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A Midwest Surprise

This store is part Wegmans, part H-E-B, and part Publix — but it’s also 100% Cosentino’s.

I guess my biggest surprise came when I turned the corner into frozen foods and saw dozens of people eating at folding tables and chairs right there in the aisle. Really. Check out the photo on the opposite page.

Most of the diners were high school kids from Las Vegas, visiting Cosentino’s Downtown Market in Kansas City, Mo., during a student journalism convention. And what better place to eat than at Cosentino’s?

There’s the sit-down sushi bar, the gelato bar, the service counters for hot meals and sandwiches, the humungous salad bar, the decadent pastries, the coffee bar, and the award-winning deli. There’s a large dining area at the front of the store, and an even larger one upstairs at the rear. And when things get really busy, there’s also the frozen food aisle.

This place is 50% supermarket, 50% restaurant and 50% genius. As soon as I walked in the door, I started making mental comparisons to some of my favorite retailers — Wegmans, H-E-B, Publix and Loblaw’s. Reviewers at give the store rave reviews, with one recent post comparing it to Balducci’s, the New York City icon. Truth be told, I’d been dragged here by Paul Chapa, my Olathe, Kansas-based business partner, who I feared was merely infected with home-boy pride when he went on and on (and on some more) about Cosentino’s.

Okay, so Paul was right, he knew it and he was gloating. (“Told ya!”) What’s particularly amazing about this store — which gives the impression of enormous variety — is that it packs it all into only 33,000 square feet. Frozen foods — with 1,300 SKUs — and dairy — with 1,500 — make up only a tiny percentage of floor space.

But don’t let size fool you. This little store has rung up as many as 916 transactions in a single hour. It’s a record that store personnel mention with pride. Keep in mind that there are only ten registers — three at the entrance on Main St., five leading into the parking garage (at the other end of the store), one at the sushi bar, and one at the coffee bar. (Two mobile registers are put into service at particularly busy times.)

Kansas City has come a long way in recent years, but some locals were surprised at how well and how quickly Cosentino’s downtown store took off. John Cosentino, vice president, said that plenty of research went into the planning.

“It‘s imperative to manage your SKUs based upon your customers’ When the dining areas in the store fill up during conventions, sometimes the frozen food aisle is pressed into service for extra seating. 20 COVER STORY needs to be successful,” he noted. “We initially set the store based wupon our knowledge, then reset it regularly to satisfy the desires of our customers. We studied the area and knew we would have convention goers as well as 110,000 commuters requiring a unique product mix to take care of their needs. Downtown Kansas City provides the opportunity for us to service those who work, live and play in the area. Those who live downtown are often dual-income households no kids, empty nesters or singles.” The abundance of local products storewide caught my attention, and I asked Cosentino about it. “Our family has been in the Kansas City grocery business since 1948,” he explained. “Over time, we have established strong relationships with local brands. The Kansas City market is full of great local vendors like Shatto dairy — one of Kansas City’s favorites! They bring us milk, cheese, ice cream, and fun flavors of milk! If we hear of a local product, we will seek it out.”

(Yes, that’s Shatto’s “LOCAL” milk in the photo. Shatto is a small, family-owned and operated dairy farm just north of Kansas City.) “Kansas City supports local,” Cosentino added. “A lot of local products are supplied by family operations. Being a local familyowned company ourselves, we love to support them. Their products are unique and often unavailable anywhere else in the country. Being able to work on a personal basis with the local families provides us a unique opportunity.”

Natch, I had to ask Cosentino about those tables in the frozen food aisle. Did that sort of thing happen often? Were they able to plan for it?

“Being downtown, we see a lot of conventions, and yes, we do know about them in advance. We have learned to be prepared when there will be a large number of people/ kids ‘on their own’ for meals during a large convention. In many cases, being prepared means turning the frozen food aisle into a seating area!”

Well, that makes sense, since there was simply nowhere else to put all those people who came in to eat. But this being the Midwest and all, nobody seemed to mind saying ‘Excuse me’ as they reached behind the kids for ice cream or a frozen pizza. (But I wouldn’t suggest trying this in New York without riot police and pepper spray — both of which tend to diminish the dining experience.)

You can see pretty much the whole store from that upstairs dining area I mentioned. It was packed the day I took the photos on the opening pages — combined into one wide picture courtesy of our art director, who kinda smooshed things together behind the pole in the middle. You can see the kids’ school buses out the window on the right.

If you look closely, you’ll begin to get an idea of what this store is all about. You can see drinks, juices and salads giving way to produce in the open multi-decks a bit to the right, with frozen foods (and all those high school kids) hidden from view behind them.

Toward the back of the photo, you can just make out the dining area at the front of the store and, next to the pole, the sushi bar. In the photo on the right, near the top of the frame is the service hot meals section, including “Pasta Pronto”. On the day of my visit, they were dishing out a $5.95 meal, including bread sticks and your choice of pasta, sauce and three ingredients. Moving back toward the front of the store are the service deli and sandwich area. It’s hard to see, but the little service gelato bar is there, with serving sizes and specialties spelled out in Italian but with translations for people like me. (Okay, smartie pants — what’s bacca panna? Bet you didn’t know it’s a caramel blackberry sundae!)

The salad bar stretches along the outside wall. Those five freezer doors on the far right are for single-serve ice cream (to balance those healthy beans and broccoli), cakes and other goodies, with a pay point by the last door. To the left of the freezer cases, those European-style cases directly facing you are for the “Decadent Pastries and Desserts.” Moving back to the photo on the left, the refrigerated island display nearest the checkouts has cheeses and pates, cross-merchandised with complementary items — many of them from local suppliers. For example, you’ll find Amber Ale from Boulevard Brewing Company in Kansas City, and The Jelly Lady’s jellies, “direct from Sedgwick, Kansas.” There are a lot of little touches in this display that make it interesting and class it up. There’s a polished red apple sitting nonchalantly beside the ale and above the cheese, and on the corner of the case there’s a potted plant. Whoever designed this was clearly having fun — just like so many of Cosentino’s shoppers.

Location: 10 East 13th St., Kansas City, Mo.
Ownership: Cosentino’s Group, Inc., with 25 stores in the area, was founded in 1948. It is family-owned and operated.
New & noteworthy: The downtown store now offers online shopping via MyWebGrocer.

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