Midwest grocery store Hy-Vee is set to get into the burger business, as the over-200 store supermarket chain announced Wednesday that it would partner with the Wahlberg brothers’ eponymous burger restaurant, Wahlburgers.
According to Iowa’s Gazette, there are two different prongs to the deal: First, Hy-Vee will open and run 26 Wahlburgers outlets in the Midwest. That would more than double the number of Wahlburgers in existence. At present, the chain, owned by chef Paul Wahlberg, New Kids on the Block founding member Donnie Wahlberg, and actor/attempted rapper Mark “Marky Mark” Wahlberg, has under 20 locations in the U.S. and Canada, none of which are in the states where Hy-Vee operates.
The first of those 26 Wahlburgers will open in 2018 in West Des Moines, where Hy-Vee is headquartered. The others will be spread across seven Midwestern states — Hy-Vee hasn’t announced any other specific locations, but they’ll likely be in states where Hy-Vee is already present (Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wisconsin).
In addition to Hy-Vee opening standalone Wahlburgers locations, it will also sell Wahlburgers’ food in its own in-store restaurant, Hy-Vee Market Grille. Those are full-service restaurants attached to many of Hy-Vee’s locations, not to be confused with counters serving prepared food.
Hy-Vee was an early adapter to the “grocerant” trend of grocery stores getting into the restaurant game — it first added Market Grille to its stores in 2013, and now has around 100 of them across the chain. For comparison, Whole Foods had just 30 full-service restaurants in its stores as of early 2017 (although many more Whole Foods stores have grab-and-go-style fast casual dining options); even Walmart is moving in that direction, pairing with Shannon and Ray Allen to offer dine-in organic meals with a new concept called Grown.
So, does this all mean that Hy-Vee is effectively swallowing up the Wahlberg brothers’ chain? Not at this stage — the 26 Wahlburgers locations and Market Grille partnership mean that Hy-Vee would be responsible for running a majority of all Wahlburgers in existence. But Wahlburgers has made a number of expansion plans independently of Hy-Vee (including to New Orleans and Chicago), so it doesn’t look like Marky Mark and company are handing the keys to a grocery chain at this stage.