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Mariano’s keeps expanding in Chicago market

Bob Mariano CEO Mariano's grocery chatours store's 40 S. Halsted Street Greektown October 2012.  I John H. White~Sun-Times

Bob Mariano, CEO of the Mariano's grocery chain, tours the store's 40 S. Halsted Street in Greektown in October 2012. I John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 26, 2012 1:25AM

Mariano’s, the grocery chain targeting “foodies” with organic produce, meat cutters, attentive clerks and full-fledged delis and bakeries, continues to expand in the Chicago market.

“We continue to refine the concept because customers talk to us about what they want,” said Bob Mariano, 62, chairman and CEO of parent company Roundy’s Supermarkets, based in Milwaukee.

Mariano, a Chicago native who spent 27 years working his way to the top job at Dominick’s, said in February 2008 that he wanted to build as many as 25 full-service grocery stores in the Chicago area within the next several years.

The firm opened its eighth Chicago area store this week in Chicago’s Greektown. It opened a Vernon Hills location on Milwaukee Avenue, at the village’s border with Libertyville, a year ago. Five more sites are in the works in the Chicago market.

He said Mariano’s could have 30 stores here in the next five years, including a potential site on Chicago’s South Side.

“Chicago customers are very sharp, and they want value, choices and high-quality food,” Mariano said. “Time is critical to them, so they want an all-in-one shopping experience.”

The Greektown store at 40 S. Halsted St., across the street from a Dominick’s, will employ 450 and attract a diverse array of shoppers in age and demographics, making it a perfect place to try new ideas, he said.

For instance, the store offers a walk-in beer cooler stocked primarily with craft beers, where shoppers can pick their own six-pack variety; a cafe at the main entrance with gelato, coffee and wine bar, lounge seating and a fireplace; classroom kitchen that will offer special events and cooking classes by chefs; a wine nook where people can enjoy a glass of wine; a large floral department and European-style produce displays.

Jon Hauptman, partner with Willard Bishop retail-food consultancy in Barrington, said Mariano’s is filling an unmet need for a neighborhood store with a high-quality deli and bakery; a greater variety of unique items, including ethnic foods; a customized business in making birthday and special-occasion cakes, and an expansive offering of salads and prepared foods.

“They provide an appealing shopping experience for perishables, and their prices in their store brands are lower than many in the Chicago market,” Hauptman said.

That gives shoppers the choice of picking low-price staples alongside higher-end offerings, he said.

The extra store touches show how competitive the Chicago supermarket arena has become now that Walmart, Costco, Target, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Save-A-Lot and others are operating here, Hauptman said.

“The competition has raised the bar. Grocery stores now have to figure out where they stand apart,” he said.

Mariano grew up on Chicago’s Northwest Side and started his grocery career in June 1968 as a part-time deli clerk at a Dominick’s store in Des Plaines. His father worked as the deli buyer for Dominick’s for 20 years.

A graduate of Loyola Academy and the University of Illinois-Chicago, Mariano earned his MBA at the University of Chicago. He worked his way up to president and CEO of Dominick’s grocery stores — a leadership position he held from 1995 to 1998 — and played a key role in taking Dominick’s public in 1996. He left Dominick’s in November 1998 after Safeway bought the chain.

Roundy’s generates roughly $4 billion in annual sales and employs 18,000. Founded in Milwaukee in 1872, it operates 160 retail grocery stores and 98 pharmacies under the Pick ‘n Save, Copps, Rainbow, Metro Market and Mariano’s Fresh Market banners in Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

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