County Market to sell Garcia's pizzas

County Market to sell Garcia's pizzas

CHAMPAIGN – For the owners of Garcia's Pizza-in-a-Pan, it's a potential match made in heaven: the pizza they've been making for decades and a grocery chain eager to sell it hot and fresh out of the oven at their deli counters.

Ralph Senn, one of Garcia's owners, says the County Market store set to open Feb. 19 in Campustown will be the first County Market to sell Garcia's pizza slices.

He and Garcia's co-owner Joe Ream are talking to Niemann Foods, the Quincy company that owns County Market stores, about placing Garcia's pizzas at other store locations and even adding whole pizzas as well as single slices at County Market deli counters.

Senn said the combination of Garcia's and County Market will work well because Garcia's wants to lower its overhead and Niemann Foods wanted another fresh food concept to expand choices for customers at its deli counters.

"It's just such a good fit," he added.

Niemann Foods spokesman Gerry Kettler said Garcia's pizza is also a natural for the grocery chain, because two of the owners, President/CEO Rich Niemann Jr. and Senior Vice President Chris Niemann, enjoyed Garcia's pizza when they were University of Illinois students and like the idea of offering it at the new Campustown grocery.

"We know it's a hometown favorite,' he added.

The new partnership with County Market stores – along with the current recession – is why the longtime freestanding Garcia's restaurant at 108 E. Green St. closed recently and why plans to open another Garcia's drive-through in the old Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop at 1813 S. Philo Road, U, have been abandoned, Ream said.

"After 32 years, we didn't need a 200-seat restaurant at Second and Green," Senn said.

If all goes well at the Campustown location, he added, Garcia's also won't need another free-standing shop in Urbana because it will be selling pizza at the deli counter at the Urbana County Market store.

Senn said County Market stores have both kinds of ovens needed to make Garcia's pizzas the way they're cooked in Garcia's restaurants.

Three proprietary ingredients, the homemade crust, sauce and sausage will be delivered to the new County Market store and he and Ream will train County Market employees how to make the pizzas, he added.

"I'm not bringing the mushrooms and the green peppers," Senn said. "They're a grocery store."

To start, the store will offer four different kinds of Garcia's slices: cheese, sausage, pepperoni and the Gutbuster (a meat and veggie combo.)

In a month, there will be a specialty slice of the day, Senn said.

Specialty slices will include some selections from the 1980s and early 1990s including taco, ham and pineapple, BLT, barbecued chicken, seafood with white sauce, veggie and sloppy joe.

After several months, Senn said, Garcia's hopes to start selling whole pizzas for dine-in and carry-out at the Campustown store, which is being built with a seating area for dining in.

Some other new things in the works for Garcia's:

– Senn said the liquor license from the Campustown restaurant that closed is being transferred to Garcia's at 313 N. Mattis Ave., and that location will have beer and wine available starting in mid-March.

– Garcia's is also continuing to develop a pizza that can be cooked frozen in a microwave oven that could be sold in convenience stores.

Senn said he and Ream hope to expand their partnership with Niemann Foods to also sell Garcia's pizza at Niemann's liquor and convenience stores and in County Market stores throughout Illinois and other states.

Kettler said Niemann Foods hasn't committed to that large an expansion yet, but is "looking forward to developing a relationship with Garcia's."

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