Chefs beef up ranks at revamped Winn-Dixie stores

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By Anjali Fluker

Look out, Whole Foods , there’s a new player in town ready to serve up organic produce, fancy salads and even in-house sushi.
And you can still pick up a regular gallon of milk and a bag of dog food before you head home.
The Winn-Dixie store on U.S. Highway 17-92 in Fern Park — the third Central Florida store to be revamped as part of the Jacksonville-based grocery chain’s $200 million “transformational remodeling” effort — redebuted on Feb. 22 with a more open layout, exposed ceilings, upgraded flooring, wider aisles and 50 more employees, mostly due to the chain’s expanded culinary offerings.

The biggest change is in the store’s culinary department, which has a heavy focus on “meal solutions” — offering shoppers an opportunity to take home freshly prepared meals if they aren’t able to gather components of a meal to take home to cook. Staffers include chefs from the hospitality and restaurant industry and food is cooked in the in-house kitchen, carefully monitored and refreshed every 2-3 hours, said Kevin Smith, the chain’s corporate executive chef.
Offerings include healthy quick-service options, like nine flavors of chicken wings and a pizza/pasta bar, as well as a carving station, homestyle side dishes, composed salads, olives and cheeses, fresh sushi in the seafood department and even a bakery touting cakes, cupcakes, pastries and cheesecake. Some of the foods are featured in the deli area, while others have their own sections.
“We prepare it and shoppers have the opportunity to buy from an amazing assortment of options, and then have everyone sit down at the table for a meal,” said Chef Kevin, who himself has worked for Hyatt and Hilton hotels. “We’re pretty much a fast food nation … but with these options, we can get back to the dining room again.”
Meanwhile, the store also added some new features —such as bent aisles that feature health and beauty items. The 58,600-square-foot store was completely reversed, so the expanded produce, culinary and floral departments moved from the right side of the store to the left, said Mark Nyquist, district manager for Central Florida, who along with Chef Kevin and store director Frank Diaz toured me through the Winn-Dixie on its grand re-opening day.
Additionally, since the area has a strong Jewish population, this store put a focus on Kosher food offerings, headlined by a 22-foot fresh meat section. One customer told us he drove across town just for the Kosher foods.
Though this was the last of the Central Florida stores to get this remodel — Apopka introduced the concept last year and a second store in Longwood re-debuted last week — one more is planned for Palm Bay in Brevard County.
But who knows, maybe these efforts could be so successful that the chain will want to revamp all its stores in the future.

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