Rouses introduces concept store to Juban Crossing
February 2015: When Anthony J. Rouse, Sr. went into the grocery store business with a 7,000 sq. ft. store in Houma, LA, in 1960, he stocked it with fruits and vegetables from his neighbors, seafood from local fishermen and his own sausages and other specialty meats he began making in the shed behind his house.
Today, the Rouses chain is a large company with 46 locations stretching from Lafayette to Gulf Shores, AL; the newest stores – like the one in Juban Crossing – have around 50,000 sq. ft., and the third generation of Rouse’s family who manages the business continues the family tradition of looking to local people and businesses first, and buying from them whenever possible.
That practice, plus striving to excel in customer service are part of what makes the Rouses chain so popular.
A big crowd waited outside for the January 21 opening of Rouses Market at Juban Crossing with a fervor not often seen for a grocery store, and days and weeks later, when it would be expected that the newness had worn off, throngs of customers continued to keep the aisles busy, even during early morning hours.
Much of that excitement is centered around a new total-store concept conceived and designed by the Thibodaux-based company and used for their new Rouses stores they designate as Markets.
Managing partner, and grandson of Anthony, Donny Rouse has said, “We changed the customer-team member experience and made it more interactive. This concept is all about sharing what we do and what we make directly with our customers.”
This concept translates into allowing the customer to see much of the food preparation that is usually kept out of view in traditional grocery stores.
The Rouses store manager at Juban Crossing, Brandon Johnston, said, “The floor plan was designed to bring a new shopping experience to customers. In some settings, it was as simple as turning the employees’ work stations so they face you instead of having their back to you. In other areas, it involved a totally new design and new way of thinking about presenting the food.”
“The Rouse family told me about two years ago that they were looking at putting a store in Juban Crossing and they would offer me this location if I wanted – and I did,” revealed Johnston, a New Orleans native who came to Denham Springs after previously having managed the New Orleans Carrollton store, the highest volume store in the chain.
“I’ve lived in Livingston Parish and commuted to New Orleans for eight years. I was excited for myself for the store to be coming here, and I was excited for this community and my friends and neighbors because I knew there was no other store like this in the region. Juban Crossing, Lafayette and the new store coming to Baton Rouge are the Rouses stores using this model.”
A modern, open layout prevails throughout the store. A full-service deli, butcher shop, sausage kitchen, seafood department, cheese department, floral department and bakery are located among the store’s fresh food offerings. The openness enables shoppers to converse with the butchers, bakers, florists and chefs as they work.
Steaks, fish and fresh ingredients are cut to order right in front of customers. Butchers prepare batches of Rouses Cajun specialties in the in-store kitchens and smokehouses using exclusive Rouse family recipes. Known for their boudin, Andouille, tasso and fresh green onion pork sausage, they also offer a savory selection of smoked sausages and meats, stuffed meats and vegetables, marinated and seasoned meats and more. Turduckens are a Rouses signature item.
Their Texas Star beef is raised in Texas by family ranchers. Whole ribeyes which are purchased and left to age to the customer’s specifications are hung within a sealed case which is visible in the meat department.
The open concept extends to their popular Meals-to-Go area which functions like a food court. Located in the far left end of the building, customers can choose from an extensive menu of ready-to-eat foods, in bulk or by the plate. Choices include fresh-cooked entrees, vegetables and assorted sides; sandwiches; fried and rotisserie chickens; smoked meats and more.
At the fruit bar, choose fruits and have them juiced right in front of you at no charge. Likewise, cooks slice and dice fresh vegetables all day long, and you can choose fresh vegetables – the ones you want – and have them chopped them to your liking. Customers can buy what’s needed for one meal or large quantities. There’s even an olive bar with more than a dozen types of olives. Who knew?
Smoked meats include ribs, chicken, pork and brisket with several homemade sides to choose from. The seafood station has soups and gumbos available hot or cold-packed to go. It has Louisiana favorites catfish and crawfish, as well as octopus, lobsters, king crabs, bonefish and more.
The make-your-own salad bar has fresh green salads, sliced meats and seafood, tuna salad, potato salad and chicken salad. There is also a sushi station, a Mongolian Grill and a station for made-to-order sandwiches and paninis.
The meals are packaged to take home with you, or you can enjoy your selections on the spot by taking them to the café tables which are located both in the left front corner of the store and just outside on a patio. The dining area has proven to be very popular, and there are plans to add more tables on the outdoor balcony.
The bakery is also in this area, and the long display case reveals cakes and tempting goodies of all kinds. The floral department always has an assortment of fresh, seasonal flowers available by the bunch, roses in vases, blooming plants and handmade arrangements ready and waiting. Gift baskets can be made to order to include flowers, food items and anything else in the store. Other than paying for the items selected, there is no charge for putting together the gift basket.
Part of the concept is having a wide selection of quality fresh produce and arranging the produce in the center of the store as well as outside in bins on the front sidewalk.
Did I forget to mention that the store sells canned goods and flour, bread and cereal, dairy and frozen items and any other groceries you might need? They have those, too, of course, including many locally-sourced products and a section for gluten-free products. The ends of these grocery aisles are pleasantly decorated with panels of original art relating to various grocery items and local references.
Rouse also offers what it touts as “the largest wine, beer and spirits selection.”
Johnston says while the layout is part of the corporate store design, he has a lot of input in choosing and displaying inventory.
“I’m here talking to customers and finding out what they like. Also, having lived here eight years, I’m able to choose merchandise that I know fits the lifestyles of people here.”
Not to be overlooked is the customer service mindset that is ingrained into every Rouses employee, from the greeter who speaks to everyone at the door, to employees who will inquire while you’re shopping if you’re finding everything, to the ones who bag your groceries and wheel them out to your vehicle.
“This speaks to the culture of the Rouse family who insists on customers being treated right,” Johnston said. “Because I am in the store every day, I can keep a close eye on everything and react directly and immediately if there is ever any problem. Pricing and merchandise is one thing, but people want to be treated well. This philosophy extends to how management treats the employees, too. We create a happy atmosphere for people to work in, and they transfer that happiness to the customers. It’s all about service. When you come to Rouses, it’s not a shopping trip, it’s a shopping experience.”
Rouses growth timeline
After their founder Anthony J. Rouse, Sr. died in 2009 at the age of 79, the family continued to grow the business. After the original Houma store, locations were opened in the 1970s in Raceland and the Rouses’ hometown of Thibodaux (they now have four stores there); in the 1980s in Lockport, Cut Off and Morgan City, then Metairie in 1995, which made Rouses the largest independent grocer in Louisiana. There was even a Denham Springs store on Range Ave. in the late 1990s but it closed in 2000. More stores opened in Covington, Mandeville and Slidell in 2003-006.
In 2007-2008, Rouses acquired 17 Sav-A-Center stores primarily in the New Orleans area and Mississippi which more than doubled the number of their locations. Rouses stretched westward to Youngsville, LA, a suburb of Lafayette, in 2009, and later, two stores in Lafayette itself.
In 2010, the company acquired a store in Mathews, LA, and in 2011, opened a 40,000-square-foot full-service grocery store in the central business district of New Orleans, the first such grocery store that area had seen in 45 years. The greater New Orleans area, including Metairie, Gretna, Kenner and Algiers, now has 15 stores. In 2013-14, Rouses expanded into the Mobile and Gulf Shores areas of Alabama with six stores. Then, in 2015, the Juban Crossing location at Denham Springs store opened to bring the number of stores open to 46* – and counting, as plans have been announced for at least one store soon on Airline Hwy. in Baton Rouge and possibly others in Gonzales and Zachary. After that, they have their eyes on the Florida panhandle.
*The Rouses Market at Juban Crossing is listed on their website as store #55 because some older stores closed over the years