Standing inside one of David Jones’ bustling food halls, renowned chef Neil Perry recalls the days he visited as a youngster with his father and marvelled at the fresh produce, and in particular, an “amazing apple”.
“It was an incredible experience for me through the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s … all the food and fresh ingredients,” he said.
Fast forward to now, and Perry is set to take the reins of a long-term project to transform the department store’s ageing food emporiums into “world-class food experiences”.
He’ll be looking at new venue designs, developing fresh recipes, and training staff so they offer flawless service.
“Such places can tend to open and a line is drawn in the sand and they start, depending on the lifespan, to age and become antiquated because they’re not evolving,” he said.
“We want to give people a compelling reason to come back again and again for the classics and for things changing, things of the moment, so we don’t get stuck in time.”
David Jones opened its first food hall in Market Street in the Sydney CBD in 1938, with free, try-before-you-buy tastings by brands such as Heinz and Arnotts thrilling customers.
It now operates four food halls around Australia. Its famed Market Street store, which had a major revamp in 2007, has numerous specialty “bars” for things such as oysters, noodles, cheese, antipasti and confectionery.
Regular customers will notice changes within weeks at the food halls in Market St and Bourke St in Melbourne.
Perry, who will be juggling other major clients such as Qantas, scoured the world’s best food halls including several in New York on a recent trip.
He has been hinting at the new partnership by posting photos of exotic mussels, cheeses and vinegars on his Instagram page with captions referring to a “new project”.
“At Market Street we’re going to do pop-up things where we’ll whet the appetite and get people excited,” he said. “The changes will be gradual.”
Pop-ups will be particularly useful for Perry with David Jones preparing to sell the Market Street building, which also houses the menswear section, to the tune of $370 million.
David Jones’ newly installed chief executive John Dixon, former chief of the £5 billion ($9.7 billion) food business of the famous Marks & Spencer chain, said it was committed to its long-term goal of overhauling its food operations.
A photo posted by Neil Perry (@chefneilperry) on
Last year, speculation mounted that the store’s owner, Woolworths Holdings, was gearing up to enter Australia’s $88 billion food and grocery market.
“Our food strategy goes beyond the food halls. Short life, long life, wines, groceries, we’re looking at revamping the whole of the food operation,” he said.
“It’s perfectly positioned at the top end of the market, in terms of being the destination place for high-quality, speciality food offerings,” he added.
“The food hall will undergo a significant transformation. Neil brings an innate understanding of all things food in the Australian market and an unquestionable instinct for pleasing the Australian palate.”
THE TEST OF TIME
1930s Sir Charles Lloyd Jones dreams of a department in David Jones that specialises in fine food and wines.
1936 In June, the first food hall opens in David Jones’ George Street store. It is an immediate success.
1938 In May, the Market Street store opens in Sydney. The food hall is transferred to the lower ground floor there. Coffee sells for threepence a pound (about 7¢ a kilo) and madeira cake is a shilling a pound.
1942-1946 The food hall is closed because of World War II. The Department of Munitions moves into the building.
1951 There is more innovation as the food hall goes self-service.
1953 The food hall expands to include a butchery, a fishmonger, a fruit and vegetable market and a seafood cafe.
1984 The food hall is completely renovated, becoming Food, Glorious Food. It includes a grill, an oyster bar and a coffee shop.
2003 At the end of August, the new food hall, with its nine eateries and expanded range of gourmet foods, opens.
2016 David Jones announces a long-term partnership with chef Neil Perry who “wants to create world-class food experiences”.
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