Park City • Guests sipped cold beer and chatted while they waited for their smoked chicken wings, wood-fired pizzas and hamburgers to arrive. A local band played live music in the corner.
It was a typical opening day at the Silver Mine Taproom, except this full-service restaurant — with 24 beers on tap and more than two dozen wines by the glass — is inside the new Whole Foods grocery store, 6598 N. Landmark Drive.
The 100-seat restaurant, which opened Oct. 18, takes the average Utah grocery store’s quick-serve deli and salad bar to new heights. It also is part of a growing trend, as more grocers dedicate a portion of their stores to sit-down restaurants.
Industry experts have even coined a new name for the hybrid — the grocerant. It’s a concept where everyone wins. Customers get a one-stop shop — where they can sit down for a restaurant meal and, afterward, shop for milk, bread and eggs — while grocers increase sales and take a share of the fast-casual restaurant industry.
In-store dining and take-out of prepared foods from grocers has grown nearly 30 percent since 2008, and accounted for $10 billion of consumer spending in 2015, according to to the national food and beverage research company NPD.
While there were multiple generations at the Whole Foods Store last week, NPD research shows 20- and 30-something shoppers — aka millennials — are driving the trend nationally.
Whole Foods is considered a leader in the grocerant concept, said Red Elk Banks, a regional vice president who helped oversee the opening of the new 43,000-square-foot store at Kimball Junction, double the size of its original store at Redstone Center Drive. That store closed Sunday, Oct. 15.
“It‘s a trend for us, for sure,” he said while giving a tour of the new store, where he pointed out features including a hot bar with soup, a salad bar, sushi, a sandwich station, self-serve pizza, and a coffee and chocolate bar, featuring Utah-based Ritual Chocolate.
“We are about celebrating food,” Banks explained. “It’s not just about buying food, it’s about tasting and experiencing it.”
Whole Foods has three other Utah stores in Salt Lake County, including ones on Highland Drive, Sugar House and downtown. The Silver Mine Taproom is the first restaurant for the Utah market, Banks said.
Grocery chains in other states offer their own versions of restaurant-quality food programs. And at least one, Lucky’s Markets, has a “sip and stroll” program that lets shoppers enjoy pints of beer or a glass of wine while grocery shopping.
Of course, Utah’s strict alcohol laws prohibits that kind of behavior. The Silver Mine Tap Room is a restaurant — not a bar — so patrons must order food to enjoy beer or wine.
And while the restaurant boasts two dozen beers — 22 made in Utah — the taps are hidden in a separate room, to comply with Utah’s barrier law. Called a “Zion Curtain” by critics, it prevents children from seeing drinks mixed and poured.
Utah’s liquor rules didn’t affect the crowd on opening day, where parking was limited and seats at one of the taproom tables were hard to come by during lunch.
“The lives people lead are so busy,” explained spokeswoman Allison Phelps. Sometimes after work, “they have to choose between getting something to eat or doing their grocery shopping.”
In Park City, there is now time for both.