BY MORGAN LEGEL
The Navy Exchange is due to move ahead with a project on Naval Base Guam that has been several years in the making.
Towards the end of summer, construction will begin on a remodel and revamp of the main NEX’s 9,200 square-foot food court area.
“The time can slip a little. We have mid-summer for it to start, but it could slide anywhere between July and September,” Lisa Ballejo, general manager of the Navy Exchange in Guam; told the Journal.
The expansion has seen extensions for about seven years, most recently pushed back in six-month increments.
“We would have had it done a lot sooner, … the project was well in the works, but then COVID hit and it came to a screeching halt,” Ballejo said.
The renovation will consist of new outfitting for all six vendor spots within the food court. Three of the current vendors share a kitchen, and the remodel will allow each to have an individual kitchen.
While some vendors from the current set-up will be included after the remodel, NEX is also bringing two new brands to the project.
Post-renovation, brands at the food court will include the Panda Restaurant Group’s Panda Express and Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers — which launched its first restaurant in Guam on May 2 at Micronesia Mall; O-kizushi; and Del Taco and Domino’s Pizza, which operate through a joint venture between the GFS Group and Denny’s of Guam, parent company of Domino’s. Infusion Coffee & Tea will stay in the freestanding location outside NEX’s main doors.
O-kizushi — which began doing business in 2007, operates14 sushi kiosks in a variety of formats on military bases in the U.S. mainland, Korea and Japan, according to its website. O-kizushi’s parent company is Coastal Pacific Food Distributors, which says on its website it is the “second largest worldwide military distributor of food and related products.”
Subway Restaurants are in negotiation and awaiting confirmation from NEX, according to Gary Schiff, director of brand management for Chili’s and Subway (Guam and Saipan) and field consultant for AAFES & NEXCOM Pacific region.
However, Schiff said Subway has already submitted a design from an in-house architect.
“We hope we will get it, because it’s the perfect spot [for a Subway Restaurant],” he said.
Ballejo said the Navy is always aiming for restaurants with healthy alternatives for personnel. “The food court is company-wide, and we always try to create balance for those who take their health very seriously. We always try to take that into consideration.”
The renovation is scheduled to take place in phases — so not all food options are unavailable at once. The goal is to have three open while the other three are under construction, and then switch. However, Ballejo said “This depends on when the contractors come in and what they find. We’re not sure what is connected and how.”
At any rate, Ballejo said, during construction, NEX will help supplement the closed vendors.
“We have a large base and a lot of customers who shop here, so we will have to support the food-base while under construction,” she said.
That currently includes two food trucks to be stationed in the parking lot for customers to enjoy — one being a Thai truck, and the other serving American-style dishes like classic hamburgers and hot dogs. Ballejo also said she is looking into “pop-up” food vendors, whether that be catering style or food trucks, who will set up for a few days or weeks.
The renovation will include upgrades to utilities, new seating and branding as well, and is scheduled to be finished, with all six brands operational, by the end of 2022.
Since there are only six spots within the food court, Old Town, a Chinese restaurant, and Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen will no longer have a presence.
David A. Alcorn, president of GFS Group, which manages Popeyes, said, “We had a disagreement with NEXCOM,” he said referring to the Navy Exchange Service Command. Alcorn said he is mystified why the Exchange Service would have a disagreement with its most popular restaurant, as shown by sales.
However, he said, “The Joint Venture is now looking for locations ‘outside the fence.’ We like the idea of Popeye’s outside the fence. It’s a no-brainer — a home run.”
Popeye’s will move to one of the largest — if not the largest village in Guam.
Alcorn said, “Dededo’s our first target location.” The potential customer base will change, Alcorn said. “There are only 4,000 clients within reach at any one time,” he said of the Naval Base.
Looking to the future, Ballejo said, “With ship visits, we’re always looking for vendors who want to help support those ships; we do work with the Guam Chamber of Commerce, but we also try to bring in local business to help with not only the local economy, but with the ships.”
Any local businesses that are interested in working with NEX temporarily, like food trucks and pop-ups can email [email protected]
In other NEX news, other installations across the island are receiving upgrades as well. The food bars in the mini marts at the Naval Base gas station and at Naval Hospital Guam will be upgraded with more and better options, Ballejo said. She is looking into opening more micro-marts, or small, unmanned shops with just a few offerings of drinks and snacks.
NEX’s main retail store will also be getting a shoe department overhaul, as well as new carpet and fixtures throughout, where applicable. The home department has already received new fixtures as part of the changes.
“It won’t be as grand as an overall typical renovation, but we will be fixing some things up,” Ballejo said. — Maureen N. Maratita contributed to this story. Subway Restaurants is a sister company to Glimpses of Guam, which publishes the Journal. mbj