Against nature? How Avoca taught men to enjoy shopping
'While most women like to shop, we realised that, by offering food, we could create a place where men would also come," explains Simon. "Quickly food became integral to, and the heart of, our stores. In fact, it was the game-changer that totally transformed the business," he admits.
Simon takes me on a tour of the store to see the various food elements. There are two restaurants offering both table service and self-service which, at peak times, can cater for as many as 400 customers.
The store also has its own bakery where bread is baked – from scratch – every morning from 5am onwards. A fresh fruit and veg section has recently been added, as has a section selling ready-to-go meals.
Simon explains how these ready-to-go meals were being made in individual stores until recently when he realised it was no longer cost-effective and so invested in a new, purpose-built central kitchen.
"Unlike other mass-production food units, we were determined to retain the authenticity and quality of our produce and so we moved some of our very best chefs and bakers to work in this area of the business," he explains.
A relatively new phenomenon in the retail trade, Simon introduces me to a number of food concession businesses that have now become an integral part of the Avoca success story.
These operate as separate businesses under their individual brands while offering a wide range of food options to Avoca's customers.
These include James Whelan's Butchers, the Poulle Bonne Femme Chicken Rotisserie, the Michie Sushi Bar, the Sprout Juice and Salad Bar as well as Nature's Gold health food store.