PHOTO GALLERY: Curby’s Express Market Shows Off New Tricks

Sporting a canine logo, the brand aspires to be a new breed of convenience.
Curby's Express Market

LUBBOCK, Texas — You don’t have to be a dog lover to recognize the friendly appeal of a happy canine with his head hanging out the window of a moving car. This is the logo of Curby’s Express Market, which opened its first store in Lubbock, Texas, in February.

Two more stores are slated to open in Lubbock before the end of this year.

“We consider it the next generation of c-store retailing,” Tony Sparks, head of Customer Wow for Curby’s, said of the “progressive” concept that had been in the works by its Dallas-based commercial developer parent company for three years.

And yes, Sparks recognizes that his job title “tells you right there, this is different.”

What most convenience store chains have in common, he said, is a half quick-service restaurant, half traditional consumer packaged goods approach. But this is not what Curby’s Express Market is modeled after.

“We wanted to go back to a small-format grocery idea, like how Wawa started — and with no fuel,” Sparks explained. “We’re also going for more of a progressive, innovative customer experience.”

He highlighted four elements that are “super important” to the Curby’s concept:

  1. A modern-market shopping experience;
  2. A protected drive-thru emphasizing speed of service;
  3. A fresh, made-to-order primary menu of melts and flatbreads; and
  4. Made-to-order beverages, including energy drinks and a tea bar.  

This core quad captures the changing nature of consumers today and speaks to what they are now demanding from convenience retail, according to Sparks. 

Curby’s double-lane, covered, temperature-modified drive-thru — where anything in the store can be purchased without ever leaving the car — is “a big piece of what this concept is about,” according to Sparks, who admitted the goal was to replicate the customer experience at a Chick-fil-A drive-thru.

Like the popular fast-food chain, Curby’s drive-thru is staffed by order-takers who greet customers with a tablet and paper menus. Customers pull around the covered bay area and up to a window to receive their orders.

Inside the store, Curby’s doesn’t use linear gondolas. Instead, it uses four-sided shelving that Sparks refers to as “pods.” When customers enter the store, they see wine, produce, flowers and specialty bread in a unique freshness cube.

“They already know something is different from that of a typical c-store,” he said.

Working with an industry food consultant, Curby’s landed on its niche in the foodservice space: sandwich melts for all dayparts. “What’s great about them is we’re limited only by the imagination for melt ideas,” Sparks said.

Made on toasted brioche bread, options include the Cinnamon Toast Sausage Egg & Cheese Melt, Grown Up Grilled Cheese Melt, Brisket Melt, Caprese Melt, and Buffalo Fried Chicken Melt. Curby’s also serves flatbread pizza and kolaches (flavored sausages wrapped in a bun).

Curby’s doesn’t offer “grab-and-go food.” Rather, the retailer features its menu items “very deli style,” where all the food is presented behind glass, and everything is made in front of the customers, Sparks explained. This approach helps fosters a personal connection between customers and employees.

On the beverage side, Curby’s considers itself a more modern Starbucks; a progressive coffeehouse “with a younger vibe that’s more fun and inviting,” he said.

While there are coffee classics on the menu, more exotic creations boast names such as Old Yeller (espresso blended with caramel, vanilla, breve, and topped with whipped cream) and White Fang (espresso blended with white chocolate, Irish cream, breve, and topped with whipped cream).

Zoomies, which refers to those frenetic explosions of energy that dogs have on occasion, is the name of Curby’s colorfully vibrant line of made-to-order energy drinks. Using stacked flavors/colors, as many as three in a beverage, makes for a “beautiful” presentation, Sparks said, pointing out that Zoomies provide the most stimulant per ounce of anything you can buy, and they are all natural and sugar-free.

Curby’s also offers a 20-foot self-serve tea bar, with 18 flavors of tea in sugar and sugar-free versions served from fountain heads. “It’s very high-quality loose-leaf tea that we’re brewing every minute of every day,” he said. “We thought it would do well, but it’s exceeding what we thought. We hired people to just brew tea; that’s how big it is.”

Even though its first location has only been open since February, Curby’s has already taken note of some areas that can be tweaked. Once the concept has been finetuned, the company plans to acquire and revamp locations simultaneously, and is aiming to have a total of 10 stores in its first 24-36 months.

“The ambition is to make this the Shake Shack of convenience retailing. The expectation is for us to grow rapidly once we finish up proof of concept and work out the bugs,” said Sparks.