As shoppers perused his new grocery store in Lincoln Park Tuesday, Bob Mariano took it all in while seated at a high-top table sipping an energy drink — incognito, mostly — a nameplate on his suit coat read only “Bob.”
The guru of groceries latest offering is Dom’s Kitchen and Market at the corner of Diversey Avenue and Halsted Street in Lincoln Park. It opened at 6 a.m. and quickly bustled with shoppers.
Mariano is not concerned his new store couldn’t benefit from his name, which graces dozens of grocery stores in the Chicago area.
“My brand name is owned by Kroger,” he said of the grocery giant that acquired the Mariano’s chain in 2015.
“What everybody has shopped at and known to be a Mariano’s, this isn’t that, and so it would be a little disingenuous to the customer. So it was right to go a different direction,” he said.
The 17,800-square-foot store is a standard grocery store in many ways but has a kitchen that offers breakfast, lunch and dinner with a dining area inside as well as patio space.
“We worked very hard to collide together a grocery store with a restaurant. And this is all about the food, where people can come and get food to eat right here, take it home already prepared or get the ingredients to make it at home. They get to choose, and they get to shop it the way they want to shop it,” he said.
Mariano came up in the industry under the mentorship of Dominick DiMatteo, the founder of the now-defunct Dominick’s grocery chain — and the inspiration for the name of his new store.
DiMatteo’s grandson, Jay Owen, is part of the new store’s leadership team.
“It’s a great opportunity, and we’re going to learn a lot. This is our first one, we’re going to pay attention to what the customers like, what things we ought to think about changing and we’ll go from there,” Mariano said.
The store is focused on the neighborhood. A small parking lot out front has fewer than 20 spaces.
“People asked early on when they heard about us, they said, ‘Well, it’s going to be like a Mariano’s?’ and we said ‘No, we’ve done that and it wasn’t where we saw the market going,’” Mariano said.
“So we wanted to size it down, and we had done research years ago. What would customers think of a mini-Mariano’s or something like that, and they were totally against it. Customers said ‘No way’ because they had a particular thought in their mind of what Mariano’s was and small wasn’t the answer.”
“This gives us the opportunity to see without any of that baggage how does the customer feel, how does the customer shop, and what I’ve seen so far, they’re pretty comfortable shopping here,” he said.