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Ultra Foods in Crestwood offers array of prepared dishes

Greg Strahan hangs prices produce sectifor Thursday's gropening UltrFoods Crestwood Illinois Wednesday June 20 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Medi

Greg Strahan hangs prices in the produce section for Thursday's grand opening of Ultra Foods in Crestwood, Illinois, Wednesday, June 20, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 23, 2012 7:17AM



If you’re driving along Cicero Avenue in Crestwood and smell grilled tilapia or fresh-baked chicken, it doesn’t mean a new restaurant has opened along the busy retail corridor.

It does, however, signal the opening of a grocery store that in many ways acts as though it’s a restaurant.

With supermarkets increasing their selection of prepared foods to appeal to busy shoppers, Ultra Foods will open its Crestwood store at 8 a.m. Thursday with an eye toward capturing its share of consumers who want a home-cooked meal minus the cooking part.

It will be the fifth Southland store for the Indiana-based chain, which operates 14 overall. The others are in Calumet Park, Chicago Heights, Joliet and Lansing. The same ownership operates Strack & Van Til supermarkets in Illinois and Indiana.

The new store, 13180 Cicero Ave., will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week and represents a roughly $8 million investment by the company, Andy Raab, Ultra’s vice president of operations, said during a store tour Wednesday. It’s located in the shell of a former Dominick’s that closed in the spring of 2007.

Raab said Ultra had “been interested in it (the property) a long time” for a new store, which at 89,000 square feet is among the chain’s biggest. The interior was “pretty much gutted,” and it took nearly a year to go from empty building to opening day, he said.

Along with freshly made sub sandwiches and cooked chicken, fish, ribs and sides ready for takeout, the store features a sushi bar, a first for the chain, Raab said.

Beyond a selection of prepared foods, Ultra stands ready to cook fresh food that customers buy in the store, Raab said.

Order some fresh fish in the seafood department, and Ultra employees will steam, grill or fry it for you to take home, Raab said, and if you want steak, the store will cook it as well.

“We’ll do anything on the grill,” he said.

On Wednesday, Chicago-based food industry research firm Technomic released a new report, looking at the competition between restaurants and retailers for ready-to-eat meals.

Ron Paul, Technomic’s president, said in the news release that “economic conditions of the past two years shifted a lot of business away from restaurants” in favor of retailers, such as grocers. When it comes to taking home prepared food for dinner, families on a budget were more likely to opt for a grocer rather than a restaurant, according to the report.

Raab said Ultra is looking to appeal to customers who are “time-starved and looking for different food options” by offering “healthier, better solutions” that are an alternative, and often cheaper, to fast-food or family restaurant fare.

“We all fight for the same piece” of consumers’ food dollar, he said of grocers and restaurants.



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