Fried chicken and potato wedges have been a big hit at the newly opened Ukrop’s Market Hall in the first week and a half of operation.
The high demand has caused long lines at the food hall located at Patterson Avenue and Horsepen Road in Henrico County. Some customers have waited as long as four hours to get some fried chicken.
“We have just been overwhelmed” selling those items, said Robert S. “Bobby” Ukrop, chairman and CEO of Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods, which opened the retail shop to sell its food and bakery products.
In its first week of operation — from Tuesday, Dec. 8 to Tuesday, Dec. 15 (the food hall is closed on Sundays) — more than 13,000 pieces of chicken were sold.
To put that number in perspective, Ukrop said it’s about double what one of his family’s high-volume grocery stores sold in fried chicken in a week before the supermarkets were sold a decade ago.
Ukrop said he figured bringing back the fried chicken, potato wedges and breakfast pizza would be popular. After all, those items have been the top requests his company has received since the supermarkets were sold.
“But it is a lot more than we thought,” said Ukrop, noting that the sale of fried chicken, chicken bites and potato wedges accounted for roughly 22% of the food hall’s total sales in its first week.
Customers are coming from all over the Richmond region and as far away as Farmville, Tappahannock and the Washington area to buy fried chicken, he said.
Because of the huge demand, executives at Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods are learning to adapt and shift operations to better serve customers, he said.
The shop implemented a system where customers are given a ticket to be able to stand in line in half-hour increments to buy fried chicken.
The tickets are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. — that’s the time when customers can buy fried chicken, potato wedges and other hot foods. (The store is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; the breakfast pizza is available only from 7 to 11 a.m.)
Fifteen tickets are given to customers for each half-hour increment.
“The ticket system is really helping us learn about how long it is taking folks in line and how many we can serve in an hour and how much chicken we can produce in an hour,” said Scott Aronson, president of Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods. “We are looking for resources to make sure we are providing the right level of customer service and that we are doing everything we can to manage the line and to communicate with customers.”
The food hall now gives menus to customers waiting in line so they know what food can be bought when at the front of the line. That has helped speed up the ordering process. It also is experimenting with taking food orders while customers are standing in line.
Even with the new procedures, the average wait time in line is closer to 45 minutes to an hour, he said.
Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods has had a little bit of a learning curve opening the food hall, Aronson said. “Everyone thinks that Ukrop’s has been in business for 80-plus years, but this is a brand-new type of shop with new systems and all of the equipment is new.”
Ukrop said the vast majority of customers have been understanding. “I’m grateful for that.”