UNION, Ky. - Kitchen 1883, the Kroger Co.’s first attempt at launching its own restaurant concept, has debuted to one-hour wait times in Union, Kentucky.
“We do a great brunch business on Saturday and Sunday,” said General Manager Jay Denham. “We have lots of families coming in, people coming in while their significant other goes next door and grocery shops.”
The 94-seat restaurant is part of Kroger's larger attempt to gain what CEO Rodney McMullen has called “stomach share.” It’s developing in-store dining options that compete not only against other grocery chains but also in the larger $1.5 trillion food industry that includes restaurants.
Kitchen 1883 is “a novel concept” that will benefit from being part of a brand new Kroger Marketplace store, said David Sheehy, a retail and restaurant specialist for Anchor Associates.
“It’s a rapidly growing market that has good incomes,” Sheehy said. “There are a number of restaurants looking at going on out-lots and other buildings in front of Kroger. The Marketplace store will generate a lot of traffic.”
Denham is a 16-year industry veteran whose Red Hog artisanal butcher shop and restaurant in Louisville was a Top 50 finalist in Bon Appetit’s “Best New Restaurants in America 2017.” After watching Kitchen 1883 operate for a month, Denham is convinced the concept has the potential to grow far beyond its current confines in a Kroger Marketplace store on U.S. 42 in Union.
“We could put one of these in any community and it would feel just like a neighborhood restaurant,” he said. “I think this could go anywhere.”
Offering a cuisine it describes as “New American comfort food,” Kitchen 1883 has a menu that ranges from a $4 cup of Vegan chili to slow-cooked beef short ribs with “horseradish smashed potatoes” and “blistered carrots” for $18.
“People love our cheeseburger,” said Executive Chef Chris Bushelman. “I never thought a cauliflower sprout appetizer would do well, but it’s one of our top selling appetizers. We season that. We roast them and then reheat them to order and people just absolutely love them.”
Bushelman comes from a well-connected Northern Kentucky family. His father, Ted Bushelman, was a longtime spokesman for the region’s international airport. His mother, Gloria Bushelman, was a former owner of Boone, Kenton and Campbell County Recorder newspapers.
Bushelman’s culinary background includes several years developing restaurant concepts for Restaurants-America and as corporate chef for Fortney Hospitality Group, which launched national chains Brothers Bar & Grill and Bar Louie.
Like Denham, he sees Kitchen 1883 as the start of a restaurant company within Kroger that has plenty of growth potential.
“I’d like to be a part of helping this concept and potentially other concepts grow within the company,” he said.
Kitchen 1883 operates like its own freestanding restaurant chain, paying rent for its space in the larger Kroger property and not using store staff or the products they sell to prepare its daily menus.
“Kroger is the builder of this company,” Bushelman said, “but within these four walls, it’ll be the Kitchen 1883’s culture. They brought me and Jay here to help create that culture.”
And what is the culture? Bushelman said it’s a combination of well-prepared meals with locally sourced ingredients that vary by season, served by a friendly staff that make customers want to come back.
“Guests work really hard for their money,” he said. “We want them to feel they’re treated hospitably and like part of our family. When they leave, they know that their money was well spent.”