Organic fruit, cases of Redbull and yo-yos — with all these items and more, Gourmet Grocer fills a dining niche at Penn and has plans to improve after the renovations under 1920 Commons are completed.
Since 2013, Gourmet Grocer in the first lower level of Commons has served as a miniature grocery store catering exclusively to students and staff. Students often wonder why shopping there is more expensive than at Fresh Grocer two blocks away, but Penn Dining contends that Gourmet Grocer provides a Penn-unique grocery service and even hopes to expand its offerings to include warm food.
"All of the seed stores we have are unique to the campus, and the Gourmet Grocer is meant to be unique to Penn students and faculty — it's not meant to be like a Fresh Grocer or a Trader Joe's," Stephen Scardina, resident district manager of Bon Appétit, said. "Comparing the stores are like comparing apples to oranges."
Gourmet Grocer had to be designed differently than other grocery stores because of the small space and the fact that Bon Appétit doesn't have the purchasing power of a national grocery store chain, Scardina said. Bon Appétit and Penn Dining tried to use Whole Foods as their model when designing Gourmet Grocer so that it could bring in many local and organic options, with over 4,000 products sold every week.
While Gourmet Grocer is the size of a convenience store, carries toys and household items and is conveniently on campus, it is not trying to be a Wawa, Scardina said.
A principal goal of Gourmet Grocer is to stock items that students want to purchase on campus. Cashiers keep a logbook of requested items, and Bon Appétit works with groups like Penn Vegan Society and Penn Hillel to carry products that fit in vegan and kosher diets. To make it easy to shop there, the checkout accepts real money, Dining Dollars and Bursar.
A significant portion of products in Gourmet Grocer are a combination of fair-trade, organic and locally-sourced and are meant to cater to students with specific dietary needs, like gluten-free diets. Gourmet Grocer also promotes products from local artisans and entrepreneurs.
"These aren't just goals that students might have when they choose what to buy for themselves, but also goals that the University has for its purchasing," Business Services Director of Communications and External Relations Barbara Lea-Kruger said.
The ongoing, unannounced construction of a new student service under Commons should not disrupt Gourmet Grocer's service, Scardina said.
"If anything, we think that once [the new service] nearby is complete, it should open up some space for us to put a few tables and expand the Gourmet Grocer's offerings to hot food, like what Whole Foods does or what Walgreens is doing now," Scardina said.
Business Services is not prepared to announce what new student service is being built under Commons, though the area has been sectioned off since the beginning of the fall 2015 semester.
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