashton Place began in late April 2013. The new deli partially opened the weekend before Thanksgiving, but has been fully up and running since early February.
Workers plan to finish renovations on the rest of the store over the next couple months, with a grand opening slated for mid-June.
Higginbotham said customers have already started comparing the store to those in big cities like Pittsburgh and Atlanta.
“They’re excited about all the varieties we have,” she said.
Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-4830 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ZackHarold.