(KTLA) – For the last four months, lines have been building outside the Skechers store in Gardena, California, and it’s not the shoes that everyone is buzzing about.
The warehouse outlet store, which was the second brick-and-mortar location the company opened decades ago, is now home to a concession stand offering uncomplicated but high-quality cheap eats.
The local business community, and even some well-known social media influencers, can’t seem to get enough of it.
It’s called the Food Spot, and the outdoor eatery is attached to the side of the unassuming store in a bustling shopping center.
It’s been described by many as a “Costco-style” concession stand that’s a bit tastier and a touch more expensive, but one that doesn’t require a membership to eat there.
It offers some of the affordable classic Costco fare you know and love, like all-beef hot dogs for $2.50, pepperoni pizza slices for $3, and premium soft-serve and fresh churros, also for $3.
But the menu veers off in a more ambitious way, offering higher-quality quick entrees that feel more like something you would get from a specialized dedicated restaurant.
There’s a “citrus-chile” roast chicken sandwich served with ranch on an artisan bun, as well as a double smash burger and a Nashville hot chicken sandwich, each served with a bounty of pickles and a Thousand Island-style “secret spot sauce,” which itself is apparently a hit and can be purchased on its own for $1.
While shoes and smash burgers seem like an unlikely marriage, the Food Spot is actually something the company’s co-founder has been chomping at the bit to try.
“I always thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to have a food concession at the Gardena store?'” said Michael Greenberg, president and co-founder of Skechers. “It does a tremendous amount of volume and has a lot of foot traffic.”
Greenberg is a self-described “foodie” who has dabbled in the restaurant business for years, investing in a handful of restaurants and chains such as Fresh Brothers Pizza and Rockin’ Brew.
The idea was something Greenberg had been sitting on for years, but the area where the store sits was never zoned for food sales. So in the years leading up to the plan being realized, the Gardena outlet would often host food trucks to feed shoppers and help scratch Greenberg’s proverbial itch.
But he eventually grew tired of almost seeing his dream come true, and more than two years ago, he pushed his team to figure out how to get the lot re-zoned and clear the way for what would eventually become the Food Spot.
“I think it just took everybody by surprise,” Greenberg admitted. “I think in the beginning, there were people that were scratching their head saying, ‘What is Michael doing?’ And I could understand, you know, but this was my vision.”
For the shoe company’s co-founder, the Food Spot is a passion project, not one born out of necessity or to rake in profit, but rather to enhance the shopping experience for Skechers customers. If families spend their precious time together shopping for shoes and clothes, you might as well feed them while they are there.
“It was much more about the overall experience and the atmosphere of being at that Skechers store,” Greenberg said.
Such luxury department stores as Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus often have restaurants and cafés in their stores, so why not Skechers?
But if the Food Spot was going to be successful, the food had to actually be good and meet the same standards Greenberg has for the brand’s products.
“First and foremost, the most important thing to me was the quality of food. Because I relate the quality of the food, it’s got to be as good as the product that we sell, whether you wear our product or you ingest and chew our product,” Greenberg said with a laugh. “So it was, ‘Well can we do it right? Can I have the best fried chicken sandwich? Can I have the best double cheese smash burger? Will people drive here for the food and the experience?'”
And if the food brings people in, they are more likely to spend time in the shoe store, he said.
The food, like the shoes themselves, is simple and approachable, or “no frills” as others would describe. For Greenberg, the offerings at the Food Spot reflect the company’s corporate mindset of high-quality, yet affordable.
And that mindset has apparently caught on with consumers. The Food Spot serves more than 2,000 people every week, Greenberg said.
The food has gotten the attention of food bloggers, reviewers and influencers, who all seem to be relatively impressed by what they’re eating.
So how did Skechers make Greenberg’s dream a reality?
Joe Fields is senior manager of domestic retail operations for Skechers and offered KTLA a tour of the facility. He typically oversees the company’s retail stores, but when the Food Spot opened, he had to get a crash course on the restaurant business. He took Sysco classes and got ServSafe certified, and now the Food Spot is just part of his everyday life.
But the concession stand isn’t being run by a bunch of shoe salespeople playing restaurant. It’s got a complete staff of veteran food industry workers. The general manager spent several years managing food and beverage services at Angel Stadium.
About 900 square feet of the store itself was razed and renovated to accommodate the commercial kitchen, which looks about as you would expect with flat-top grills, deep fryers and a large industrial refrigerator. The only frozen item the café serves is french fries; everything else is made to order.
The restaurant typically experiences a lunch rush around noon and a dinner rush around 5 p.m. When it first opened back in May, food wasn’t being served until 11 a.m., but the crew quickly discovered the restaurant was missing a lot of the lunch rush by not opening earlier. They now open at 10 a.m. to grab more of the early lunch crowd and very recently extended closing time to 8 p.m. for those seeking an easy evening meal.
On a Wednesday around 2 p.m., right after the lunch rush had dissipated, Brian Russ and Steve Erck were finishing their meal at the Lunch Spot. Traveling for business and unaware of the eatery’s overnight success, they saw the signs while driving and decided to stop for a quick bite to eat between sales calls.
They waited less than five minutes to get pizza and fries and spent less than $20 in the process. “Not much more you could ask for,” Erck said.
Both agreed with the Costco-but-elevated comparison.
“It’s not some place you take your wife or girlfriend for dinner, but if you’re looking for a quick bite, in and out, it’s perfect,” Erck said.
“Very convenient,” Russ echoed.
Despite the positive reviews and the concession stand satisfying Greenberg’s quality mandate, the company says the Food Spot will probably be a one-off, with expansion unlikely.
Since its founding in 1992, Skechers has grown to become the third-largest shoe company in the U.S. with hundreds of stores across the globe, but most of its locations are in malls and other shopping centers, and much of the space is leased, rather than owned.
Not many locations have the size and infrastructure to support a full-blown restaurant, but the Gardena store makes sense because it’s an outlet with a large footprint and is close to the home base.
In the meantime, Greenberg is just happy about seeing his vision become reality and continuing to serve the local community — the same community where Skechers laid down roots more than 30 years ago.
“What’s better than having customers come back? They’re coming back because they had a good experience, and that’s just our overall philosophy in the way we run the business and the way we produce and market our footwear,” Greenberg said. “The praise that we’re getting, that’s sort of like sugar on top. That’s music to our ears.”