Culinary Cathedral

With its outstanding made-from-scratch prepared foods; local produce, meats and specialty foods; plus traditional and gourmet groceries, Harmons City Creek has created a religious experience for foodies in the heart of Salt Lake City.

Go ahead. Grab a slice!

That is because the easiest—and most delicious—way to tell that Harmons City Creek in downtown Salt Lake City is a cut above other supermarkets is by sampling its renowned artisan pizza. Unlike the gummy or cardboard-like consistency of most supermarket pizzas, the crust is thin and crisp, light and airy, complementing but not over-powering the toppings.

“We have a local organic wheat farmer who grows the wheat for us here in Utah,” explains Bob Harmon, vice president for the customer, at the 16-unit family-owned West Valley City, Utah-based chain. The wheat is then ground into flour at the local Lehi Roller Mills made famous in the original Footloose movie.

But there is a lot more to this pizza than just the crust. It is based on authentic Italian recipes. “We took about 40 different people on three different trips to Italy,” Harmon says. “We didn’t do the coasts, but we went to Northern Italy for the food.”

So why not save all that airfare and just go to Little Italy in New York?

“We saw flour being ground and made. We saw where [pizza] came from to go to New York,” Harmon explains. “This pizza here is going to be very high quality. You are going to taste every ingredient. The dough is going to be just right; the sauce is not too much. There is so much pizza competition. How do you successfully get into it? You have something that is entirely different, and that is what we are trying to provide.”

The pizzas are sold cooked to order baked up in a 600-degree wood burning oven, or merchandised “take-and-bake” par baked in a special paperboard dish. Consumers simply preheat their oven to 425 degrees, pop off the lid and place the entire tray in the oven for 15 minutes.

Pizza is just one key component of Harmons prepared foods program. There is also an extensive hot foods bar, sandwiches, salads, sushi and homemade gelato. “Everything in this prepared foods case is made here,” Harmon says. “The chicken breast in our sesame chicken is from our natural chicken that we hand-trim back in our meat department. Everything is made from scratch and you can taste it.”

That explains the lunchtime bottlenecks. “This is the primetime, the opportunity,” Harmon says. “There are 10,000 people who work downtown and then leave, so lunch is exceptional.” Harmons is using its prepared foods to try and win a bigger share of stomach away from the mall food court directly across the street.

Third anchor

Occupying a prime spot downtown, Harmons is the unofficial third anchor—along with “official” anchor stores Macy’s and Nordstrom—of City Creek Center. The unique regional two-block long indoor/outdoor shopping mall, which is replete with a retractable glass roof, was built as an urban renewal project by City Creek Reserve, Inc. (CCRI), an affiliate of the LDS Church, which maintains its headquarters at the adjacent Temple Square. City Creek replaces the dated ZCMI Center and Crossroads Center malls, which were hit hard when The Gateway mall opened in 2001 at the far end of downtown ahead of the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Harmons’ February opening attracted almost 7,000 patrons. Many had been waiting six years for the store to open. “Our original opening date for this store was September 2008,” says Dean Peterson, president/CEO. The project took so long because CCRI, which approached Harmons about opening a downtown store, insisted that the supermarket be incorporated into an existing parking garage. Initial plans called for an apartment tower atop the store to help offset the cost of the development. Over the years plans for the building kept switching focus as well as developers and architects. “We really couldn’t start designing the store until we had the footprint nailed down,” Peterson says. “It took years of literally working back and forth on this.”

The final building contains the supermarket and parking structure, but no apartment tower. Current plans call for an apartment or office tower to be built on a grassy lot/park adjacent to the store. “This building is designed with that in mind,” Peterson says. “We have underneath us areas where we can pop out and go into that building for parking and so forth. Part of our storage area behind prepared foods is the loading dock for that building. It is already built and designed.” Because parking is allowed on the roof Harmons had to install air scrubbers on its cooking vents, something it never had to do with its suburban stores.

Another challenge was that City Creek Center was developed by another developer, mall operator Taubman Centers. As a result, Harmons is not featured on mall directory maps, even though a tunnel from the mall’s food court exits directly in front of its Social Hall mezzanine level entrance off South State Street.

City Creek is Harmons first true urban location. With a 50,000-square-foot main floor the store is considered “small” by Harmons’ standards. “We did a lot of research to see how to get a 70,000 square-foot store into 50,000 square feet,” says Frank Lundquist, vice president, store development. Space was added by incorporating a 19,000-square-foot mezzanine that is home to seating, the cooking school, cookware department, post office, sushi and sandwich bar and gelato counter.

Harmons City Creek is the second smallest store in the chain, after the 10,000-square-foot Emigration Market location. Emigration Market was a former independent in a developed residential area of Salt Lake City that Harmons acquired, totally remodeled and reopened last year. Many of the Emigration Market features found their way into City Creek, including the use of Metro shelving from Wilkes-Barre, Pa.-based InterMetro Industries instead of traditional Madix or Lozier shelving. “It is more expensive to do Metro shelving—about $100,000 more vs. Lozier—so people give up on it, but what you achieve is more space,” Lundquist says. “You go right to the floor with it and right to the top with product, so in a regular three- or four-foot section you pick up two shelves.”

Because of the parking structure on top, Harmons City Creek also has higher ceilings – 30 feet vs. 22 feet – than its other stores. Air Pears fans are used to circulate air and silkscreen-like portraits of Harmons employees decorate the walls and pillars.

“We wanted to focus on our people, so all of the people you see on these wall signs are actual Harmons associates,” Lundquist says, pointing to one banner over the pharmacy counter. “That is important. You can get models and all that and it is easy to photo shop them in, but she actually works at our pharmacy in St. George. Everybody can put up a sign saying ‘Fresh Produce’ or ‘Bakery’ but what is different about it? This is a big thing for our associates. We are proud of our people and that is what we think is the difference between us and our competition.”

LED lighting from St. Louis-based Baero North America helps lighten up the sales floor. “Baero costs more money, but there is a big reason why we use it,” Lundquist says. “It pops the colors, especially on yellows, oranges and reds.” It can be seen in something as commonplace as a bag of Ruffles potato chips merchandised on an end cap. That is because Harmons frames some end caps in LED lighting. “We just take a strip of LED, cut it to fit, plug it in and go,” Lundquist says.

“When you have the guys from Frito-Lay coming in with their suits and they see this lighted Ruffles display it is pretty impressive to them,” Harmon adds.

Wide stairwells

Elevators and staircases lead from the main floor to the mezzanine.

“We wanted to make sure that we had open, wide stairwells,” Peterson says. “We feel that people are starting to be more health conscious in using stairs, so we made them an architectural element of the building, encased in glass on the corner, and illuminated at night.”

Entrances on the main level and mezzanine allow easy access for both pedestrians and those using the parking garage.

“Having the mezzanine has actually helped us,” Peterson says. “If you enter from Social Hall tunnel you walk in on the same level. That has created more traffic up on the mezzanine than in other stores. So our cooking school became our best cooking school immediately, and the same can be said of our cookware department.”

A variety of public and private cooking classes are offered at the cooking school, which contains four Wolf gas/electric ranges and work stations. “Our classes are either hands-on where they come in and work with me to make the dishes, or classes where I use cameras and teach them how to make a recipe,” says Chef “Al” Adalberto Diaz.

Some classes center around nutrition. “I will have healthy cooking classes with Chef Al, along with my own nutrition workshops and educational workshops on different topics,” says Laura Holtrap Kohl, the store’s dietician. “Last week I did a sports nutrition workshop where we partnered with The Gym [fitness center] across the street, which was very popular.”

At the culmination of the classes students are ushered through a glass door into the adjacent cookware department. “You know how when you go on a tour of something you exit through the gift shop? Well, in our cooking school you exit through the cookware ‘gift shop,’” Peterson says.

The mezzanine provides seating for some 300 diners. As part of Harmons’ environmental efforts, trash receptacles are placed throughout the floor with dioramas on top showing which items are recycled as plastic, paper, aluminum or sent to the landfill. “You can have bins that say ‘recycling,’ but when people see this they say, ‘Oh, I get it,’” Lundquist says, adding that glass bottles are sent to the landfill because Utah does not have a glass recycling program.

Meat and produce

After eating upstairs, many shoppers go downstairs to do their grocery shopping. A walk down the Social Hall staircase deposits them in the meat and produce area. “One thing we wanted to do was to have stuff together to cross-merchandise, so we put produce and meat together,” Lundquist says. “That is not something you see in a lot of stores.”
Among the meat department’s many offerings are dry aged beef and store-made sausage.
“All of our sausages are made fresh in-house,” says Al Ward, meat manager. “We make 23 varieties.”

A popular meat department seller is the Cowboy Griller: two boneless/skinless chicken thighs filled with a wild rice and mushroom stuffing and wrapped in bacon.

Turkey is also becoming a year-round favorite. “We use a local turkey producer in Moroni, Utah, and we cut it fresh,” Harmon says. “We offer ground turkey, cutlets, chops, strips, cubes, brined, breasts, wings, thighs and whole turkeys. We have skinless cuts that can be put into pasta dishes, stir-fry, etc. Turkey is healthier than chicken because it is lower in fat and cholesterol and higher in protein.”

The turkey farmer is only one local business with which Harmons has partnered. “We are doing business with 700 local businesses, including attorneys, architects and store development, but just in produce alone we have 27 partnerships,” Harmon says.

That includes the Utah-grown wheat utilized in the bakery department. Everything sold in the department is made in-house, including crusty artisan breads, hand-rolled bagels innovatively merchandised on wooden spindles and a mouth-watering array of fancy pastries and cakes. “Our cheesecakes are phenomenal,” Harmon says. “It is all scratch. We use Madagascar vanilla and Philly cream cheese. We don’t scrimp—and you can’t if you want to deliver something great. There is too much competition in good.”

That is why Harmons City Creek offers up a great assortment of fine chocolates that literally span the globe, say officials for the retailer.

“We have Amano chocolate that is local, amazing and award-winning,” says Harmon, “along with Amadeus from Italy, and chocolates from South America, Africa and other places. We have a globe showing where our chocolates are from. Once you’ve had fine chocolates you can really understand the differences in flavor and taste.”

It is these differences that keep downtown shoppers coming back for more.

HEALTHY CHECK OUT LINE

Candy-free checkout lanes have become a norm in many stores, but Harmons City Creek is taking the concept to another level with its Healthy Checkout Lane, stocked only with nutritious snacks like apples, oranges, bananas, Chobani yogurt, Good to Go protein bars, fruit cups, granola bars, Funky Monkey candy, gluten-free offerings and Naked Juice.
“All of the product sold here have to met the nutritional criteria set by our store dietician,” says Bob Harmon, vice president for the customer. “She makes sure that the snacks have no more than 400 calories so moms can just grab them.”

And don’t expect to thumb through the latest issue of the Globe or National Enquirer while waiting on line. The only magazines allowed at this check stand are family-friendly and health-oriented titles such as Cooking Light, Family Circle, Fit Pregnancy, Paper Crafts, Scooby Doo Magazine, Diabetes Magazine and Taste of Home.

“When you step into the lane next door you’ll see every pop, candy and tabloid,” Harmon says. “As this Healthy Checkout Lane becomes more popular we will continue to roll it out.”

 

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